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Friday, January 8, 2021

Shaun Donovon's Run For NYC Mayor Proposes Changing The SHSAT As Well as Removing Middle School Screens


Shaun Donovan speaks during a virtual announcement of his candidacy for the 2021 New York City mayoral campaign in the Bronx. | Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

We are in favor of validating a policy of school choice - public or charter - and allowing kids with Special needs - autism, ADHD, 2e Twice Exceptional, etc - to have the right learning environment and support. Thus, we believe in the Specialized High Schools' existence and that the test to get must remain, but be given to all students, and not denied to anyone. When I was President of the PTA at Booker T. Washington MS 54, I did a small amount of research into who took the exam at any of the middle schools in Harlem, and we found that Guidance Counselors told students that the SHSAT was "not for them".

Additionally, kids starting kindergarten and through middle school should have the same opportunity to take classes with Gifted Education curricula similar to other students already in a G&T or Honors Program. The segregation starting in kindergarten has to stop. The standard of excellence should be raised for all students, not lowered or dumbed down so that all students are "equal" at a common level of accomplishment.

Every child is unique and deserves his or her path to his/her personal best.

I don't believe that the huge entity known as the NYC Department of Education values individual achievement and the needs of students over the desire to silence and retaliate against employees and parents who are too outspoken and/or who make complaints about anything happening/not happening in their schools. Sadly, this won't change soon enough.

Applying for the SHSAT

End Mayoral control of the Department of Education.

Mayoral Control of the NYC DOE Denies Rights to All Parties


Betsy Combier

Donovan would remove middle school screens as mayor, but would revise SHSAT

Shaun Donovan is the latest mayoral candidate to call for permanently eliminating middle school admissions screens but said he wants to change the Specialized High School Admissions Test instead of scrapping it.

Admissions screens, which include high-stakes tests among other metrics, can have an outsize impact on a student’s academic career. But they are increasingly seen as among the worst culprits in perpetuating notorious segregation in New York City schools. While less prevalent than middle school screens, the SHSAT has become a symbol of the type of test that has historically helped bar Black and Latino students from the city’s eight elite high schools.

The de Blasio administration is removing admissions screens at all middle schools for a year and plans to administer the Specialized High School Admissions Test at the end of this month. Donovan said, as mayor, he would end the middle school screens permanently.

"I think fundamentally we do need to ensure that the screens are permanently lifted but we also have to recognize that eliminating screens is the first step," Donovan told POLITICO. "An open lottery alone isn't gonna lead to more diverse schools without more intentional efforts beyond that and so the screens is only, from my perspective ... a first step."

As part of his education plan, which POLITICO previewed and will be released today, Donovan said he would put in place district-wide policies at the middle school level such as the weighted lottery approach currently being used in District 15 in Brooklyn — which is among a handful of districts that has a school diversity plan in place, while several others are in the process of developing those programs.

At the high school level, Donovan would continue the elimination of geographic priorities — tying a student to the area they live in — which the city is also abandoning temporarily this year. He also said he would change the high school admissions system to include mechanisms like weighted lotteries to ensure schools are more representative of students from all demographic groups.

As to the admissions process at the city’s specialized high schools, Donovan said the specialized high schools represent eight of roughly 400 public high schools, arguing there needs to be a much broader policy and change to address a broader set of schools.

The SHSAT has become a focal point of the fractious debate over segregation in city schools. Opponents argue it’s led to abysmal admission rates for Black and Hispanic students compared to their white and Asian counterparts. Supporters say eliminating the test will blunt the academic rigor of the elite schools.

Last year only 470 Black and Hispanic students were admitted to the eight schools, compared to 1,072 white students and 2,305 Asian students. Black and Latino students make up 70 percent percent of the city’s 1.1 million students.

"I am open that there could be a revised test, I don't know that we necessarily need to get rid of it completely,” Donovan told POLITICO. “But clearly there have to be changes and I think that needs to be done in partnership with students, teachers, families and make sure... that we're creating metrics that really look at the ways that the changes are driving greater integration at other specialized schools.”

Donovan, who grew up in Manhattan, said he went to private school but said he has had experiences working and volunteering in other schools.

"I started volunteering in a homeless shelter in college and working in housing and homelessness and came back to the city and worked in the South Bronx, in Central Brooklyn and a whole range of other communities that really were deeply challenged in the 1970s and 80s," he said.

Donovan, who worked in the Obama White House and Bloomberg mayoral administration, pointed to his work at the national level, including efforts with former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and John King around the "Promise Neighborhoods" program that supports cradle-to-career efforts in low-income communities, as well as his work with Geoff Canada of Harlem Children's Zone.

Donovan is not the first 2021 candidate to call for an end to middle school screens, but his early adoption of the position signals the weight his campaign is placing on education policy.

After the city announced it would temporarily eliminate admissions screens at middle schools, mayoral candidate Dianne Morales, who served as CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, a social services nonprofit in the Bronx, said she would permanently abandon screens if elected mayor as a first step to desegregating schools.

Another mayoral candidate, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, also previously expressed opposition to the use of screens.

Former de Blasio official Maya Wiley co-chairs the city’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which recommended getting rid of “exclusionary” middle school admissions screens like attendance and grades. The group also called for phasing out gifted and talented programs and replacing them with "non-selective magnet schools" based on student needs and interests.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams recently released a policy book outlining his plans but his education agenda does not mention admissions screens or other school integration issues. Other mayoral candidates like Comptroller Scott Stringer and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia have not yet indicated where they stand on admissions screens.

As part of his plan, Donovan also wants to establish a School Diversity and Integration Office within the city’s Department of Education to come up with a comprehensive integration approach. He wants to add diversity, integration and inclusion metrics to annual school quality reports and create a new publicly available equity report card for the city and each community school district.

He also called for expanding the number of seats in high-performing, integrated schools and supporting community-driven integration plans.