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Saturday, October 17, 2020

NYC DOE Deputy Chancellor Adrienne Austin Says SHSAT and Admissions Decisions Are "Political"


Adrienne Austin, deputy chancellor for community empowerment, partnerships and communications

Carranza’s deputy calls decisions on school admissions criteria ‘political’

A top deputy of schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stunned parents last week when she said decisions on admission criteria for the city’s top middle and high schools are “political.”

“Anything that’s as high stakes and important as — and political, to be honest — as admissions policy is going to have to be something that’s cleared by the city,” said Adrienne Austin, deputy chancellor for community empowerment, partnerships, and communications.

Austin made the startling comment after Manhattan dad Leonard Silverman asked about still-unknown Department of Education plans to give the SHSAT — the entry exam for eight specialized high schools — plus Gifted & Talented testing, and admission rules for kids applying to middle and high schools.

“I know parents want to know about admissions. I know parents want to know about grading policy. I want to know about grading policy and admissions,” Austin said. “I don’t have that information yet.”

Austin spoke Thursday at a Zoom meeting of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Committee, a citywide panel of 38 parent representatives.

Silverman, of Manhattan’s District 2, was taken aback by Austin’s honesty.

“Did she actually say what I think she said?” he wondered after her comment.

“I think it shows there’s more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. It’s not just educational issues,” Silverman said.

He added, “I don’t think issues like these should be political. Parents are caught in the crossfire. Parents want to know what’s going to happen next year, and if politics are delaying the process, it’s disconcerting.”

Yiatin Chu, co-president of PLACE NYC, a parent group that supports competitive admissions, called Austin’s comments “despicable.”

“For a top DOE leader to say that these decisions are political tells you that our educators have become politicians,” she said. “And they’re seizing on our health and education crisis to further their political agenda.”

Mayor de Blasio and Carranza have tried unsuccessfully to get rid of the SHSAT, the sole entry criteria, required by state law, for Stuyvesant, Bronx HS of Science,  and Brooklyn Tech. Five other high schools use the exam, which Carranza called “racist.”

Carranza also opposes the widespread practice of “screening” students for admission at hundreds of middle and high schools based on grades, state test scores, attendance, and other measures, saying it results in racial segregation.

Despite demands by advocacy groups such as Teens Take Charge, Carranza has not yet made changes but has suggested the pandemic can lead to dropping such criteria.

“Never waste a good crisis to transform a system,” he told principals in May. “We see this as an opportunity to finally push and move and be very strategic in a very aggressive way what we know is the equity agenda for our kids.”

Manhattan City Councilman Keith Powers, who has introduced a resolution asking the state to repeal Hecht-Calendra, the law requiring the SHSAT, interprets Austin’s use of the word “political” as a reference to the controversy swirling around admission issues,

“History has shown that these discussions have lots of stakeholders who feel very strongly,” Powers said. “But parents deserve to know what those policies are going to be so they can start the process of applying to schools and planning for where their children will go.”

The councilman added, “Ultimately, this is going to wind up at the mayor’s discretion.”

Austin declined to explain her remark.

“Admissions processes deeply impact each student’s education, and we are always on the side of equity and increasing access and opportunity,” DOE spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon said.

“Our decisions are driven by the best interest of our students, which is why we have publicly opposed SHSAT and haven’t added screened schools. We have engaged families citywide on admissions, and will share updates soon.”

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