My fear is that this policy will lead to even more segregated schools and classrooms -- the last thing we need. In addition, tensions will rise if the new funding system, as promised, distributes more resources to these students than others -- in the mistaken notion that only "gifted" children need extra enrichment. The truth is that all NYC students are being deprived in our schools; all children deserve the special treatment, as well as smaller classes , that too often are reserved for a special few.
Here are observations from Ellen Bilofsky, public school parent:
The saddest thing to me about gifted programs is the fact that virtually every child could benefit from the advantages that these programs offer, especially in the earliest years, when all children are mostly learning the same basic concepts and haven't had time to diverge as much as they will later.
When I first visited the gifted program that both my children later attended, I asked about the educational philosophy of the program. The principal responded, "Oh, the children in that program have the best of everything--
What child wouldn't do better in a nurturing atmosphere with high expectations and the best material supports and enrichment experiences, rather than a large classroom with a lot of rote learning, where they taught lots of phonetics and wrote rows of identical letters over and over?
I once edited a book about teaching young children who were blind to read braille. I was surprised to discover that the author used the same methods to encourage literacy in these children, some of whom were also cognitively impaired, as my own children's teachers did. Of course, these children had the advantage of the individual attention of a braille teacher, but the point is that despite their disadvantages, they were able to benefit from the same methods used with gifted children and learn to delight in writing and reading their own stories.
Of course, testing is the other primary issue when it comes to gifted programs. Talk about high-stakes testing! These children going into kindergarten are only 4 years old, and this test may determine their entire educational future. How does it level the playing field to compare children who come from different backgrounds on the extent of their "preliteracy skills," when one might have been read to every night of her life while the other has no books in her home? Not only that, but at this age, the difference of several months in age is extremely significant in terms of development and maturity and can put the younger child at an enormous disadvantage. On the other hand, children do mature at different rates, so a child who is too immature to be tested at age 4 may be a perfect genius (assuming there is such a thing) a few years later.
My own children did not pass the initial tests they were offered. One of them simply refused to go into the room with the tester. This was back in the day when us knowledgeable middle-class parents could still work the system, and they scored high enough on a private IQ test to be admitted into a second round of testing. They each went on to be salutatorian of their elementary school, attend gifted middle schools and Stuyvesant, and the older one is at a prestigious college. I say all this not to boast, but to show how ridiculous is the idea that testing 4-year-olds can accurately predict their future educational attainment.
Instead of spreading the advantages of gifted programs to as many classrooms as possible, this administration is attempting to narrow them to smallest upper stratum, as if they were a reward children deserved for having educating parents. As usual, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater, dumbing down to the lowest common denominator in the name of equal opportunity. It is a travesty that seats for gifted programs were allowed to go empty last year, rather than filled with students who could have benefited, even if they didn't take the test, or score in the 95th percentile!