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A losing attitude

Melvin B. Miller

People are generally reluctant to stand and claim responsibility for their failures. There is a proclivity to blame other individuals. The avoidance of liability becomes even easier when it is possible to blame another group. Commentary on the failure of a reasonable number of black students to be admitted to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan has not yet reached the point of declaring that there is a deficiency in black culture that fails to motivate youth to pursue academic excellence.

There are eight specialized high schools in New York with admission by exam results. One of the most prominent is Stuyvesant, which admitted only seven blacks out of 895 students. Admission results for blacks were also unsatisfactory in the other seven exam schools: 12 out of 803 in the Bronx High School of Science; 95 out of 1825 in Brooklyn Technical High School; 57 out of 540 in Brooklyn Latin School; 1 out of 304 in Staten Island Technical High School; 8 out of 165 in the High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College; 4 out of 142 in Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; and 6 out of 124 at High School of American Studies at Lehman College.

Stuyvesant is the crown jewel of New York’s exam schools. The cut off on the test score is higher than the level for the other schools. With admission to Stuyvesant as a target, Asian families spend years of tutoring and study to pass the test. As a result, 74 percent of current students at Stuyvesant are Asian. While about 70 percent of New York’s student body is black or Latino, only about 10 percent of the students admitted to the exam school belongs to those ethnic groups.

Interviews by the press with black students who passed the exam indicated that they decided on their own to study and prepare for the test.  There was no cultural inducement, as far as they were aware, or an organized effort to study for the test. Boston has a similar problem. Only 7.5 percent of the Boston Latin School students are black although 30.9 percent of the high school population is black.

Once again the Asians are attuned to taking advantage of the opportunity. Only 8.9 percent of Boston’s high school students are Asian but they occupy 28.6 percent of the Boston Latin School seats. What is worse, the percentage of blacks in exam schools in Boston and New York is declining. The black leaders in New York as well as Boston have failed to inspire youth to reach the stars. Efforts to shift the blame to racial discrimination will be unpersuasive.

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