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With New Rules for Gifted Programs, NYC's Poor and Minority Students Lose Out

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If you'd ever bumped your head up against test score distributions for entering kindergarteners, you already knew that NYC's shift to a uniform cutoff for gifted admissions - the 90th percentile - could only hurt poor and minority kids' access to gifted programs. So many of you were unsurprised in April when I analyzed the new gifted and talented data, and found that poor and minority kids' access to gifted and talented programs had been seriously diminished. (See maps here.)

Kudos to Elissa Gootman and Robert Gebeloff at the New York Times, who pushed the G&T issue out onto center stage this morning (Gifted Programs in the City are Less Diverse):

An analysis by The New York Times shows that under the new policy, children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots.

Considered alongside Fordham's report on high achieving students and Stanford prof Sean Reardon's finding that the black-white grows faster among the highest achieving students, these losses in G&T seats should not be taken lightly. Because of NYC's stark residential segregation, high achieving minority students are more likely to attend schools populated by low-achieving students than are high achieving white students. Robert Pondiscio has done a great job educating us about how this unfolds in New York City classrooms, "The 'not your problem' kids walk in smart and walk out smart, largely by accident of birth. While they’re in school, they are nearly completely neglected, and as a result achieve not nearly as much as they would have (while still testing at or above grade level on dumbed-down state tests) had they not been starved for oxygen in an underperforming school, where they were constantly praised for being bright, but had few demands placed upon them, and where opportunities for enrichment, in or out of school, were non-existent."

Let's hope that those concerned with "educational equity" revise the admissions policy for next year. Here's what I'd like to see: If we want to increase access to advanced instruction for disadvantaged kids who are more advanced than their peers, we might consider offering gifted slots to the top 5% of students in each community school district, while also guaranteeing a seat for any student who scores in the 90th percentile or above of the national distribution. This is analogous to states' top 4% (California) or top 10% (Texas) plans for college admissions, which guarantee college admission to students who have excelled in their own high schools. Thoughts?
5 Comments

When I saw this morning's New York Times headline, I half expected to see you quoted for your earlier posts.

What I would like to see is a study that showed the effectiveness of gifted programs. In my experience with gifted programs, they are worthless at increasing the performance of high performers.

My observation is that gifted programs have become nothing more than an education bauble used to signify status for schools and parents alike.

Instead of our antiquated gifted programs, which try and adopt a one size fits all program to educating a diverse population of high performers, I propose revamping the whole system.

Let's create accelerated subject specific classes with well defined higher standards, then open them for enrollment to all students regardless of test scores, sort of like AP classes, but for lower grades. These classes would have to be demanding, but reasonably paced. This would reward effort over intelligence while still improving performance at the higher end.

To help diversity in these classes, we could rely on recruiting efforts and also provide tutoring. Perhaps even automatically enroll the top 10% of students in the school.

Students who weren't willing to do the work or couldn't keep up would be placed back in regular courses with no penalties. This is key, because the no penalties rule would encourage more students to be willing to at least attempt the courses.

While not a panacea for gifted education equality issues, this program would at least remove all test score barriers replace a program with no defined objectives to one with defined goals.

Or not...

Its sad that we track our students at such a young age at all. I can understand tracking in high school, after students have had time to prove their ability, but to start tracking in kindergarten really sets up low expectations for kids who haven't even had a chance to show that their hard work can overcome initial disparities.

NYC's policy represents a dangerous, indeed race and class-biased, return to IQ-ism. This combines the belief that those who have not learned X at a given age are "slow learners" with the belief that a limited set of items constructed in a particular social setting represent "intelligence" and thus the ability to learn.

Selecting a top percentage of test-scorers in any given community may help address the race/class inequity, but at best only partially. And it will perpetuate the dangerous illusion that a score on an IQ-type test (or a standardized achievement test)is an adequate basis for determining who can learn well.

A trly progressive approach to schooling would ensure each child a real opportunity to learn, to be engaged and supported and challenged. The best practices of "gifted and talented" could be used in this way, for all kids, not just a few, regardless of how selected.

Carol: why assume younger kids haven't had an opportunity to prove their ability? A two-year-old I know can talk in complete sentences, with prepositional phrases and subordinate clauses, expressing chains of logical reasoning. I was reading by preschool and doing second-grade math in kindergarten. I didn't end up in the local public schools because the principal couldn't grasp the idea of a kid who could read *and* do math, and all he could think of was "we could...give her more worksheets?"

I do think we need a flexible system that takes into account that passion and discipline count for as much as intelligence in the long run, but the intellectual differences among very young children can be tremendously pronounced, and young children, just as much as older ones, deserve appropriate and challenging curriculum.

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