What Is Driving the Fights Over Admissions at Stuyvesant and Harvard?

July 19, 2018

Professor Margaret M. Chin weighs in with essays in The Atlantic and elsewhere.

Professor Margaret M. Chin (GC/Hunter, Sociology) analyzed the current fights over admissions — and the roles of merit and race — at New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School and at Harvard University, in recent essays published in The Atlantic and The Society Pages, a social-science project based at the University of Minnesota.
Harvard is facing a lawsuit by prospective and rejected Asian American students who say the university is discriminating against them through its use of “personal qualities” criteria, Chin wrote in The Society Pages’ feature, “Merit and the Admissions Debates at Harvard University and Stuyvesant High School,” co-authored with Syed Ali of Long Island University-Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed last month that Stuyvesant, along with seven other city high schools, should no longer rely on the results of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test as their sole admissions criteria. These high-status schools have very low populations of Latino and black students. De Blasio proposed eliminating the test and instead admitting the top 7 percent of students at every public middle school.
The proposal angered many Asian parents in the city, as Chin wrote in “What’s Going On With New York’s Elite Public High Schools?” New York City Department of Education statistics show that 30 percent of Asian applicants received offers to a specialized school last year, and Asian students accounted for more than 50 percent of all offers. 
“The disagreement over admission to these elite schools is perhaps best interpreted as a consequence of a system that has over a million students, and not enough — as well as not widely distributed enough — resources for the brightest ones,” Chin wrote in The Atlantic article, which was also co-authored by Ali. “What sets up the conflict in the first place is that there aren’t enough great schools and there are too few seats at the best schools — and students (and their parents) correctly sense that getting into a specialized school can make all the difference in life.”
A remedy, Chin and Ali argue, is to make New York’s other magnet high schools, which comprise about a third of its public secondary schools, better reflect the city’s demographic.

The Atlantic essay was also cited in an op-ed in The New York Times
Chin, along with Ali, is the author of the forthcoming book The Peer Effect: Lessons from Graduates of the Best High School in America for Choosing a School and Improving our Educational System.