A 16-month prep course designed to help low-income middle school students prepare for the city's elite specialized high schools will be cut nearly in half beginning in 2012, sources tell Insideschools. The program is falling victim to "budget constraints" which will "change the structure" of the Specialized High School Institute, according to a letter written by a lawyer from the city's law department and obtained by Insideschools. Eligible students would begin the intensive SHSI program in the spring of 7th grade, rather than the summer after 6th grade, according to the proposed changes.
The SHSI course was originally set up in 1995 with the goal of increasing the number of black and Latino youngsters at the specialized high schools by giving them better preparation for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). The program traditionally meets for five weeks in the summer between 6th and 7th and 7th and 8th grade and then twice a week during the school year until the test is taken in the fall of 8th grade.
But it hasn't worked as originally planned. The number of black and Hispanic youth represented at the specialized high schools, always low, has declined even further in the past few years, while the number of Asian students has increased. And, after a 2007 lawsuit charged that low-income Asian and white students were unfairly discriminated against in admission to the SHSI -- having to meet income guidelines that black and Hispanic students did not -- the Department of Education changed the rules to give equal access to all students.