White enrollment has also fallen while Asian enrollment has ballooned. Among the most drastic shifts: Brooklyn Technical High School’s black population dropped to 6 percent in 2016 from 51 percent in 1982.
The city has designated five additional test-in specialized high schools since 2002, bringing the total to eight, in an attempt to integrate the elite schools. But even those schools have seen a decline in black and Hispanic enrollment over the last decade, which undercuts the idea that simply adding more elite schools will shift demographics. Black and Hispanic students currently represent 70 percent of the school system, but make up just 10 percent of the enrollment in the specialized schools.
For years, most who took the admissions test had little to no preparation. Today, test prep is a rapidly expanding local industry. At the same time, many accelerated academic programs in mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods have closed as Asian immigrants have embraced the specialized high schools as tickets out of poverty.
And in a school system that remains severely racially segregated, many black and Hispanic students have been left in struggling middle schools that sometimes do not even notify them that the elite schools exist.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to scrap the decades-old admissions test has sparked an intense backlash and a renewed fight over how to integrate the city’s deeply divided school system.
The mayor’s proposal would replace the exam — currently the sole means of gaining admission to the schools — with a system that offers seats to the top-performing students from every city middle school. If his plan is approved by the State Legislature — an increasingly dim possibility — the specialized schools would be nearly 50 percent black and Hispanic, and Asian students would lose about half their seats.
That would be a significant blow to the Asian students, most of them poor, who have replaced white students as a majority in the specialized schools. From 1970 to 2011, the number of Asia-born immigrants living in New York City increased about eightfold to 843,000 from 105,000. The Asian population of the specialized schools includes Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants.
Though immigration from Latin America and Africa has also increased significantly in the same period, that influx is not reflected in the specialized schools’ makeup. By 2011, New York was home to about 984,000 first-generation immigrants from Latin America and roughly 128,000 immigrants who were born in Africa.
Today, it is almost unheard-of for a current student to not have prepared for the test — often at one of the prep centers whose presence in New York City has doubled in the past decade, to 436 in 2017. At Kaplan, a top prep chain, the most basic offering for the specialized school exam is eight group prep sessions for $1,000.
The centers have cropped up to prep students for the SAT, the specialized school test and other high-stakes exams. Some even offer summer classes.