The ‘Fame’ (LaGuardia) High School Is Known for the Arts. Where does Mathematics Fit In?

Dear Commons Community,

Last Friday, students filled the halls of Manhattan’s LaGuardia High School during a sit-in to call for the school to reaffirm its focus on the arts.  As reported by the New York Times:

“The balance between arts and academics has become increasingly fragile at LaGuardia High School. Long-simmering tensions boiled over on Friday, when hundreds of students staged an hours-long sit-in at the school to protest a perceived dilution of LaGuardia’s arts focus in favor of stricter academic requirements.

Students lined the hallways on two floors of the Lincoln Center area school, holding signs reading, “talented people are left behind” and “permit art,” many of which were later taped to the front door of the office of the principal, Lisa Mars, who took over in 2013. Dr. Mars did not come to school on Friday, but is expected to meet with a group of students on Monday. Some parents are also planning a protest outside the school.

“We’re not here to be the most perfect mathematicians, if I wanted to do that I would have gone to Stuyvesant,” said Eryka Anabell, an 18-year-old senior, referring to New York’s most selective public high school. “I’m here to discover myself as an artist,” she added.   LaGuardia is also a so-called specialized high school, but is the only one of the nine that does not rely on a single standardized test for admission. It considers both auditions and middle school grades when selecting students.

Until now, LaGuardia has avoided the criticism the city’s other specialized high schools are facing for enrolling tiny numbers of black and Hispanic students.

The school’s racial demographics have been consistent since Dr. Mars became principal. About half of the school’s roughly 2,800 students are white, 20 percent are Asian-American and a third are black and Hispanic. All rising high school students in New York City can apply to LaGuardia.

Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said students’ academic records are considered only after their audition at LaGuardia.

“LaGuardia has a long and proud history of both artistic and academic achievement, and the school’s admission policy has long included these audition and academic requirements,” said Mr. Cohen.   

Dr. Mars declined to comment directly…

…Some LaGuardia students have said Dr. Mars’s push to admit students with higher grades works to disadvantage low-income and minority students who may have natural arts talent but did not attend high-performing middle schools.

“LaGuardia used to be a haven for artistically inclined kids, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless if they could do well on a multiple choice test, which is ridiculous to expect an artist to always do amazingly on,” said Nina Grinblatt, an 18-year-old senior.

David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College, said there is a valid argument for focusing more on academics at the school. “While quality arts education is the school’s core mission, it would be hard to attract students and parents without adequate academics,” he said.

But students say Dr. Mars has gone too far by enforcing a decade-old mandate that prospective students must have an 80 average or above in each of their middle school classes to be considered for admission, even if their audition was excellent. Some students and teachers say that rule was sometimes rightfully overruled by previous principals when a student was particularly gifted in the arts.”

This is a good issue that deserves a full hearing and consideration on the part of the principal, the teachers, the students and the parents. 

I tend to lean with my c0lleague, David Bloomfield on this.  Academics should play a part in the determination of admissions.  How much is the critical question?


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