Sunday, January 13, 2013

Today's NY Times on the Gifted and Talented programs

Today’s New York Times has a long critical article about the racially discriminatory effect of NYC’s gifted and talented admissions policies, a system that was imposed by Joel Klein in 2007.  Some things that stand out in this piece:
  • "Despite months of repeated requests, the city's Education Department would not provide racial breakdowns of gifted and talented programs and the schools that house them.”  So much for DOE transparency!  But why didn’t the Times FOIL this data, and if refused, sue them?  If the New York Times, with all its resources, fails to  take aggressive action to demand information, what hope is there for the rest of us?
  • This quote from a teacher is outrageous, and should be roundly denounced: “Ms. Lindner, the fifth-grade teacher, said she was "always surprised" when she saw more than two or three white children in her general education classes. As a parent herself, and a resident of Manhattan's Upper East Side, she said, “there's no way I'd put my kid in a general-education class here, no way, because it's right next to the project and all the kids in general education come from the projects."   How would that make the parents in her class feel?  What does that say about her attitude towards her students?
  •  There is an extended quote from DOE’s Suransky, that is repeated without question: “But focusing on the gifted classrooms is missing the point, Mr. Polakow-Suransky said. Though it is worthy to debate whether the "world of G.&T." is diverse enough, he said, the administration's "equity agenda" is much broader: It seeks to improve the quality of education and close achievement gaps across the entire school system. "We are not a system that is purely focused on running a good G.&T. program," Mr. Polakow-Suransky said. "We are a system that is focused on dramatically shifting educational opportunities for, particularly, kids of color and kids from high-poverty neighborhoods who have historically in this city been deeply neglected."
Like what, I would ask? How are they improving educational opportunities to poor students or children of color, when class size reduction is one of the few reforms known to narrow the achievement gap, and yet classes are now the largest in 14 years?  (A salient fact that our “paper of record” has not yet seen fit to report, BTW.)

  •  Sadly, and despite its length, the article did not mention the compelling research on tracking, which shows how separating out kids by “ability” at an early age significantly disadvantages those who are concentrated in the lowest –performing classrooms; nor does it mention the example of Finland, which when the government decided to stop tracking,  the teachers union in response demanded systematic reductions in class size, to ensure that they could meet the needs of students of different academic levels.  The combination of the two reforms, the elimination of tracking and across the board reductions in class size, in the eyes of many analysts, was what led to the rapid improvement of Finnish schools in the 1970's.
  • Finally, where has the Times been on this issue? In 2007, in our blog, we warned that Klein’s decision to impose a centralized admissions procedure based purely on test scores,  in the name of “equity”, would have a discriminatory effect.    We ran pieces by Debbie Meier , among others, blasting this policy.  And yet the Times, which has an obsession with the Gifted and Talented issue, has remained relatively uncritical throughout the years of this and many other test-based DOE policies.
The Times ran at least nine articles about the Gifted and Talented program in 2009 alone, most of which merely fed the frenzy of parents intent on getting their children into these programs, while failing to address how the imposition of the high-stakes admission policy had magnified inequities.  See our critique here.   As usual, the Times reporting remains years behind on NYC school issues, and in its role as the paper read by the power elite, has served to reinforce the damaging education policies of this administration, whether purposefully or not.

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