The U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether the admissions process to New York City’s top public high schools discriminates against students of color, NBC 4 New York's I-Team has learned.
The federal investigation was launched after the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a civil rights complaint.
The complaint included information from a previous I-Team report showing that of the nearly 1,000 students who were accepted to the city's top public schools for the 2012-13 year, 32 were Hispanic and 19 were black.
They were admitted solely based on their score on a standardized exam taken on a single day in the eighth grade.
“African-American and Latino representation has been low for many years and it’s actually gotten worse in the last decade,” said Damon Hewitt of the Legal Defense Fund. “The only thing that matters is a single test on a single day.”
Critics say the city has never evaluated the test to determine if it predicts academic performance fairly, and they say students of color from low-income families are at a disadvantage because the public middle schools don’t teach the skills needed to pass.
And more parents are turning to expensive, private tutoring to help their children learn the tricks and skills that could put them over the top.
Mayor Bloomberg dismissed those concerns when he learned of the civil rights complaint in September.
“Life isn’t always fair,” said Bloomberg. "I don’t know how you would take away the right to get tutoring or how the public could pay for tutoring."
In an effort to close the racial gap at the specialized high schools, the city does have a program in place that pays for tutoring for some – but not all – of the thousands of gifted students of color.
The city Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, the DOE has argued that it is required by state law to use the standardized test for admissions.