School Colors Episode 8: "The Only Way Out"
In June 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to replace the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT. For years, advocates had claimed that the test favored white and Asian students while systematically keeping Black and Latinx kids out of the city's most elite and well-resourced high schools.
This announcement galvanized some Asian American parents, who organized to defend the SHSAT. They feared that adjusting the admissions process would jeopardize seats that their kids had studied so hard to secure. As one parent told us, "We felt under attack. We felt that we weren't consulted, that we weren't respected."
But the specialized high school exam is just one example of so-called "merit-based" admissions to advanced or "gifted" education programs. These programs can start as early as kindergarten and they have become a third rail in New York City politics.
So, about a year later, when the District 28 diversity planning process was rolled out, many Chinese immigrant parents in Forest Hills, Queens, felt that "this was just another attack." This time, however, they were already activated and ready to fight back.
In this episode, we ask why gifted education gets so much attention, even though it affects relatively few students. How do we even define what it means to be "gifted"? And by focusing on these programs, whose needs do we overlook?