Ocasio-Cortez blasts 'injustice' that prestigious New York City high school admitted few black students

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., charged on Tuesday that a selective New York public high school should have admitted more black applicants this year, saying their relatively low admit rate was an "injustice" and a "system failure" -- although an objective state-mandated test is used to determine admissions decisions, and low-income Asian students took most of the spots.

In her fiery social media post, Ocasio-Cortez pointed to news reports that only seven black applicants secured offers of admission to Stuyvesant High School this year, out of 895 available slots.

"68% of all NYC public school students are Black or Latino," Ocasio-Cortez began. "To only have 7 Black students accepted into Stuyvesant (a *public* high school) tells us that this is a system failure. Education inequity is a major factor in the racial wealth gap. This is what injustice looks like."

The progressive New York Democrat cited a Monday New York Times report, which noted that the population of black students at Stuyvesant was seemingly decreasing: 10 were admitted in 2018, and 13 in 2017.

At the highly selective Bronx High School of Science, meanwhile, only 12 black students received offers of admission, compared with 25 in 2018.

But the report also mentioned several facts Ocasio-Cortez did not -- including that "low-income" Asian students are a majority at New York City's most selective schools. At Stuyvesant, for example, 74 percent of current students are Asian-Americans who performed very well on the admissions test, known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which is used by eight of New York City's most selective high schools.

Approximately 19 percent of the students are white and 3 percent are Hispanic, according to school data.

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The Times noted that state efforts to help students prepare for the test -- including free test prep for minority students -- have not helped change the admissions numbers in favor of black applicants.

"The numbers are abysmal; we knew that."

— NYC public advocate Jumaane Williams

As a result, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last year called for a new admissions system to New York's most prestigious schools, which would simply scrap that test, and instead ensure that top students from each local middle school received admissions offers.

“These numbers are even more proof that dramatic reform is necessary to open the doors of opportunity at specialized high schools,” de Blasio said, responding to the Times' report.

In an op-ed last year, de Blasio elaborated: "Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence. If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.”

He added: "Right now, we are living with monumental injustice. The prestigious high schools make 5,000 admissions offers to incoming ninth-graders. Yet, this year just 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers. This happened in a city where two out of every three eighth-graders in our public schools are Latino or black. ... Can anyone defend this?"

Stuyvesant High School in New York, in JuneMARY ALTAFFER / AP

Stuyvesant High School in New York, in JuneMARY ALTAFFER / AP

But his proposal to eliminate the test remains unpopular in New York. A spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said only that there were "two sides" to the issue, and Jumaane Williams, the city's public health advocate, told the Times that he opposed scrapping the test.

“The numbers are abysmal; we knew that,” Williams, who is black, told the Times. “The question is what do we do about it, how do we do it without needlessly pitting communities against each other?”

Asian-Americans, backed by the Trump adminstration, have increasingly challenged what they characterize as Democrats' insensitivity to racism directed at them by institutions and individuals. In one closely watched case, the Justice Department last year filed court documents siding with Asian-American students who allege Harvard discriminates against them in its admissions process.

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William Fitzsimmons, the 30-year dean of admissions at Harvard, who oversees the screening process of about 40,000 applicants and narrows them down to 2,000 acceptance letters that are handed out each year, testified during the trial that African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic high schoolers with mid-range SAT scores out of a possible 1600 combined math and verbal, are sent recruitment letters with a score as low as 1100, whereas Asian-Americans need to score at least 250 points higher – 1350 for women and 1380 for men.

"That’s race discrimination, plain and simple,” argued John Hughes, a lawyer for Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA).

Fox News' Caleb Parke contributed to this report.