We waited until the last minute to make our decision regarding where our youngest son Sean will attend high school this fall. Like many NYC students, Sean received two offers. We ended up choosing our local high school instead of the NYC specialized high school.
Initially, my husband and I thought that we would go with the specialized high school. Sean didn’t have a school preference but the specialized high school was the school that I had wanted my older son Michael to attend instead of Townsend Harris that he chose.
Why We Didn’t Choose the NYC Specialized High School
After attending the specialized school’s open house and driving by the school, we changed our minds. The top things that made us change our minds were the following:
1. The school was too academically focused. Don’t get me wrong – academics are important. My husband Reggie and I value education. (Reggie is a high school math teacher. I served on my district’s Education Council.) However, we don’t think that academics is everything – or even the most important thing.
Of the 7+ types of intelligence that people can have, both of our sons were blessed with the types that schools value. They are more than just their “school smarts” though. That’s why I didn’t like the fact that the principal wouldn’t give a clear answer regarding how many hours of homework a kid should anticipate a night. When she also shared that many of their students quit extracurricular activities because they wanted to study, alarm bells started going off in my head. This type of school might be great for families who want academics to be at the center of their teens’ lives. That is not us.
“But your oldest son goes to Townsend Harris…” That is true. Townsend Harris is currently the top-ranked public school in NYC. I have had some concerns about how “extra” the school can be overall but I must say that Townsend Harris cares about a variety of things (physical health, volunteering, extracurriculars, etc.) in addition to academics. Plus, their overall homework expectations (2 to 3 hours tops) were expressed when we went to their open house. I appreciate that the school has stuck to its word over the last three years.
2. The school isn’t in the best location. We drove by the school after Sean’s graduation last week. The area was too busy and the walk from the subway looked unappealing – trash, having to walk under a bridge, etc.
No thank you. Sean hasn’t been in physical school for almost a year and a half. My husband and I (especially I!) feel better with him being nearby. He can walk to the local high school.
3. Lastly, there aren’t enough Black people at the school. Only 3% of the students in the school, which is small anyway, are Black. Having others who look like you isn’t our top concern…but it is a concern. It can be exhausting being “the only one” or “the only one of a few” in spaces.
Purposefully, I’m not mentioning the name of the specialized high school. A Chalkbeat article, “She got into one of NYC’s top high schools. Four years later, she wishes she hadn’t.” confirmed my concerns though.
This is not an issue that is unique to this particular specialized high school though. Only 9% of the seats in NYC’s 9 specialized high schools went to Black and Latino freshmen combined. Keep in mind that 41% of the students in the overall school system are Latino and 22% are Black. I find that to be very problematic. (You can read NBC New York’s Specialized High School Offers to Black, Latino Students in NYC See Decline post for the breakdown.)
Side Rant About the Specialized High School Test:
Beyond the racial disparities, there are just some kids who don’t test well with these types of tests BUT are straight-A students. I was in the room one day while Sean’s teacher was talking to some of her students about the test results. One kid shared, “I bombed the test and didn’t receive any offers.” Another kid shared about how his friend studied so hard and aced the practice test but did poorly on the actual test.
I really appreciated the way the teacher responded. She encouraged the students not to worry about it. She shared how they didn’t even have these tests in Long Island where she went to school. NYC is my heart but we can be so extra! (I didn’t have these types of tests as a teen in Virginia either.)
I’m not saying to get rid of the SHST. Rather, I’m saying that teacher recommendations could/should be factored in for those who miss the cutoff by a few points – ESPECIALLY for the ELL (English Language Learners) students.
The main reason that I didn’t seek another term on the Education Council was that some things just don’t make practical sense to me. I love public school education but there is no way that you can convince me that ELL (English Language Learners) students should take the exact same tests as students whose first language is English. Even with translation help available, things get lost in translation.
Back to my main point… the reasons mentioned above are why we chose our local high school. It is overcrowded and not as well “graded” academically but we decided to give it a chance. Sean has a few friends in the honors/STEM program that he will be a part of there so we think that he will be happier and do well. At the end of the day, he’s not getting married to the school. 🤷🏾♀️ If it’s an awful fit, we’ll switch him out. It’s always good to have choices!