Friday, June 20, 2008

Talented Grifters

The NY Times had a long article yesterday about the problems that the Bloombergistas are having in generating diversity in the city's Talented and Gifted programs: "When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system. The move was controversial, with experts warning that standardized tests given to young children were heavily influenced by their upbringing and preschool education, and therefore biased toward the affluent."

And guess what happened? The more affluent, and we're guessing less racially diverse neighborhoods, scored an even higher percentage of the sought after places: "Now, 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." So what the problem, and how do we solve it?

The reality is that the educational gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts continues to stymie the educational experts; which leaves the situation open to all kinds of foolish remedies that simply can't transcend the family backgrounds of the children who do better at all levels of school achievement.

This doesn't stop the racial gerrymanderers, and all those who ridicule standardized testing, from getting into the act: "The Miami-Dade public schools have spent more than $6 million over two years to identify more gifted and advanced students from what officials described as “traditionally under-represented groups.” Some districts are rethinking gifted programs under pressure; last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California threatened to sue the Tustin school district, saying that Latino and black students were “grossly underrepresented” in the programs."

So if these students are "under-represented," should we simply assign them more slots on the basis of some rigid formula? Would this be fair to those students who were left out, but who had scored much higher on the tests? And what other criteria should be used if the tests are jettisoned?

Usually, as was once suggested when the Dinkins administration was trying to get more minorities into the FDNY, there's an effort to develop "fairer" tests. So, as to be expected, we get this: "At Yale, researchers are devising a test that they hope could identify a more diverse gifted population." And how many times do we find that the tinkerers have actually sent their own kids to private schools?

This can really end up being a noxious brew, with standards being discarded in the pursuit of some pre-designed formula: "While the plan has fallen victim to budget cuts, widespread kindergarten testing is so controversial that last week, a group of professors and luminaries — including Deborah Stipek, the dean of Stanford’s School of Education, and former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo — deplored the practice in a letter to the chancellor and mayor. “Testing young children for gifted classes most likely will increase inequities,” read the letter, “and undermine educational opportunities for all children.”

This country's children-all of them-badly need the highest standards to live up to. Once we start the dilution process, the quality of the educational process enters a slippery slope, one that will lead to school systems where democratic leveling will replace excellence. Talented and gifted children of all kinds and colors are badly needed; they are the inventors, entrepreneurs and visionaries that a country needs. A school system that doesn't identify and properly nurture these kids is nothing but a mediocre failure.