New York legislators are seeking to fix the diversity problem persistent in elite New York City public high schools.

The diversity problem in Silicon Valley and other elite career fields could have roots as deep as the high school system. In New York, for example, the most elite public high schools exemplify a dearth of diversity, and the problem is only getting worse.

Now, a group of state legislators has proposed a multi-million dollar group of initiatives to help fix the diversity problem at its deepest roots.

Dearth of Diversity

Top New York public schools have a very small number of black and Latino students, and the levels have only been declining in recent years. Only 6.3 percent of students admitted to specialized public high schools in the city were Latino. Only 4.1 percent were black.

That's down from the previous year, when black students were admitted at nearly 5 percent and Latinos represented 6.8 percent of admissions to these elite schools. In total, only 530 students accepted to specialized high schools in the city were black or Hispanic, compared to nearly 600 last year.

Admission to elite high schools in the region is based on testing at the eighth grade level. Twenty-eight percent of students in New York at that grade level were black and a full 41 percent of eighth graders in the city's schools were Latinos.

A New Plan Emerges

The ethnic disparity in the numbers has several causes, including the decline of black and Latino students who even bother taking the entrance exams. Democratic state legislators in Albany recently proposed a new initiative to combat the problem: a package of programs aimed at better preparing all students for those decisive eighth grade exams estimated to cost $5 million.

The State Legislature, including its Democratic representatives, has previously been resistant to altering the admissions process for these elite schools, which include the top high school in the city, Suyvesant High School, along with the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School.

But as a workaround to opposition to changing the admissions process, Jeffery D. Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference in the New York State Senate, has worked to lift up the test scores of underrepresented black and Latino students.

The proposed package of initiatives would include hiring outreach coordinators for every middle school from which elite schools recruit students, especially underrepresented middle schools. Those coordinators would be responsible for encouraging black and Latino students to take the test in the first place.

Creating Greater Chances for Success

The proposal also includes an initiative to increase the number of gifted and talented programs being run in elementary and middle schools from underrepresented and low-income neighborhoods.

Another included program, which encourages science education and test preparation, has previously successfully spurred black and Hispanic students to apply and be admitted to Brooklyn Technical High School. That program -- which has middle school students spending several weeks taking science and math classes from Brooklyn Tech teachers during the summer -- managed to place 41 of the 55 students who completed the course into elite high schools.

"As a percentage it's a good percentage," said Larry Cary, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation that runs the program. "We think that this is a model for addressing part of the problem."