Gifted, Talented and Separated: New York City Public Schools!!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning examining the policies in the New York City public system regarding admissions into gifted and talented programs.  It paints a picture of academic programs divided primarily by race.   For instance;

“It is just a metal door with three windows, the kind meant to keep the clamor of an elementary school hallway from piercing a classroom’s quiet. Other than paint the color of bubble gum, it is unremarkable.  But the pink door on Room 311 at Public School 163 on the Upper West Side represents a barrier belied by its friendly hue. On one side are 21 fourth graders labeled gifted and talented by New York City’s school system. They are coursing through public school careers stamped accelerated. And they are mostly white.

On the other side, sometimes sitting for reading lessons on the floor of the hallway, are those in the school’s vast majority: They are enrolled in general or special education programs. They are mostly children of color.

“I know what we look like,” Carolyn M. Weinberg, a 28-year veteran of P.S. 163, said of the racial disparities as she stood one day in the third-floor hallway between Room 318, where she and a colleague teach a fourth-grade general education class, and the one where Angelo Monserrate teaches the gifted class, Room 311. “I know what you see,” said Ms. Weinberg.

There are 652 students enrolled at P.S. 163 this year, from prekindergarten through fifth grade. Roughly 63 percent of them are black and Hispanic; whites make up 27 percent; and Asians account for 6 percent. This reflects the flavor of the neighborhood, and roughly matches the New York City school system’s overall demographics.

Yet in P.S. 163’s gifted classes, the racial dynamics of the neighborhood, the school itself and the school system are turned upside down.  Of the 205 children enrolled in the nine gifted classes, 97, or 47 percent, are white; another 31 of the students, or 15 percent, are Asian. And a combined 65 students, or 32 percent, are black and Hispanic. In the 21 other classes that enroll the school’s remaining 447 students, only 80, or 18 percent, are white.”

The article rightfully points out the issue is not unique to P.S. 163 but is endemic to the entire school system.

“James H. Borland, a professor of education at Teachers College, said that looking at the gifted landscape in New York City suggests that one of two things must be true: either black and Hispanic children are less likely to be gifted, or there is something wrong with the way the city selects children for those programs.

“It is well known in the education community that standardized tests advantage children from wealthier families and disadvantage children from poorer families,” Dr. Borland said.

And the city’s efforts to fix the system seem to have only made it worse.

Until recently, each of the city’s 32 school districts could establish the classes as it saw fit and determine its own criteria for admission. They varied, but educators often took a holistic approach; they looked at evaluations from teachers and classroom observations, relying on tests only in part, by comparing the results of students from within a district.

That changed in September 2008, when the Bloomberg administration ushered in admission based only on a cutoff score on two high-stakes tests given in one sitting — the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment.

The overhaul was meant to standardize the admissions process and make it fairer. But the new tests decreased diversity, with children from the poorest districts offered a smaller share of kindergarten gifted slots after those were introduced, while pupils in the wealthiest districts got more.

For the 2012-13 school year, 4,912 children qualified for gifted programs. The more affluent districts — 2 and 3 in Manhattan, 20 and 22 in Brooklyn, and 25 and 28 in Queens — had the most students qualify: 949 in District 2, which takes in Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side, and 505 in District 3.

…Farther north, for all of Districts 5 and 6, which are poorer and more heavily black and Hispanic, there are just two programs.  In District 7, in the South Bronx, there is not a single gifted program. The area, dominated by Hispanic and black residents, is among the poorest in the nation, with many people living below the official federal poverty mark.”

No one wants to deny children the right to excel and to reach their potential but when the system sets up qualifying criteria that are prejudicial and simplistic, it is an educational and social travesty.  Hopefully a new mayor will take a close examination of the past decade of school reform in New York City and set policies and programs that benefit ALL children.









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