Letter to the President

Many of you, alumni and non-alumni alike,  have reached out to us about the issues surrounding the SHSAT. Read a letter and article sent to our president from a former New York City teacher.

Dear Sir or Madam:

The New York Times published an article about a coalition of alumni associations fighting the proposed legislation about high school admissions to our elite high schools. I enclose an article I wrote on this topic for your perusal. Although sent to the New York Times, New York Daily News, and the New York Post, to date, it has not been published.

I am a retired teacher from Kennedy High School in the Bronx (not defunct) and a retired lawyer. I went to public school in Brooklyn, but that doesn’t give me the right to do what I am doing in retirement which is writing about education. As the newspapers become more and more politicized, my work is rejected. The teachers’ point of view is not given play. Only the so called reformers are given space. Time to blog!

However, I send you this for your own consumption. I wish you luck in your campaign to stop the madness. Thank you for your time.


Dianne B. Stillman



Big Schools in the Big City

Have you noticed that almost everyone calling for the end to objective admission to our elite high schools did not go to public school themselves? This leads to my conclusion that the loudest voices in the arena do not understand what going to school in New York City is all about.

The crux of the problem here is that the city high school system has been destroyed. People who had no clue about the place of large, neighborhood high schools in a city kid’s life, set about to close them over the last twenty years.

Grandchildren of immigrants, my brother and I were very good students. We both went to Tilden High School in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, during the 1960s. My brother, a linguist, did not want to go to Stuyvesant since he believed the stress would be on the sciences and math.

No one told me about Brooklyn Tech. or Stuyvesant. I suspect my mom wanted me in school close to home. I didn’t even notice I was deprived.

Tilden was a huge school which offered two or three types of diplomas. I took honors and advanced placement college courses and was a member of the debating team and the National Honor Society. Teachers guided me through subjects from French to pottery. I bounded to school every day.

Other students took vocational courses or prepared for the business world with bookkeeping and secretarial skills. There was no shame in this but rather a place for everyone. The atmosphere in the school was peaceful throughout.

Parents did not have to worry about where their kids would go to high school, then. There were fine high schools like Tilden all around the city. Now, middle class parents shiver for fear of not finding a seat in a school where those sitting near their children will be dedicated students and the offerings will be varied and challenging. This is why the few remaining comprehensive high schools in the city like Francis Lewis and Midwood are bursting at the seams.

Every kid had the imprint of the neighborhood high school in his brain. We knew that if we could navigate three years in the huge building and graduate, we would be ready to take on working or going to college in the city. And we knew that everything we could want vocationally or academically could be found in that building. This is not the case now. The end of neighborhood high schools and the small high school movement ruined all this.

We admired those who went to the elite schools. We supported their brilliance and their drive and wished them well. We didn’t strive to water down entry requirements to get us in as people later did in the City University of New York, bringing that gem of a system to ruin. As long as we had a good high school available to us, we could find our paths and soar.

These special schools were created to service the intellectual elite of the city. Students there are a minority and need protection. Their rights to an appropriate education are as strong as those of special education students. Our nation must support the best and brightest among us. It is folly not to.

But cry the progressives, middle class kids sit for private preparation classes and get an advantage over the poor. Quietly they admit that there are free, in-school preparation classes for the entry examination to the special schools. Still our minorities are not doing as well as others. A preparation class does not make you smart or academically brilliant: your life does.

As to the low number of minorities in the special schools, Bloomberg said it best:

You pass the test, you get into the school-

No matter what your ethnicity, no matter

What your economic background is.

The real reasons for low admissions are more complex. They demand a real and honest conversation away from the political arena.

I’m not sure anyone really wants to have this conversation. When I wrote to about fifty elementary school principals and P.T.A. presidents offering to come to make a presentation about what parents need to be doing to raise a student who graduates from high school, not one person replied. Is it too controversial to say, “Here’s what others do to promote learning; try this”?

So in sum, don’t mess with the schools for our top students. Bring back large, neighborhood high schools, and don’t speak on this topic without public school “creds.” That includes my beloved union head, Michael Mulgrew, (Catholic schools); State Senator Simcha Felder, (probably Yeshiva system); State Senator Adriano Espaillot, (Catholic schools); Chancellor Carmen Farina (Catholic schools); and many more.

Until you can fully appreciate what has been lost in our high school system and the place of the elite schools in that system, hush. You are holding the last nail in the coffin.

Dianne Stillman