New York’s radical proposal for a struggling program


The schools in New York City have been a prime example of what happens when issues of segregation intersect with issues of gifted programs. Now it looks like they’re ready to put their hands up and untie the Gordian knot with a flamethrower.

In 2014, the UCLA Civil Rights Report found New York’s schools to be the most segregated in the country. Like most things on the New York City system, the situation was complicated. The Bloomberg administration favored school choice and, like many advocates of choice, believed this choice could be a solution equity issues. In New York, as in the rest of the country, this did not turn out to be true. The effect of school choice on segregation remains much debated, but advocates of choice cannot point to clear successes.

Gifted programs have been seen as a path to desegregation in many school districts. The theory is that the selection of students for a school or program based on giftedness rather than skill should bring together students of all lines – geographic, racial and economic. In theory, gifted programs should also better meet the needs of high achievers who might be bored and unproductive in regular classrooms.

But gifted programs have their own problems. In 2013, Andy Smarick of the reformists Bellwether Educational Partners put together a report on gifted programs in the United States. He points out that there is no real federal direction or support for gifted education, and that states are largely on their own. In many states, this means no program at all. He found only seventeen states that have one or more employees working full time on gifted education. Many states spend little or no money on gifted education (Smarick found that New Hampshire spends $ 0.03 per gifted student).

Ultimately, local districts often have the responsibility of creating, maintaining, and funding programs for the gifted, as well as deciding which students are eligible. There is a official federal definition gifted students:

Students, children or young people who demonstrate a high capacity for success in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic or leadership abilities, or in specific academic fields, and who are in need of services and activities that are not usually provided by the school in order to fully develop these abilities.

Not only is this definition not very useful from a practical program point of view (“proof of high capacity for success” could mean almost anything), but districts are not even required to do so. ‘use.

Some districts, intentionally or not, reduce interest in gifted programs by making them unattractive (“Congratulations – since you’re smart, your reward is extra duty” seems to have limited appeal). Some gifted programs function as “withdrawals”, in which students have to miss sessions of their regular classes in order to “switch to the gifted” and this creates its own set of problems. But a good gifted program gives students a chance to enrich themselves further and the opportunity to spend time in school with other students who think it is okay to excel. The problem, always, is who gets in there. When the curriculum is demanded and monitoring is required, schools invariably resort to some sort of “objective” measure of giftedness. Administrators prefer to respond to disappointed and angry parents (and their lawyers) with “I’m sorry, but your child’s test results were just too low” rather than “Our team just decided they don’t think so. that your child is gifted ”.

So now we decide that the “fair”, the “meritocratic” way to run a gifted program is to test everyone. But standardized test results tend be strongly correlated with socio-economic background. Even the widely used and reliable IQ test has been found have racial prejudices. In short, using a test as an admission requirement for a gifted program increases the likelihood that your gifted program will exacerbate segregation in your system, rather than breaking it.

This seems to be what happened in New York. New York has around 16,000 gifted labeled students; 75% of them are white or Asian, in a system where 70% of the students are black or Hispanic. The test resulted in a constant stream of shocking numbers like those put forward last spring, with few black students admitted to the city’s more selective programs. Students in schools with fewer resources, where students are underserved by the system, do not produce as many students who can perform well; In reality, Eliza Shapiro of the New York Times found that many of these students are not even aware of the existence of the test. In New York, the gifted testing system was supposed to break apart segregation; instead, segregation broke the testing system.

The obvious answer is to create a gifted program that uses criteria other than a standardized test. After all, beyond the bias inherent in such tests, what can one really learn about a student’s creative, artistic or leadership potential from a standardized test? But attempts to use special programs to promote equity can also, unfortunately, run into privileged families who fight hard to keep “the children of these people” from entering and “harming” the program. In New York, this resistance has taken the unusual form of leading the state legislature to to make test-based admissions to certain selected programs cemented in state law. New York’s selective schools have been called “last bastion of absolute meritocracy, “but they are not – they are test-passing strongholds.

This brings us to radical solution proposed this week by the Mayor of Blasio’s panel on academic diversity – phasing out the gifted city school program and selected schools entirely. Instead, they recommend Magnetic Schools (schools attractive enough to attract students from many different neighborhoods and backgrounds) and the end of much of the academic follow-up, a move that would have effects far beyond the curriculum. gifted himself. Elementary entrance exams should be eliminated and secondary school admissions should be reconfigured so that the populations of secondary schools more closely resemble the populations of their boroughs. And the panel notes that all of this must be done with care, so as not to lead to the large-scale defection of middle-class families.

It’s hard to imagine a system the size of New York’s without a program to meet the special needs and aspirations of its gifted students, especially when it once had one of the most ambitious programs in the country, but it is also hard to imagine such a system seeing its own attempts at improvement lost in a suffocating culture of segregation. Segregation does not just happen; people with power do it, and it’s a tough obstacle to overcome. The mayor said he wanted a system that did not talk about “good schools” and “bad schools,” but it is difficult to see how a proposal to end selective gifted programs will help. Better to ask why there are schools where students are not prepared for the highly gifted test, why there are schools which are underfunded and underfunded and generally perceived as ‘bad’, and then fix it. . Better to remove the standardized single test criterion for giftedness. It is best to address the segregation of resources that too often follows the segregation of actual students.

In the world of gifted education, there is an argument for getting rid of gifted programs that makes sense. Often times, parents of non-gifted students (there is a disturbing etiquette) look at the extras of the gifted program – field trips, special projects, enhanced learning opportunities, additional resources – and ask, “Why my child? can’t he have that? Why shouldn’t all kids have this? ”Why are these gifted resources so scarce that only a privileged few can have them? their child won, and they will fight to protect those exclusive rights. ”It looks like the mayor of Blasio is about to see how badly they’ll fight.

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