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Friday, January 18, 2008

Intel Science Talent Search Since Mayoral Control – A Study in De-Klein

Yesterday’s announcement of the 2007/2008 crop of the 300 annual semifinalists for the Intel Science Talent Search contained the happy news that Stuyvesant HS garnered eleven of those coveted awards and Bronx Science another five. Congratulations to all students who participated and all who reached the semifinals for their hard work. However, even the NY Times was reduced in the headline of its article to saluting Ward Melville HS in East Setauket for its best-in-the-nation thirteen semifinalists while Newsday ran the more unintentionally damning headline, “Intel Science Competition Names 69 LI Semifinalists” (NYC had 28).

While Chancellor Klein routinely (and not altogether unfairly) lectures parent gatherings over the NYC public school system’s past failures to address the academic needs of its weakest students, the Intel science fair news offers an opportunity to look at one aspect of how the highest end students are faring since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the City’s public education system. The results are so discouraging that it’s hardly surprising the DOE’s “all happy news all the time” PR machine has hardly mentioned the change in NYC public school Intel semifinalists during its tenure.

Intel provides information dating back to 1997/1998 about semifinalists in the Science Talent Search contest. For the sake of comparison, I combined and averaged the data for the six years from 1997 to 2002 into one group and that for the five Bloomberg/Klein years from 2003 to 2007/2008 into a second group. Here are just a few of the findings:

-- The number of NYC public school Intel semifinalists declined from an average of 45.8 per year before Bloomberg/Klein to just 24.4 per year in the last five years, a decline of 46.8%. The average number of semifinalists from the City’s specialized science high schools dropped from 26.7 to 17.4 (down 37.1%) while semifinalists from the rest of NYC’s public high schools fell from 18.2 per year before Mayoral control to just 7.0 per year since, down 61.5%.

-- By comparison, NYC private school semifinalists averaged 6.5 annually from 1997 to 2002 and 6.8 annually from 2003 to 2007. Similarly, NY State semifinalists from schools outside the five boroughs increased 2.7%, from a 103.5 average in the 1997-2002 period to a 106.2 average since 2003.

-- NY State’s share of each year’s national pool of 300 semifinalists dropped from an average of 10.05% (1997-2002) to 8.46% (2003-2007). The entire drop, equivalent to over 18 fewer NYS semifinalists each year, is entirely attributable to the NYC public school decline.

-- Perhaps the most disturbing finding, the number of public high schools other than Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Staten Island Tech) having at least one Intel semifinalist in a given year dropped from an average of 5.7 before Bloomberg/Klein to just 3.4 since. This year, only two schools outside the realm of the science high schools – Francis Lewis and NEST+M – managed to collar an Intel semifinalist spot.

-- The percentage decline in NYS and NYC Intel semifinalists is NOT a function of greater participation nationwide. Intel reports just a 4.7% growth in average yearly number of participants, from 1,550 (1997 – 2002) to 1,623 (2003 – 2007). Over the same two periods, NYC public high school's share of the national semifinalist pool fell by half from 2.96% to 1.50%, reaching only 1.06% in 2006 and 1.25% this year (see the graph above -- click on the graph to enlarge it). The City's share of the NY State semifinalist pool shrank from 29.4% to just 17.8% (just 15.4% last year and 16.1% this year).

These are devastating decreases in success rates for NYC’s best students in this nation’s most prestigious high school science competition, a contest that NYC students routinely dominated in the years before and immediately preceding Mayoral control. At this point, one can only speculate on the possible reasons: overemphasis on standardized math and ELA test scores with less time spent on middle school science classes, overburdened teachers in overcrowded schools teaching outsized classes in the traditionally large schools that produce Intel semifinalists, siphoning off talented students into small schools not staffed or equipped to support and mentor Intel participants, or simply an overshift in emphasis on failing students to the detriment of the City’s highest performers. More investigation and research is needed to determine the root causes.

Regardless, this embarrassing decline in Intel semifinalist results in the last four years – seemingly unnoticed in the local media – represents just one more indictment of this Chancellor’s failed educational policies. These figures suggest that even our best students are being routinely underserved.

To see the full Excel file, click here.

1 comment:

Patrick Sullivan said...

This is all bad news and it is clearly happening on the mayor's watch. I complained about this decline as the June PEP meeting when Jim Liebman was presenting his program of interim assessments. The curriculum has become test prep for math and ELA while all other subjects suffer. His answer was that we needed more testing -- another five for science he wanted to introduce next year.