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sant and Bronx Science— has dwindled. A state law passed in 1971 was supposed to prevent this. Who killed the Discove ry Program at Bronx Scie nce and Stuyvesant?
Part 1 of a joint investigation with
Be nign Ne g le c t ?
PHOTO BY ANDREW SCHWARTZ
By Megan Finnegan and Stephon Johnson
entirely clear why these schools stopped using it. West Side Spirit made repeated requests to interview any person at DOE with knowledge of the Discovery Program; DOE denied these requests and responded only with a prepared statement. When reached by telephone after several attempts to arrange an interview, Head of Middle School Enrollment Sandy Ferguson, whom a DOE spokesperson named as the person with the most knowledge about the Discovery Program, refused to comment on the record. Stuyvesant Principal Stanley Teitel twice referred questions back to DOE, despite being given permission to speak to the press. Valerie Reidy, principal at Bronx Science, did not respond to several email and phone requests for an interview. According to a DOE statement, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science terminated their Discovery Programs sometime in the early 2000s—the department wouldn’t confirm the exact date or year—because they consistently fill their seats from the traditional admissions method alone. But that doesn’t preclude schools from running a Discovery Program—it’s possible that a school can set aside a certain number of seats for the students coming through the program. The Discovery Program was born of a 1971 law written by State Senator John Calandra and Assembly Member Burton Hecht, both of the Bronx, which enshrined the criteria for admission to the city’s speN EW S YO U LIV E B Y
mong New York’s specialized high schools, it’s no secret that Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are considered the best. It’s also not a secret that both of these schools admit disproportionately low numbers of black and Latino students—less than 2 percent of students in 2009-2010 at Stuyvesant were black, and t less than 3 percent were Hispanic. At Bronx Science, just over 3 percen percent were Hispanic. This of students were black and just under 8 d at is a precipitous drop from the 10 percent of black students enrolle Stuyvesant in 1971 and 10 percent at Bronx Science.
mer course that enables them to gain entrance to a specialized high school— but neither Stuyvesant nor Bronx Science utilize this program. The decision to run the Discovery Program is at the discretion of the Department of Education, but it’s not
The numbers have consistently declined since at least 1999. What is largely kept secret, however, is the fact that through the Discovery Program, disadvantaged students who scored just below the cutoff on the admissions test may go through a sum• WE S T S I D E S PIRIT •
May 12, 2011
cialized high schools to be based solely from low-income or non-English speaking on the admissions test. At the time, Mayor families, as well as children in foster care.” Lindsay and some education advocates While the language of the law leaves called for a broadening of the schools’ race out of the equation, then-Assembly standards in order to admit more minority Member G. Oliver Koppell was quoted in a students, citing the claim that standard- New York Times article from May 20, 1971, ized tests are inherently biased against referring to the Discovery Program as a minorities. In order to preserve the admis- “protection for minority-group students.” sions process as based on the test alone, To be eligible for the program when the legislature passed the Calandra-Hecht it’s offered, a student must score below, bill, but it also included provisions for the creNo one at DOE will say why the Disc over y ation of the Discovery Program. (See text of the Prog ram was axe d at Stuy vesa nt and Bro nx bill on the right.) Today, the law’s intent Scie nce, beyond the exp lanation that the re seems to have varying was n’t spac e for it—which prin cipa ls and interpretations. “The Discovery DOE could create if incl ined . Program has a very specific purpose, which is to make sure disadvantaged students who have shown the but close to, the lowpotential to compete in specialized high est qualifying score for that school on schools are able to secure open spots in the Specialized High School Admissions those schools, should they become avail- Test. They must also be “certified as disable,” said DOE spokesperson Jack Zarin- advantaged,” which can be determined Rosenfeld in a statement. “This has never by household income, whether a fambeen a race-based program; rather it is a ily receives government aid, if a child is program targeted for students who come CONTINUED ON PAGE 30
TEXT OF CALANDRA-HECHT BILL AMENDING SEC. 2590G, SUBDIVISION 12 OF THE EDUCATION LAW (a) Establish and maintain special high schools which shall at least include the – The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical, High School, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts -- and such further high schools which the Board of Education may designate from time to time. (b) Admissions to The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School and such similar further special high schools which may be established shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination, which shall be open to each and every child in the City of New York in the eighth or ninth year of study, in accordance with the rules promulgated by the N.Y.C. Board of Education, without regard to any school district wherein the child may reside. No candidate may be admitted to a special high school unless he has successfully achieved a score above the cut-off score for the openings in the school for which he has taken the examination. The cut-off score shall be determined by arranging the scores of all candidates who took the examination and who then commit themselves to attend the school in descending order from the highest score and counting down to the score of the first candidate beyond the number of openings available. (c) Candidates for admission to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts and other schools which may be established with similar programs in the arts, shall be required to pass competitive examinations in music and/or the arts in addition to presenting evidence of satisfactory achievement. (d) The special schools shall be permitted to maintain a Discovery Program to give disadvantaged students of demonstrated high potential an opportunity to try the special high school program without in any manner interfering with the academic level of those schools. A student may be considered for the Discovery Program provided the student: (1) be one of those who takes the regular entrance examination but scores below the cut-of score (2) is certified by his local school as disadvantaged (3) is recommended by his local school as having high potential for the special high school program and (4) attends and then passes a summer preparatory program administered by the special high school. All students recommended for such a Discovery Program are to be arranged on a list according to their entrance examination scores, in descending order, from the highest to the lowest. Each special high school will then consider candidates in turn, starting at the top of the list for that school. A candidate reached for consideration on the basis of this examination score will be accepted for admission to the Discovery Program only if his previous school record is satisfactory. Any discovery program admissions to a special high school shall not exceed fourteen (14) per cent of the number of students scoring above the cut-off score and admitted under the regular examination procedure of (b) and (c) above. This act shall take effect on the First day of January, 1972. Apr-21, 1971
The Discovery Program Changed My Life
By Stephon Johnson Earlier that year, I had taken the During the spring of 1996, I was pre- Specialized High School exam with the paring for the Sequential 1 Math Regents hopes of going to Brooklyn Tech. Being exam in 8th grade. My math teacher, Dr. a Bronx native, I was excited to finally school liked me, I could stay. Serigne Gningue, who is of Senegalese travel and curious about going to school The Summer Discovery Program was decent, had been hard on my case all in another borough. But Mr. Gningue a godsend. Not only did I meet people school year. It wasn’t any different had other plans. Once I got the scores to who have become friends for life, but my from the other years I spent with him at the test back (I got into Brooklyn Tech, four-year experience at Bronx Science Thomas C. Giordano Middle School 45 so I was excited, but missed Bronx was unlike any other. While I had my in the Bronx’s Little Italy. Science by a few points), he pushed for share of ups and downs there, the work Ever since I stepped foot in the me to try the Summer ethic that I solidified at school, Gningue was on my case. I did Discovery Program Bronx Science has helped well in his class, but I always me in my adult life. The Summer Discovery got in trouble for talking too But it seems as if much or talking back to him. the Summer Discovery Program was a godsend. While I wasn’t a bad kid, I did Program is either being have a mouth on me when I Not only did I meet people phased out or ignored. felt like being a pest. I spent The number of black and who have become friends many afternoons in detenLatino students at Bronx for life, but my four-year tion, usually with Gningue. Science, Stuyvesant and But he eventually told me Brooklyn Tech has steadily experience at Bronx Scithe reason why he pushed been declining. According me so hard once I got to 8th ence was unlike any other. to InsideSchools.org, the grade and took Sequential 1 number of blacks and Math with him. As one of the few black (which helps kids Stephon Johnson. Latinos at the three aforestudents in my Giordano Prep program from “disadvantaged mentioned schools are 8 (reserved for the so-called “gifted” kids backgrounds” make their way to the percent Hispanic and 3 percent black at in the school), he saw potential in me city’s specialized high schools) at Bronx Bronx Science, 3 percent Hispanic and and wanted to make sure I capitalized Science because I’d have “more opportu- 2 percent black at Stuyvesant and 12 on my talents. Even when it came to nities there.” He figured that if I tried the percent black and 8 percent Hispanic at choosing my high school, he was in the program and didn’t like it, I could just go Brooklyn Tech. picture. to Brooklyn Tech. If I did like it, and the “This year has shown you that you
can achieve whatever you want to achieve in your life if you do the right thing!” Gningue wrote in 1996 in my middle school yearbook, which I still
The Summer Discovery Program put me on the path to great relationships and a great foundation. It’s a shame that so many of the city’s top specialized high schools are trying to avoid it like a disease.
have. “Keep that in mind! Work hard as you have always done. You’re bright and you would know that you can go as far as you want.” Gningue was there for me and alerted me to the Summer Discovery Program, which put me on the path to great relationships and a great foundation. It’s a shame that so many of the city’s top specialized high schools are trying to avoid it like a disease. Stephon Johnson is a reporter for Amsterdam News.
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May 12, 2011
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special report: part ii
Stuyvesant’s Minority Admissions Under Attack
Elected officials and education experts question dropping minority enrollments and the Department of Education’s decision to eliminate Discovery Program at Bronx Science and Stuyvesant
By Megan Finnegan and Stephon Johnson Last week, Our Town, West Side Spirit and The Amsterdam News reported on the lack of diversity at two of the city’s top specialized high schools, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, and a program called Discovery, designed to help increase minority enrollment but which has fallen into disuse over the past decade at these schools. While he did not respond to repeated requests for comment before press time, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott responded to the article when questioned by NY1, stating the program is “not race-based” and that its reinstatement would do nothing to help increase the extremely low numbers of minority students at these schools. We asked elected officials and education experts to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say about the role of the Discovery Program in specialized high schools. Bronx City Council Member Oliver Koppell, member of the State Assembly when the Hecht-Calandra bill, establishing the Discovery Program, passed in 1971: dents who didn’t on average do as well. It was worded as ‘culturally deprived’ and ‘educationally less experienced.’ “I was very surprised to learn that the Discovery Program was terminated. We have to do a better job in the lower grades to get all kids up to snuff. Given these numbers, we should be doing more to Oliver Koppell. encourage minority enrollment.” East Side City Council Member Jessica Lappin (Stuyvesant Alumnus): “While the huge range of racial disparity at the schools is pretty shocking, the underlying situation is sadly unsurprising. There is a racial achievement gap in this country and in our city. In New York, we see it among young kids when 4-year-olds take the gifted and talented test and we’re seeing it at the high school level, as well. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. The Discovery Program is one proven way to start tackling the issue and it’s a tool that absolutely should be used. But Jessica Lappin. we also need to look deeper than that. We need to improve early childhood education, health care and nutrition in our city if we want to really get at the root of this problem.” East Side City Council Member Dan Garodnick: “The makeup of our specialized high schools does not match the overall continued on page 17
“The problem at Stuyvesant runs deep; I know AfricanAmerican students who have been accepted to Stuy but turned it down to go elsewhere because the culture is uncomfortable with so few black and Latino students. The DOE must respond to the need to restart the Discovery Program.” —Gale Brewer
“Certainly there was a sense that in these schools, the minority population was relatively low and that the Discovery Program would benefit the minority stu-
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continued from page 10 population of public school students or the talent that we know is out there, and that’s a problem. But this problem doesn’t just start during the high school admissions season. The Department of Education needs to be more aggressive in preparing students of diverse backgrounds for our most rigorous curricula, starting when they first enter the school system.”
student population and at the same time maintains the high intellectual quality. “I believe it is accurate that there is a socioeconomic bias inherent in standardized tests, and so disadvantaged students who come close to achieving the lowest qualifying score may actually be more intelligent and motivated than students who have profited from more advantages to get higher scores.” Queens State Senator Malcolm Smith: “I think [Discovery] is a program that has merit for someone who is one or two points below [the cutoff score]. To go for six weeks to beef up their skills is fine. I think there’s nothing wrong with enhancing a person’s talents. “The real challenge for me is to figure out why they stopped the program at those two schools. I find that somewhat discriminatory. Maybe it’s not based on race or intellect, but I’m Malcolm Smith. going probably to talk to Dennis [Walcott] about it and find out why the Discovery Program is not being utilized by those two schools.” East Side State Senator Liz Krueger: “While I cannot say that just one program will serve as a silver bullet solution to our city’s educational shortfalls, particularly for minority students, I am led to wonder if the success that Brooklyn Latin has had with the Discovery Program cannot be duplicated elsewhere. However, the root of this problem, Liz Krueger. which we must address, is that there simply are not enough ‘good’ schools in communities throughout our city. ” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn: “We find it troubling that disadvantaged youth, including black and Latino students, are underrepresented at specialized high schools. In 2007, we created the Middle Schools Task Force, which convened a panel of experts who devel- Christine Quinn. oped recommendations to improve academic achievement in our city’s middle schools. In the past four years, the Council has worked with DOE to commit over $20
million to the Middle Schools Initiative, which seeks to level the playing field in the grade levels where students take the Specialized High School Admissions Test. It’s crucial that we give students a strong foundation, so that they have the skills necessary to succeed at these schools, not just the skills to pass the test.” West Side State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell: “You have a very elite test that is given where people with resources probably pay some Columbia University undergrad a lot of money to tutor their kid to get them into those schools. So what happens if you come from a Daniel O’Donnell. family without the resources to hire a private tutor? “However they [score the test] has such a racially divisive impact that I think we ought to figure out a way to not have it be so. This is a failure on the part of DOE to realize the impact of what they do. I’m not
special high school. I think this is fair and appropriate given the value of diversity in the classroom to receiving a high-quality education.” Former City Comptroller and Mayoral Candidate Bill Thompson: “I think the attempt to create additional class time in earlier grades to start getting them up to speed in math and science has also fallen by the wayside. I think it’s a combination of attempts by [former NYC Schools Chancellor Rudy] Crew and Levy to Bill Thompson. provide additional time for certain subjects in earlier grades to give underserved kids an opportunity that has fallen off. Both efforts have appeared to have gone by the boards in the past seven years. I think it’s a lack of commitment at the top because that’s the only way anything is going to get done.” Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at NYU and education historian: “I was aware of the pathetically small numbers of black and Hispanic students in the city’s selective schools, but did not realize that someone made a decision to Diane Ravitch. cancel a program that helped students who just missed the mark become qualified for admission. I hope you find out why that decision was taken. It was a mistake.” Former NYC Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew: “I do remember the Discovery Program. There had been an issue raised by the NAACP and by the Urban League at that time having to do with access of poor and minority students to the high-prestige high schools in NYC. The Rudy Crew. missing link was their ability to compete on the entrance exams, and when you look at that further, it was math and science. “I think that it’s as much as Bronx Science and Stuyvesant having an obligation, it’s that the system has an obligation. “It starts at the top and my guess would be that this is no longer a priority to the higher ups. This seems like a case of ‘We already fixed that problem’ or ‘It isn’t a big issue for us to address.’”
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West Side City Council Member Gale Brewer: “The problem at Stuyvesant runs deep; I know African-American students who have been accepted to Stuy but turned it down to go elsewhere because the Gale Brewer. culture is uncomfortable with so few black and Latino students. The DOE must respond to the need to restart the Discovery Program.” State Senator Adriano Espaillat, excerpt from a letter sent to Chancellor Walcott and the DOE: “While I understand that specialized high schools are not mandated by law to participate in the Discovery Program, the alarming decrease in black and Latino student enrollment at these schools is reason enough to reconsider our approach to this issue. “In fact, the severe drop in minority enrollment at specialized schools isn’t simply an affront to communities of color; it deprives all students the opportuAdriano Espaillat. nity to be educated in a diverse environment. Furthermore, the disproportionately weak enrollment of minority students—only 5 percent of students at Stuyvesant and only 11 percent of students at Bronx Science are either black or Hispanic—represents a missed opportunity to expand access to quality education to as many students as possible.” West Side State Senator Tom Duane: “It’s sadly not surprising, but that doesn’t negate how truly disappointing it is, that these elite schools have opted out of a program that has a track record of increasing the diversity of the Tom Duane.
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“I did not realize that someone made a decision to cancel a program that helped students who just missed the mark become qualified for admission. I hope you find out why that decision was taken. It was a mistake.” —Diane Ravitch
going to say that they do it for racial reasons. When you look at this impact, you have to sit down and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. How do we do something different?’ It’s just wrong that only certain kinds of kids go into the elite high schools.” West Side Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School: “The student who falls only a few points short of the cutoff score required for admission to the specialized high schools likely would not have fallen short had she/ he been fortunate enough to attend a challenging middle Richard Gottfried. school. To make sure the student has the skill set necessary to make the transition, the Discovery Program requires the ‘disadvantaged’ student attend and pass a summer preparatory program administered by the
May 19, 2011
No Plan for More Diversity at Stuy
By Megan Finnegan Last Sunday, a group of Stuyvesant High School alumni gathered to address the severe lack of diversity at the school, which has only 5 percent black and Hispanic students. An offshoot of the alumni association, the Black Alumni Diversity Initiative, organized a panel to discuss ways in which the esteemed school could bolster its reputation as a place with fair access, while still maintaining its elite status and rigorous academic standards. Stanley Teitel, principal of Stuyvesant, used his time to explain why he had discontinued the Discovery program at the school about eight years ago (he could not recall the exact year). The program was created in 1971 as a way to ensure that minority and disadvantaged students had access to specialized high schools. When these students scored a few points below the cutoff on the admissions test, they could be selected to attend a summer Discovery course that would bring them up a few notches and allow them to be offered a seat at that high school in the fall. “In the old days, when there were only three schools, when I wanted to have a Discovery program, I would select students who already had a seat at Bronx Science, but if they went to the summer program here at Stuyvesant, they might have a chance to attend Stuyvesant in the fall,” said Teitel. “So I was basically stealing from Bronx Science, Bronx Science was stealing from Brooklyn Tech.” Teitel said that after the Department of Education created five additional specialized high schools under Chancellor Harold Levy, the parameters of Discovery changed. Whereas previously he had been able to select participants who Several alumni in the audience spoke to say that they went through the Discovery program and it provided the preparation they needed to exceed at Stuyvesant, but also that the program simply succeeded where their middle schools had failed, in making them aware of and prepared for opportunities presented by the specialized high schools. “If it weren’t for that [Discovery] program, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I am,” said Colin Mapp, who graduated in 1983. He missed the Stuyvesant cut off by three points—after not receiving any support from his middle school in preparing for the test—and went through Discovery. Recent graduate Xevion Baptiste-Hall also spoke about the difficulties she faced to get to Stuyvesant. “I was one of those students who suffered from information deficit,” said Baptiste-Hall, who took the test—and got in—with only a month’s notice. “Just saying the problem is with the test does a disservice to black and Latino students. There’s a problem with the preparation they receive and there’s a problem with the information.” Tom Allon (president of Manhattan Media, which publishes this paper), who graduated from and once taught English at Stuyvesant, echoed that sentiment as he recalled his time teaching Asian students at the Elite Academy in Flushing, Queens, how to take the test, beginning in cherry trees from the same batch famous for transforming our nation’s capital every spring. Walking or riding along the path, find driftwood sculptures by artist Tom Loback, who creates carefully balanced structures on the mossy riverside rocks. About a quarter mile south of 125th Street, a section of the path is surrounded by enough vegetation that you can almost forget you’re next to one of Manhattan’s major highways. The end of Cherry Walk leads into West Harlem Piers Park, a network of piers with more fine views, benches for resting tired feet and even fishing off the pier. Errol Dawkins, of 158th Street, says West Harlem Park is perfect for walking his dog or having a snack after grocery shopping at the Fairway Market across the street. While Riverside Park itself bustles with families, kids, jocks and joggers, the paths, piers and riverbanks west of the highway offer a quiet haven for anyone looking to commune with nature in the form of New York City’s mighty Hudson.
special report: part iii
“If it weren’t for that [Discovery] program, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I am,” said Colin Mapp.
scored just below the 560 cutoff for Stuyvesant, Teitel said, the DOE told him that he would have to choose students for Discovery from those who had missed entry to all specialized schools—those who scored below the lowest cutoff score, generally less than 470. This 100-plus point disparity, he said, would make it impossible for Discovery students to get up to par academically with their peers by the time the fall semester began. “I can’t pick students who just missed the cutoff [for Discovery]. If I could, I would be happy to still have it,” said Teitel. Several people in the audience and on the panel questioned whether the admissions test itself is the best method of determining who are the best students in New York. cast of ER, M*A*S*H, Grey’s Anatomy and pretty much any TV and movie doctor you can imagine.
3rd grade. He said the rigorous preparation by some demographic groups sharply contrasts with the lack of information given to other minority populations, and called on Teitel to immediately reinstate Discovery as one means to address the racial disparity that results. “We’re cheating every single one of [the students] by not making this school more diverse,” Allon said. Joshua Feinman, an alumnus and economist who wrote a case study about the effectiveness of the admissions test, said that while it may be an excellent predictor of student ability, no one can say that for sure. “There’s never been a study done vetting the system,” said Feinman. “That is an enormous violation of pyschometric standards. It’s done everywhere else.” He said that he’s a fan of the specialized high schools and is not out to demonize the test, but called the DOE’s failure to measure its efficacy “unconscionable.” Teitel said that he would not consider including other criteria, such as teacher recommendations or essays, in the admissions process, but did acknowledge that there needs to be more communication from the DOE to middle schools throughout the city about the specialized high schools. The panel concluded with a call to further the discussion, but many potential solutions lie in the hands of Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the DOE.
continued from page 9 Café 71. I personally tend to go to Café Luxembourg, Compass or Calle Ocho. My friend Jeff Kadish owns it. We try to communicate with local pharmacies as well. While we don’t discourage people from going to big chains, we know patients get more personal attention at neighborhood drug stores. My father owned a corner drug store in Philly. Dr. Shipley: I’m often at Trader Joe’s to pick up supplies for dinner for my family. I’ll admit a fondness for Gray’s Papaya hot dogs.
continued from page 6 things you want in a theater space.” “It would be great if it could be something that could hearken back to its original spirit,” said Cristiana Peña, senior director of preservation at Landmark West. She said that they and other organizations would be happy to provide resources and support to whatever type of tenant moves in. “Just to have that kind of anchor in part of the northern Upper West Side would really be tremendous.” Oliva agrees that the neighborhood could use a commercial boost, and hopes a theater would revive the arts community as well as encourage more restaurants and other retailers to open. “We don’t have a cultural center north of the Lincoln Center area, and I think it’s something that people would be very receptive to,” Oliva said. “It’s never going to be Lincoln Center, but it can still be something nice.”
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How did you come up with the idea of the film-themed décor for your office? Dr. Melrose: We were trying to think of a way to decorate that wouldn’t break the bank. We were able to find headshots of almost every TV and movie doctor you could imagine at a movie memorabilia store. We’ve decorated our exam rooms and hallways with headshots from the
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the Bike and Roll location by the basketball courts under the highway near 70th Street, and ride all the way to the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. Take a detour back to the upper levels of the park, north of 97th Street, to check out “The Beach,” where there’s real sand, volleyball and acrobatics on the only set of traveling rings east of Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, Calif. The Hudson Beach Café at 105th Street provides the best view of the action—and more great sunsets. The stretch of path along the river between 97th and 125th streets is called the Cherry Walk, named in 1909 when a committee of Japanese citizens donated
May 26, 2011
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