Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not the Best and the Brightest

According to the NYC Public School Parents blog, city school kids have done progressively worse over the Bloomberg/Klein years when it comes to the competitive Intel Science Talent Search. The blog first catalogues all of the media crowing about past achievements on this prestigious benchmark, and then fast forwards to the present: "So here we are in January 2010, with the NYC public schools' just announced miserly showing of just 15 Intel semifinalists, all but one of them from Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, and not a peep from any of those newspapers. Nothing said about the precipitous decline in the city schools' Intel Science Talent Search contest over the past few years, a dropoff that mirrors almost precisely the years of mayoral control and Joel Klein's stewardship of the public schools."

Do you think that with all of our yeoman-like efforts to lift every voice and sing, we've let the talented soloists languish? And, with the exception of the two elite high schools, the drop off is percipitous: "Of course, we might well ask why a different story line hasn't appeared instead, one that asks why, with the exception of Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, the NYC public schools have virtually disappeared off the Intel STS map and what this relentless, seven-year, downhill trend says about our public high schools under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. We might also ask when the local print media were apparently, surreptitiously, also put under mayoral control."

Just as we have pointed out, there is a conspiracy of silence that continues to this very day-except when the local papers are exaggerating the results of mayoral control. But what concerns us is the plight of the city's best and the brightest-and we remember that the early Klein efforts were conspicuously absent when it came to the talented and gifted programs in the schools. So these results don't shock.

But is our schools cannot devote the proper resources to the city's talented kids, we have a failure of not only will but philosophy-one that is mirrored in the following Op-ed complaining about charter schools from the UFT's Mulgrew: "As New York finalizes its application for the federal Race to the Top program, a proposal to end the cap on the number of charter schools has been promoted as key to our success in getting these new federal funds. But promoters of this proposal are ignoring two other critical issues: The small role that charter schools play in the Race to the Top application, and the fact that city charters are not serving a representative sample of our neediest students."

Now Mulgrew exaggerates a bit here. Consider the following: "According to an analysis by the UFT using 2007-2008 data from the state Education Department, in Harlem (districts 4 and 5) nearly 72% of students in regular elementary and middle schools qualify for free lunch. Yet in charter schools in and around the neighborhood, the equivalent number is about 61%."

Not that much of a real difference in our view, but it might point to the fact that parents with a little higher incomes are looking to get their kids into better schools-and that charters are interested in promoting the talents of the more motivated and gifted. If so, more power to them.

For our school system to be a success, it needs to do more than elevate the masses-although the extent to which it is actually doing this is certainly questionable. The Intel results, when seen in the context of the poor local showing on the NAEP tests, are discouraging, but what's even more so, is the failure of the Fourth Estate to give New Yorkers an accurate picture of the real status of the schools under mayoral control.