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Stuyvesant Admissions

Admittance to my alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, is based solely on an entrance exam.1 Last year the NY Times created a clickbait post, Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.'s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots. The racism of multiple choice math and reading comprehension questions was exposed, and in response mayor Bill De Blasio pretended to take action.2 De Blasio's efforts to "diversify" Stuyvesant by altering the admissions criteria were met with a counter campaign from various students/parents. But all the noise from this debate is a distraction from Stuyvesant's real problem, teacher admissions.

The implication of the NY Times's post is that Stuyvesant is a good school in its own right. Swap out a few Xiaoping's for a few Tyrone's, some Mikhail's for some Pedro's, and the only difference will be who receives the great education provided by the Department of Education's crown jewel. This is nonsense, the only special aspect of Stuyvesant is that it has an objective standard for student admissions.3 The students' success does not come from the Stuyvesant staff, who are mostly welfare recipients pretending to do a job.

I speak from personal experience when I say Stuyvesant is infected with terrible teachers. The most memorable was Ms. Garber, a morbidly obese 300 pound chain smoker that taught... health. I had an English teacher who fell asleep during his own class. One history teacher never read his students' essays; he would just skim them and circle "key facts and dates". Many of these "teachers" were protected by tenure or some teacher's union measure.

Sol Stern wrote about Stuyvesant's staffing problem in an excerpt from the book, Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice.

Yet all these accolades tend to mask the school’s dirty little secret. While Stuyvesant admits only the city’s finest students, through a process that is free of subjectivity and nepotism, its hiring decisions are far less merit-driven. Like every other public school in the city, Stuyvesant is plagued by bureaucratic regulations and corrosive work rules that favor seniority and paper credentials over a teacher’s knowledge and skill in the classroom. For instance, according to the teachers’ contract, half of Stuyvesant’s teaching vacancies each year must be posted and set aside for teachers seeking transfers from other city schools. These set-asides are required to be filled solely on the basis of seniority. The fact that many of those selected lack the academic qualifications to teach to the level of Stuyvesant’s students is irrelevant to the union and the school system. The underlying premise of the contract is that any teacher with a state license is fit to teach at Stuyvesant.

This was written in 2003. Things haven't changed much in the last 20 years.4

The issue of transfers became Stuyvesant principal J. (Jinx) Cozzi Perullo’s bête noire—and ultimately led to her resignation. She had begun ruffling feathers from the moment she took the school’s helm in 1994. She didn’t like the seniority system and the work rules, believing they undermined excellence. And she said so in public. For this she made many enemies.

Perullo once described to me a conversation she had with the outgoing principal, Abraham Baumel, in which he told her that she now had the best principalship in the city. At first Perullo was flattered, until she realized what he meant: that Stuyvesant was a great place to be a principal because there was virtually no way to fail. The students guaranteed the school’s academic success. No matter what the principal did, the students would still achieve average SAT scores of 1400 points, and 99.5 percent would go to college.

Perullo conceded that Baumel had a point. “There’s never been a discipline issue here,” she told me. “The kids always do their homework. In some ways Stuyvesant isn’t a ‘real’ school. A teacher could fake it here for 35 years, because even when the teaching is inadequate the kids will find a way to do well on their tests.”

And if a teacher can fake it for 35 years, they must.

I support the move to remove Stuyvesant's test based admissions. Let the old folk receiving social security checks while pretending to teach deal with kids failing the tests that serve as their performance reviews. A few generations of bright incoming high school students will get shafted by this change, having NYC's intellectual safe haven swept away just before they got there. But at least those students won't graduate with the false impression that they received a good education. Hopefully when the smart kids are off the sinking ship they'll be able to find a school where teachers are held to a higher standard than the students.

  1. The exam is called the SHSAT - Specialized High School Admissions Test. It is open to all 8th graders in New York City. Roughly 30,000 students take the exam, competing for about 6,000 seats spread out across 9 schools. On the exam each student creates a preference list for the 9 schools. The top scoring student gets to go to their first choice school, then the student with the 2nd best score also gets to go to their first choice school, then the nth highest scoring student gets to go to their highest ranked school that still has a seat available. The bottom 24,000 students who do not get into any specialized school are doomed to attend a NYC district high school, a fate worse than being sent to the breeding farms. []
  2. He proposed a plan to guarantee admittance to a specialized science high school to any student in the top 7% of their class in their middle school. []
  3. And that comes at the hefty price of selecting for exam takers. []
  4. To my great amusement Stern's excerpt contains a part about the difficulties faced by his son's favorite math teacher, a "Romanian refugee". Indeed, the story of a talented Romanian math teacher infiltrating Stuyvesant's hiring bureaucracy only to leave a few years later repeats itself! []

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