Press Releases

City Bar Urges Elimination of Competitive Admissions to Elementary and Middle Schools

In a letter to New York City Department of Education Chancellor Richard A. Carranza and the members of the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), the New York City Bar Association urges the SDAG to call for the elimination of competitive admissions to public elementary- and middle-school programs and schools.

Noting that “[E]qual access to educational opportunity and racially and economically integrated public schools are central goals of the SDAG and the larger civil-rights community,” the City Bar offers several reasons for its recommendation, including that “measures of young children’s ability and behavior through competitive admission screening and testing are unreliable and racially biased,”  “competitive admissions for very young children are pedagogically unsound because research demonstrates that all children derive educational and social benefits from diverse classrooms with students of differing races, economic status, and learning ability” and “the practice of excluding the majority of certain socioeconomic and racial groups of young children from a large percentage of public institutions is inequitable and conducive to racial hierarchy.”

According to the letter, signed by the City Bar’s Civil Rights and Education and the Law Committees, awarding and denying academic opportunity based on the “academic” performance of children four to nine years old is “inequitable” in a public school system. Measures of ability and behavior through competitive admissions of children that young are “more likely to reflect characteristics of a child’s parents and past experiences than his or her future potential, and are unreliable, and racially biased.” This problem will not be solved by trying to make the methods of evaluation fairer, because even if there were reliable ways to evaluate a young child’s academic merit, “separation of young children into separate classrooms is not pedagogically sound,” the letter states.

In addition to citing the benefits of heterogeneous classrooms, the City Bar argues that “there are critical issues of racial justice that the City can no longer ignore. Each year we can predict with almost 100% certainty which racial groups will benefit from G&T tests and middle-school screens before the children are even evaluated, yet we go ahead and use them anyway. This problem will not be solved by trying to make the methods of evaluation fairer. Decades have been wasted tweaking evaluation methods to make G&T admissions more equitable to little avail. With the benefit of hindsight, it is evident that these efforts failed to grasp the burdened reality of the City’s discriminatory history and deeply segregated school system.”

The letter adds, “When all residents of New York City contribute to the funding of schools through payment of local, state, and federal taxes, it is deeply problematic that a large percentage of public schools and programs within schools are effectively closed to the majority of students.”

The letter concludes, “For all these reasons, the Committees formally recommend to the SDAG the complete removal of competitive admissions from elementary schools and the development of a process and expeditious timeline for the complete removal of competitive admissions from middle schools.”

Read the letter here:

About the Association

The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world. The City Bar’s Social Welfare Law Committee’s work focuses on legal issues impacting low income New Yorkers and public policies which concern income disparities and the social safety net.