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Race, Ethnicity, and the Gifted and Talented Pipeline in New York City

| 10 Comments
“I’m convinced that there are gifted and talented children in all communities, and that we need to make sure that they avail themselves of the opportunities."
-Joel Klein, October 30, 2007


In the last two weeks, the New York Times reported on two striking trends in gifted and talented enrollments in New York City. Not only have the new admissions requirements to G&T programs reduced the representation of poor, African-American, and Hispanic students in these programs at the elementary level, but we see growing racial disparities in the composition of specialized high schools like Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and Brooklyn Tech, schools that require a competitive entrance exam.

To be sure, the trend in specialized high school composition sits uncomfortably with the DOE's claim that they are closing the achievement gap separating black and Hispanic students from their white and Asian peers, "in some cases by half." As many others have found, it appears that the achievement gap at the top of the distribution - i.e. the gap separating high-achieving white and high-achieving black students - is even larger than the average gap between the two groups.

Let's take a closer look at enrollment trends in the three of the selective schools. Starting with Bronx Science, we see that the school has a shrinking proportion of African-American students, dipping from 9% in 1999 to 4% this year. The most notable trend here is the increase in the percentage of students who are Asian from 46% in 1999 to 61% in 2008.

bronx%20science.jpg

On to Stuyvesant: Even in 1999, only a small fraction of Stuyvesant students were African-American (3.7%) and Hispanic (3.9%). This year, 2% of Stuy students were African-American and 3% were Hispanic. Again, the most striking trend is the increasing fraction of the student body that is Asian - from 47.8% in 1999 to 68% in 2008.

stuy.jpg

Finally, we see that the proportion of students that are African-American and Hispanic has decreased at Brooklyn Tech. In 1999, 24% of Brooklyn Tech students were African-American; today, 13% of Brooklyn Tech students are. In 1999, 13% of students were Hispanic; today, 8% are. brooklyn%20tech.jpg

These figures do raise some questions about pipeline issues. The Times article makes a lot of the Specialized High School Institute, which starts in 6th grade and helps to prepare students for the test. But only 12% of African-American students and 14% of Hispanic students that attended this institute were ultimately offered admission to a specialized school, while 52% of Asian and 42% of white students were.

Readers, a number of thoughts to kick around: Might 6th grade be too late to start leveling the playing field? What role might the changes in the gifted and talented admissions policy at the elementary level play in shaping admissions to the specialized high schools in the future? Or does the composition of the selective schools in NYC matter at all?
10 Comments

Yes. None. No.

Hi, EW.

I like the graphs but I fear this post will not be winning any Occam's Razor awards.

Since the percent of white students is also decreasing, isn't this more of an indictment on the differences in academic culture between Asian families and the rest of U.S. society rather than an AA/hispanic/white achievement gap issue?

After reading the Times article, I saw that the percentage of white students isn't decreasing; I think I just have too many numbers in front of me (although my general statement about the indictment of our academic culture in U.S. society still stands).

Of course actions at the elementary school affect the high schools. As a parent I'm really seeing this now--in our district 4th grade standardized test scores are a big part of the matrix in getting into honors math in 6th grade. If you're not in honors math by 7th grade, you're not going to be in high school. Students aren't "locked in," but upward movement becomes tougher the longer the student is in school.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, waiting until elementary school is too late. I'd like to see the racial and ethnic makeup of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers attending one of the many $15,000+ preschools in the city (impossible, probably). At the age of three these kids know primary colors, shapes, and speak in short sentences. They can draw some shapes, follow two step directions, and pay attention to an adult reading a book for five minutes. Compare them to kids who are raised by their grandmother, or some ad hoc combination of unreliable family members, and you'll see that the differences begin to emerge well before formal school entry.

What Edudiva says fits with what my understanding has always been--the earlier determinations are made, the less likely a kid ever moves up. I would only throw in that most of the high performing countries internationally have ditched these kinds of tracking systems--and many are both high performing, but achieve at higher levels of success across the board (lower spread from top to bottom--indicative of equity).

I think, as I believe your data tends to indicate, that emphasis on specialized (and segregated) gifted and talented programs very easily become a proxy for quasi-segregation by other traits--such as race and income level. But it's nicer to talk about gifted kids getter their special needs met than upper middle class and white kids getting away from the rabble.

I taught English at Brooklyn Tech from 94-99. The mix of students was something that made it more desirable for many students and wonderful to behold as a teacher.

It saddens me to see that the demographics have changed so drastically. The only reason that I can think of is test prep - not for the specialized exam, but for the ELA. The overemphasis on getting ready for state tests may be robbing students of opportunities to extend their learning past the tests.

Another issue that I've always wondered about but never looked into is the overemphasis on Math skills on the test. But I can't think of how this is a factor in the change of demographics.

Has the cutoff changed?

Are more students coming in from private school?

Tests that illicit these results are not the right tests.

My daughter is about to be tested for Gifted and Talented. She is four. We are doing it to have more options when we apply to Kindergarten. Thinking about the tests, I tell myself that they might not recognize her gifts and talents.

The exam for specialized high schools should recognize the gifts and talents of African-American and Latino students. These students have achieved and will continue to achieve at these schools.

It isn't just students who are struggling who are being strangled by a narrow, test-prep curriculum. It is hurting students who should ace the standardized high school exam as well.

Since the percent of white students is also decreasing, isn't this more of an indictment on the differences in academic culture between Asian families and the rest of U.S. society rather than an AA/hispanic/white achievement gap issue?

Why would you make that assumption? Are you a closet cultural determinist? It was demonstrated back in 1990 that parenting styles and values found in East Asian-American homes tend to correlate with lower test scores when they are found in white homes. See Sue, Stanley; Okazaki, Sumie "Asian-American educational achievements: A phenomenon in search of an explanation."

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, waiting until elementary school is too late. I'd like to see the racial and ethnic makeup of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers attending one of the many $15,000+ preschools in the city (impossible, probably). At the age of three these kids know primary colors, shapes, and speak in short sentences.

I agree that looking at kids at the elementary school stage is too late. The Achievement Gap is already measurable when the children are 3 years old. It's hard to blame schools for this phenomena when the children are still years away from being old enough to attend school.

Readers, a number of thoughts to kick around: Might 6th grade be too late to start leveling the playing field? What role might the changes in the gifted and talented admissions policy at the elementary level play in shaping admissions to the specialized high schools in the future? Or does the composition of the selective schools in NYC matter at all?

1.) Show me evidence that "leveling the playing field" has been demonstrated to work. From where I stand, invoking fuzzy and wishful concepts as though they are rock-solid, reliable and verifiable techniques is about as believable as having President-elect Obama institutionalize Coke's "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" advertising campaign as his foreign and domestic policy agenda.

2.) Changed admissions policies at the elementary level can have a dramatic effect on shaping specialized high school characteristics. The problem is that the nature of the specialized high schools will change is their goal is to enroll a demographically balanced student-body. Kiss excellence goodbye.

3.) The student-body composition shouldn't matter if the goal of the selective schools is to provide challenging education for the most academically gifted students in the system. However, if the goals of the system are corrupted and the primary goal of the schools is to boost ethnic and racial pride, then the student body characteristics matter a great deal for they are the benchmark by which the school and the administrators judge success.

At the risk of sounding totally politically incorrect, I wonder if the changing demographics of these specialized schools has led to a shift in the general atmosphere there that has deterred some potentially qualified non-Asian applicants.

The Wall St. Journal had an article a few years ago about how the public schools in Cupertino, CA now have a reputation for being "too Asian" and that has fueled a "white flight" to area private schools.

At the risk of sounding totally politically incorrect, I wonder if the changing demographics of these specialized schools has led to a shift in the general atmosphere there that has deterred some potentially qualified non-Asian applicants.

Tangential to your point is the shifting demography of the city over the last few decades. Consider the following:

Proportion of resident who are white:
1980 = 60.72%
1990 = 52.26%
2000 = 44.66%
2007 = 43.68%

Proportion of resident who are Black:
1980 = 25.23%
1990 = 28.71%
2000 = 26.59%
2007 = 25.17%

Proportion of resident who are Asian:
1980 = 3.27%
1990 = 7.00%
2000 = 9.90%
2007 = 11.82%

It would be interesting to have the graphs corrected for demographic changes in the host population. This won't explain the entire shift but I'm sure that it would knock a few percent of the disparity.

To your main point though, I wouldn't be surprised if we're seeing the culture of the institutions change as the demographics change and that the rate of cultural change is increasing on a positive feedback loop, in that the rate of Asian growth in the student body seems to be growing faster than the rate of Asian growth in the city population. As more Asian students attend the atmosphere at the schools becomes more comfortable for Asians, the reach of the schools extends further into the community in that personal networks in immigrant communities "get the facts out" and these parents, in 2007, have a greater awareness of these schools than they did in 1997, thus increasing the application rate and consequently the acceptance rate. Which brings up another question, rather than simply looking at student body composition, what could we learn by looking at application rates, acceptance rates and yield rates? I'll bet you there's an interesting story buried in that data.

Comments are now closed for this post.

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Recent Comments

  • TangoMan: At the risk of sounding totally politically incorrect, I wonder read more
  • Crimson Wife: At the risk of sounding totally politically incorrect, I wonder read more
  • TangoMan: Since the percent of white students is also decreasing, isn't read more
  • Brooklynmom: I taught English at Brooklyn Tech from 94-99. The mix read more
  • Margo/Mom: What Edudiva says fits with what my understanding has always read more

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