The Chancellor has called the city's specialized high schools the "true gems" of the system but very few black and Hispanic students gain entrance to these top schools. Now, a group of lawyers are asking federal officials to intervene. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
Stuyvesant, long considered the city's most elite public high school, offered spaces to 967 students this year.
19 of those students were black. That's more than double the number of black students admitted the year before.
On Thursday, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is filing a federal civil rights complaint, challenging the city's admissions process for eight specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech.
"There is a single two-and-a-half hour multiple choice test that is the sole criterion for admissions," said Rachel Kleinman of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "So, no matter how good your grades are, no matter what your teachers say about you, you could win the national spelling bee. None of that matters."
30,000 eighth graders take the Specialized High School exam each year and many prepare extensively, spending weekends and after-school time taking test prep courses.
And although the majority of city students are black or Hispanic, most specialized high school students are Asian or white.
"African-American and Latino students who are qualified to be in these schools, who have strong indicators of academic merit, are not getting in because they are not doing as well on this test," Kleinman said.
The Department of Education says its hands are tied. Since 1971, state law has required specialized high schools admit students based only on an exam. But the DOE has been expanding the program, which started out as just three schools.
The eight so-called exam schools aren't the only selective high schools in the city and the complaint says that others do a better job at choosing their students. At Bard Early College High School in Manhattan, where grade point average, standardized test scores and attendance are all considered, 30 percent of the student body is black or Latino.
The DOE has tried several initiatives over the years to increase diversity at the specialized schools. 2,500 middle-school students are participating in the newest effort, a two-year prep program. But the civil rights compliant says the whole process is wrong.
Now, it's up to the U.S. Department of Education to decide whether to investigate.