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Needed: A cultural commitment to academic success

Melvin B. Miller | 3/23/2017, 6 a.m.

In mid-March, New York City eighth graders learned whether they have scored high enough on the standardized test to be admitted to one of the city’s eight specialized high schools. Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science, two of the eight, are nationally recognized as respected incubators of academic talent. Their status is equivalent to the Boston Latin School, and they have a similar problem in enrolling blacks and Latinos.

While blacks and Latinos account for 28 and 40 percent of the population group, respectively, they were only about 10 percent of those admitted to all eight special high schools. Even though Asians constitute only 17 percent of the eighth grade population, they were 64 percent of those admitted. Whites account for 13 percent of the relevant population but 22 percent of those who scored high enough on the exam to be admitted.

The racial disparity for admissions has generated a battle in New York among politicians, educators and policy planners. They have established programs to train students from an early age to perform well on the standardized test, but the admission numbers have not budged. The proposal now among those who profoundly object to the lack of disparity is to include some non-academic criteria for admission.

There are only two possible solutions to the problem of limited racial diversity. One is to simplify the exam so that more blacks and Latinos will pass, and reduce the academic standards of the schools. However, with greater demands for highly skilled Americans in the increasingly more sophisticated workforce, that solution is impractical.

The only other solution is to establish a tracking system to identify the academically talented early and provide special education from the sixth grade so they will be able to score well enough on the admission exam for the specialized high schools. Blacks have to modify their culture to accept this process as a normal aspect of education.

There has been an objection to such a strategy because liberals generally object to early education tracking. Educators ought to determine how well tracking systems operate in Germany and other European countries, which even finance the college education of those who qualify.

One thing is clear: The continued failure of blacks and Latinos to qualify is not acceptable.