Every time I see large groups of Caucasian teenagers on the train, there are usually two reasons why: the Yankees are playing or the kids from Bronx Science have been dismissed.
On the hourlong trip from my public high school on the outskirts of the South Bronx to a college prep program in lower Manhattan, I see the Bronx Science students get off the train at 86th or 59th Street. Like everyone who has ever been on a train before, I sometimes peek at what the passenger next is reading, watching, etc. As my head aches at the thought of thick practice SAT packets awaiting me, Bronx Science kids quickly pack up their complex work into their Herschel bags and go home to rest up.
Later, after two hours of supplemental instruction in math and english, my friends and I will take the train back north and get off at 167th Street or Burnside Avenue. We might make it home by nine. All of this work is done with hopes of attending the same prestigious colleges as the Bronx Science kids – that is, if we receive enough financial aid.
The average household income for 86th Street’s zip code is about $340,000. Burnside’s zip code? $31,000. The differences in school funding are also two distant numbers. Contributions from parents, alumni, and other private funders give schools like Bronx Science more resources than others. My school, which is located in between a mental health center and a halfway house, seems to exist in a funding desert.
New York City, known for its diversity and embrace of immigrants, has one of the most segregated school systems in the country. Although the high school admissions process theoretically gives all students lots of choices, low-income black and Latino students end up clustered in the same schools year after year. Meanwhile, students at selective or specialized high schools are mostly white or Asian and affluent. Out of the 5,078 students that got accepted into specialized high schools this year, only 524 are black or Latino – in a school system where 7 in 10 students are black or Latino. At Stuyvesant High, considered the city’s best, only 13 of the 1,000 available seats were given to black students.
My school is 96% black or Latino and 82% of the students meet the requirements for free or reduced price lunch. The school promotes helping students of color from low-income backgrounds graduate and redefine statistics. But the inferior academic instruction at my school, layered on top of years of inferior instruction in elementary and middle schools, cripples students’ chances. My peers perform poorly on Regents Exams and SATs, evidence that they are missing out on material essential for college success.
My school is one of at least 45 high schools in New York City with above average graduation rates that mask college readiness rates below 20%. At my school, 51% of the class of 2016 graduated and went on to college; however, only 9% were “college ready” based on CUNY’s standards. The same graduating class at Bronx Science had a 100% graduation rate and a 100% college readiness rate. My school’s average SAT score was an 816. Bronx Science? 1389.
Evidently, there are sharp contrasts between the education provided to affluent and low-income students. The idea of educational equality is flawed in the sense that a child’s early years, which are the most essential to one’s education, depend largely on a family’s income. Even if schools were “equal,” they could not compensate for years of being at a disadvantage. The problem is, schools widen those existing inequalities.
The admissions test for specialized high schools is flawed. I’ll admit that I took the test a few years ago and did not do well enough to get accepted, but the exam is not an accurate measure of a student’s ability to perform well at a specialized high school. It is moreso empirical evidence of the achievement gap. Specialized high schools should take more factors, such as academic portfolios and personal statements, into consideration when managing admissions.
I'll continue to make the most of the opportunities that have come my way. As I start my senior year of high school, I think of my competition, the Bronx Science kids of the world. I think of the kids who have grown up in the 86th Streets of other states and countries. For now, I may only see them on the train, but next fall, I’ll see them at freshman orientation.