Asian-American groups gathered at a meeting in Sunset Park on Monday accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of discrimination for proposing to change the admissions process at the city's eight elite public high schools to make them more diverse.
"He never had this problem when Stuyvesant [High School] was all white. He never had this problem when Stuyvesant was all Jewish," said Kenneth Chiu of the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club. "All of a sudden, they see one too many Chinese and they say, 'Hey, it isn't right.'"
Over the weekend, de Blasio stepped up his push to increase the number of black and Hispanic students in elite schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, saying admission should no longer be based on a single exam, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).
But Asian students say his proposal would end up denying them admission.
Asian students make up about 16 percent of the school system, but about 52 percent of those accepted to the eight schools. At Stuyvesant, three out of four students are Asian.
"For new immigrants, the test something that is a leveling factor. It's easy to prepare for, they know about it, they can buy a book or they can buy a course. But they can make their kids do it," said Chris Kwok of the Chinese- American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York. "So it's a ladder of success for them."
The mayor wants the state to enact a law requiring that the top seven percent of the students at each city middle school be offered a spot at an elite high school. He said this would boost the number of black and Hispanic students at the elite schools to 45 percent, from 9 percent. But that would reduce the number of Asian and white students.
Organizations representing alumni of the elite schools also are mobilizing to fight de Blasio's proposal.
"I think it's being done as quickly as it is in order to eliminate the opportunity for stakeholders to weigh in and explain their reservations about the approach that they're taking," said Larry Cary, the president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.
State lawmakers have said in the past that they do not want to change the test. They have listened to alumni interest groups from the schools and have said that the exam is the fairest way to determine who should be admitted.
The powerful alumni groups from the specialized high schools have successfully lobbied for decades to keep SHSAT. Some have argued that opening up admissions at the specialized schools would weaken them. De Blasio said that argument is un-American.
Speaking to NY1 on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo sidestepped whether he backs de Blasio's plan.
"The mayor raises legitimate concerns," Cuomo said. "I don't know that there's much of an appetite in Albany now to get into a new bill, a new issue."
How are students reacting?
At Stuyvesant, students said they are divided.
"Students who come from higher class families definitely get to pay for preparatory classes and they do get a bigger chance to get in," Stuyvesant High School student Anna Makuyed said.
Other students said the mayor's proposal would lead to less qualified students gaining admission.
De Blasio and his supporters disagree. They say it's not a question of unequal ability, but of unequal opportunity.
What is the Specialized High School Admissions Test?
Students in eighth or ninth grade who want to apply to one of the city's eight specialized high schools — Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn Technical High School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical High School, and Stuyvesant High School — must take the exam.
The 180-minute test scores potential students based on English Language Arts and math. Test-takers are then ranked based on their scores for the number of questions they answer correctly. If admitted, the student is assigned to a specialized high school based on how he or she ranked the school on the application, the priority the student assigned to the school, and the seats available.
Tens of thousands of students apply to the schools every year for 5,000 seats.