The story of Rudi-Ann Miller, a 17-year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School and one of the school’s few black students, drew a wide range of responses from readers — many of them Stuyvesant alumni — on the topic of merit-based admission.
Rudi was one of 64 black students four years ago when she entered Stuyvesant, one of New York City’s eight specialized high schools where admission is based entirely on the results of an entrance exam. This year, in a school with a population of 3,295, she is now one of 40.
No one claims that the disparity is caused by overt discrimination. But as reporter Fernanda Santos wrote, at a school that is devised to attract the best of the best, parents and educators alike find the demographics troubling.
Many of the reader comments on the story reflected that concern. These remarks have been condensed and edited.
“It's important that more blacks and Latinos are able to make it to elite public schools so as to foster a better school environment for the students. But the line is a thin one to walk as to set up a quota or lower standards will be just as damaging.”
— Guy Monahan, Brooklyn, NY
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong the demographics at Stuy. They are just an outcome of the unequal educational opportunities these students face. An affirmative action policy at schools won’t solve the problem. We need to look at the communities from which potential applicants are derived. Therein lies the problem, of which poverty is only one component. Best of luck Rudi!"
— E.O., NYC
“People here don’t seem to know what the word meritocratic means. It is not meritocratic to base admissions solely on one test when the article clearly points out that certain sectors of society are shut out of performing well on the test due to income-based and access-based factors, such as adequate preparation and even simple awareness of the exam. If success is predicated upon having good, well-educated teachers (who are concentrated in middle-class schools) and having access to high-priced prep classes that low-income students can’t afford, it’s not meritocracy. It’s an indirect unfairness.”
— Melissa, NY
“You nailed it on the head. Education starts and ends at home with parents. They are the people who implant the value system of education into their children. Most people put all the blame of failure on the schools; it is high time that we recognize the failure of parents, and, as a society, try to educate parents to take on the responsibilities of parenthood — including instilling value of knowledge and learning for education into their children."
— David, New Jersey
"The idea that the “merit” of a student can be measured accurately — and the potential achievement of a student be predicted — by a standardized test result is absolutely flawed, particularly when some students benefit by extra tutoring and preparation and other students are not even aware of the existence of tests or preparation. Specialized public high schools in New York City are publicly funded by tax dollars but do not serve the public equitably. The admissions system to specialized high schools in New York City should be completely overhauled."
— Susana Morales, New York, NY
"The test is need blind, race blind. I would have loved for the article to have at least explored Asian students who live at or below the poverty line, have English as their second language (more specifically, they started learning English beginning from the age of 7 years old or later), two full time working parents, and make her residences in a "bad" neighborhood. They would be pleasantly surprised by the number of Asian students who fit this description."
— Kim, New York
“The black students I knew at Stuyvesant were incredibly smart, successful and confident. Unlike the Ivy league college and top law school that I attended, Stuyvesant uses no affirmative action for any race or socioeconomic class. The benefit of such system is that every student knew that they earned entrance by their merits alone. I wouldn’t trade that system for anything. Only you have the power and the ability to change your life!”
— Why, New York
“As a Stuy alum who had many black friends, I find it disappointing that the article didn’t inquire further into the community of black students who do make it to Stuy. The real issue is why there are so few from the entrenched black communities, in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx who aspire to attend Stuy. The reality is that the schooling in those areas is probably of such a lower quality that even the most innately gifted are not prepared to compete with those who have attended Mark Twain, M.S. 54 and others across the city that hand-pick gifted students from a set of better quality elementary schools. If we want to see significantly more black students at Stuy, the way to do it would be to create elementary school programs that identify gifted students in those neighborhoods and educate them separately to prepare them to enter a competitive middle school. Such a system would inevitably have positive repercussions far beyond Stuyvesant’s walls.”
— pos, New York, NY