The Proximity of the Problem

An Academic Profile of Two Bronx High Schools


Every morning, over six thousand high school students make their way to the Bedford Park neighborhood of the north Bronx. They stroll down Jerome Avenue, a street overshadowed by the 4 train’s above ground track. The streets are desolate, and unmarked buildings and abandoned storefronts scatter the area.

Half of these students continue down the block of West 205th St., and make their way into a seemingly modern building, where they are greeted by a vibrant 63-foot Venetian glass mural, depicting famous scientists such as Marie Curie and Charles Darwin.  Students then swipe their ID cards, say hello to the friendly woman manning the computer at entrance who knows all their names and faces, and proceed to their lockers before classes begin.

The other three thousand students pass the high school with the huge mural, and walk along a fenced off football field that separates the other school from their own and make their way to the end of that same block. After passing a few more fences, students finally enter their school. They show their ID cards and walk through metal detectors. Police officers, armed with guns, batons, and tasers, greet students on the other side, sometimes using hand-held wand metal detectors.

The school with the mural is the Bronx High School of Science – usually referred to as “Bronx Science” or “Science – and its neighbor is DeWitt Clinton High School. The former is a nationally recognized school, was deemed a historic physics site in 2010, and its current student body, along with alumni, can hardly remember a time when Science wasn’t on U.S. News and World Report’s list of America’s Gold Medal High Schools.

DeWitt Clinton, on the other hand, has been graded as one of the city’s “failing” public high schools for the last two years, based on the standards of the Department of Education’s annual report card. And for the 2011-2012 year, the school was declared the most dangerous in New York City.

The glaring differences in the two schools represent not only the disparity of learning opportunities in city public schools, but the proximity of the problem.

Getting In

Last November, the Department of Education announced that 24 New York City public high schools were in danger of closing due to low report card grades. One of those schools was DeWitt Clinton.

As of January Clinton was nixed from the list of closing schools, but the administration will have to make a serious effort to improve student progress, as well as safety if they are to receive a better grade for the upcoming year.

An obvious difference between the two schools is that entrance to Bronx Science is barred by a city-wide entrance exam, and Clinton is essentially open to anyone, with preference to residents of the Bronx. Admission to Bronx Science, along with other NYC Specialized Public High Schools, is solely based on the Specialized High School Admission Test. For the 2012-2013 test, only 5% of applicants were admitted to Bronx Science.

This past year, the NAACP filed a complaint to the United States Education Department on the grounds that the SHSAT was biased against minorities.

“There’s nothing subjective about this,” Mayor Bloomberg told the New York Times. “You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is.”

Connected by Violence 

Aside from lack of academic progress, students at DeWitt Clinton High School have had to deal with the [lack] of safety. For the 2011-2012 year, the school was declared the most dangerous in New York City; Clinton has the most heavily-armed student body.

According to the most recent statistics released by the state, 33 weapons were seized from students – from guns and knives to brass knuckles – and there were over 252 reported “violent or disruptive” incidents in 2010. There is a video online of students fighting on the sidewalk outside of the school.

Those numbers do not necessarily account for the violence that has made its way down the block to Bronx Science. Students have testified to being robbed by their neighbors from Clinton.

Ajay Parikh, a Bronx Science alumnus, also faced a similar dilemma, when he was jumped by fifteen students from DeWitt Clinton and another neighboring high school. All of his possessions were stolen, and he was beaten so badly that he was sent to the hospital.

Steven Zilberman, another alumnus, recounted when his friend was mugged in 2007. During his lunch period, he and another classmate were walking back to their campus, when they were both assaulted, and one of the attackers stole his friend’s wallet. They reported the incident to a school security guard, and one of the muggers was caught and arrested.

Zilberman, who now attends Vanderbilt University, said that despite the incident, he still felt safe on campus.

“When I was on the Bronx Science campus, I wasn’t worried about Clinton. It was only the commuting [that was bad],” he said. “I knew that Bronx Science and Clinton had the understanding that their students should stay on their campus.”

Inside the school & what students take away

According to the Department of Education’s website, DeWitt Clinton received 19.5 million dollars in Fair Student Funding for the 2012-2013 school year, and Bronx Science received just over 14 million dollars. The FSF comprises two-thirds of a school’s annual budget, and is based on student academic needs. The money may be used at the principal’s discretion.

The remaining funds come from donations, and the city and state governments. Those numbers were not disclosed on the Department of Education website.

DeWitt Clinton, by default, receives more money from the government because of its larger student population. Another, less obvious financial and social divergence between the schools is the percentage of students that fall under the “Need/Resource Capacity” category, which is determined by how many students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and how many students have limited English proficiency.

Thirty-four percent of Bronx Science students from 2011-2012 were eligible for free lunch, and 12% were eligible for reduced-price lunch. Seventy-four percent of students at DeWitt Clinton were eligible for free lunch, and 7% were eligible for reduced-price lunch. Twenty percent of students at Clinton had a limited proficiency in English, while Bronx Science had none.

The clear socioeconomic gap between students at the two schools reflects in the academic opportunities offered to them.

Bronx Science boasts itself as college prep school, with 99.9% of students continuing on to four-year colleges after graduation, and 99.9% of students also graduate with a New York State Regents diploma. Clinton, on the other hand, has a 49.9% graduation rate, and only 17.5% of students graduate with a regents diploma.

“From my writing abilities to my cognitive process, Bronx Science has helped me flourish in college,” said Parikh. “It provided me with the learning opportunities that I needed as it offered AP courses, college-level courses, athletic teams, and academic tutoring for most classes.”

While Clinton offers its students many of the same AP courses, 88.2% of Bronx Science students earn a score 3 or higher – which is considered “passing” because that is the minimum score to earn college credit – while only 12.8% of Clinton students pass.

It is not only the time that students spend at the school, but what they go on to do after that is a result of the opportunities offered to them. 99.9% of Bronx Science graduates go on to attend college, while only 40.3% of Clinton graduates go on to do the same.


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