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The Cutthroat World of Elite Public Schools

In September 2012, the NAACP’s legal arm joined forces with two other advocacy groups to file a federal civil rights complaint against New York City’s public school system. The issue at hand was—and still is—the city’s nine elite public high schools. Like most public high schools in the city, these schools can choose who attends. But the elite schools are their own animal: Whereas other schools look at a range of criteria to determine students’ eligibility, eight of these nine elite institutions admit applicants based exclusively on how the students score on a rigorous, two-and-a-half-hour-long standardized test.

The test-only admissions policy is touted by supporters as a tactic that promotes fairness and offers the best way to identify the city’s most gifted students. But the complaint, which is still pending, tells a different story—one of modern-day segregation, in which poor kids of color are getting left behind.