McNair Academic High School Jersey City
McNair Academic High School Jersey City

Rania Dadlani is a student at Jersey City’s McNair Academic High School.

Jersey City students have mixed feelings about recently announced plans that would take effect in 2026 to overhaul the admissions process for its top-two ranked high schools: McNair Academic and Infinity Institute. Those plans are being floated by the Jersey City Board of Education. According to Mussab Ali, president of the board, the objective is to transition from a race-based selection process to one that considers socioeconomic class.

Some students are afraid that the revised admissions standards may have unforeseen repercussions.

Karina Chhabra, a rising sophomore at McNair Academic, said, “I think that race and socioeconomic status are both important aspects of diversity and should be equally represented in admission decisions.”

The board’s decision has been a while in the making, spurred by the recent controversy in New York City over its retention of the Specialized High School Test (SHSAT). Supporters of the SHSAT argue that the test is colorblind, need-blind, and aims to be impartial, with admission to these magnet institutions based only on the score.

However, opponents consider that argument irrelevant.

According to the New York State Department of Education’s data, in specialized high schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech, the Black and Latino populations are 4%, 9% and 13%, respectively. Given that Black and Latino students constitute approximately 70% of New York City’s public school student body, some parents and educators have argued that the SHSAT should be abandoned or supplemented by other admissions criteria.

Said New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, “Can anyone look the parent of a Latino or Black child in the eye and tell them their precious daughter or son has an equal chance to get into one of their city’s best high schools? Can anyone say this is the America we signed up for?”

To enhance diversity, DeBlasio proposed that the top 7% of each public middle school be accepted to one of these schools, doubling the number of Black and Latino pupils, in order to “reflect the city better.”

Opponents argue that in order to create a place for these students, the number of Asian-American students will be slashed in half, an outcome that is unfair. Some Asian Americans support the test because they believe the kids who have worked hard to get there deserve a spot. Supporters of DeBlasio’s proposal argue that Asian-American students benefit unfairly from elaborate networks, test prep, and social capital that Latinx and Black communities do not have.

Watching the controversy across the river, it’s no surprise that the Jersey City BOE has taken notice and wants to move from racial to socioeconomic criteria.

Currently, admissions to McNair and Infinity are based primarily on race, with 25% of students selected each of whom is either Black, White, Latino, or “Other” and 50 of whom are “exceptional” individuals from any background. According to students, this has fostered a varied and welcoming environment.

But according to the New Jersey Department of Education’s school performance reports, the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at each school fell by 10% during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years.

The JCBOE wants to reverse this trend before it worsens and hopes that instead of competing by race, students will compete by social class.

“These schools are gateways for social mobility. We want to ensure the admission process that we have is not the one that kind of leaves students behind,” Ali said.

The hearing to determine whether the board will change its admissions policy is set for July 15 at 6 p.m. at the Jersey City Board of Education. It may be viewed live at https://www.facebook.com/TheSchoolDistrictOfJerseyCity.

If passed, it would be the most comprehensive change in the admissions process at these two schools in more than 50 years.

Rania Dadlani

Rania Dadlani is a student at Jersey City’s McNair Academic High School.