Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Times' enduring obsession with Gifted and talented programs, and what is left out

This morning, the NY Times has yet another article about the city's Gifted and Talented programs, and the high-stakes exams that control admissions to these programs. See today's front page story, Tips for the Admissions Test ... to Kindergarten . It all seems so familiar....and indeed it is.

By my quick count, this is at least the ninth article about G and T that the Times has run in the last seven months.

To add insult to injury, this is the second Times article about the admissions process that omits any mention of its inherently discriminatory nature - which has significantly worsened under this administration. This is due to the Chancellor's insistence that all G and T admissions should be based solely on the results of high stakes exams, which Klein claims ato be more "equitable" but which are highly inequitable in terms of results.

His policies have also directly led to the proliferation of expensive prep programs that few typical NYC families can afford. If you are going to run articles about G and T admissions, failing to cite their contribution to worsening racial and economic segregation in our schools is regrettable. In fact, many people said that these policies would have a racially discriminatory impact, including Patrick Sullivan and Debbie Meier , who both predicted this on our blog when Klein first announced the new admissions policy in the fall of 2007.

For other recent Times articles about G and T, see this one, from October 19, about a new expensive private school in Manhattan: School for the Gifted, and Only the Gifted.

Here is another, a Susan Dominus column from August 17, Connecting Anxious Parents and Educators, at $450 an Hour , about a consultant who helps get kids into private schools: "It would be her mission to democratize information for New York’s most competitive elite."

"Democratize" at $450 an hour? This is like Michael Bloomberg claiming the recent election was fair, when he outspent his opponent sixteen to one.

This was followed by yet another Dominus column on August 25: Early Testing In City Schools Called Faulty. Although she discusses the unreliability of G and T exams, in that children tested at a young age often score quite differently in later years, she fails to mention how the results are also discriminatory, given the influence of socio-economic factors. And she uncritically repeats the administration's claims that their policies are somehow equitable:

" Chancellor Joel I. Klein has tried to rejigger the testing system to be more fair, with uniform cut-offs citywide and better outreach to less-advantaged areas. But what ''Nurture Shock'' suggests, and Ms. Commitante [head of DOE's gifted and talented progrm] somewhat acknowledges, is that just means the randomness of gifted and talented placement is now more equitable."

To the contrary, see this far more informative oped in the Daily News, by James Borland, a professor of education, who points out how inherently inequitable the admissions process has become:

A one-size-fits-all approach to identifying students for the city's gifted and talented programs - which is just what the Department of Education has implemented - is neither equitable nor educationally sound. In fact, testing very young children, before the educational system exerts its admittedly limited equalizing effect, only magnifies the effects of differences in socioeconomic status. It favors children who have had the advantages of expensive preschools; of parents with time, ability and inclination to read to them; and of exposure to cultural events.

On September 7, Dominus yet wrote yet another column, about a new G and T public school in Brooklyn, Going the Distance to Get a Child to a Magnet School , in which she omits any analysis of the economic or racial composition of the school, and instead, approvingly focuses on one "highly motivated" mom, who sends her son, Benjamin, to the school, although it is miles away:

...a bus hired by a dozen families, at about $400 a month each, will pick up Benjamin and another 5-year-old before stopping at homes in Crown Heights, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Prospect Heights. Finally, at least an hour and a half after Benjamin has left home, he and the others will arrive at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a brand-new citywide school for gifted and talented children at the corner of Stillwell Avenue and Avenue P, in Gravesend. Such are the lengths to which some parents — highly motivated parents — will go to take advantage of the city’s coveted magnet programs for gifted children.

Is it really only a matter of motivation? Last spring, the Times ran numerous pieces dealing with G and T programs on the Upper West Side, the epicenter of the phenomenon, including this one on the City Room blog, Are Parents Thinking Differently About Education? (June 29):

The phone keeps ringing at the Upper West Side office of Robin Aronow, an educational consultant and schools guru: anxious families suddenly rethinking whether they can afford private school, distressed parents wondering what to do if their children don’t make it into vaunted gifted and talented programs.

See also these articles from the paper: Students Must Retake Lost Gifted Tests (May 15); Gifted Tests Missing on Upper West Side (May 13), and More Children Take the Tests for Gifted Programs, and More Qualify (May 5).

In this last article, the reporter discloses that the number of students who qualified for G and T seats rose by 45 percent over the year before, but not until the sixth paragraph does the reader discover that the racial disparity in admissions remained largely unchanged.

On the upper West side, the number of children taking the tests rose by 15 percent, while the number of students making the cut off score increased by 48 percent. Though the reporter does not speculate on the cause of this phenomenon, the DOE spokesperson attributed this increase to "families’ increasing familiarity with the new admissions process." Instead, these higher scores are most likely the results of the increased amount of test prep taking place.

By continually reporting on the expensive consultants that are profiting off parents' anxieties to get their children into G and T programs, the Times is encouraging their proliferation. Indeed, the paper deserves to get a cut from these consultants, by regurgitating these articles, over and over again.

If charter schools are the obsession of the editors of the NY Post, gifted and talented programs remain the singular obsession of the Times.

Both serve a tiny proportion of NYC public school students and are far less important than other issues that affect the huge majority of our kids: the systemic and worsening crisis in overcrowding and its impact on class sizes, the lack of transparency and flawed priorities of DOE spending, including the mushrooming school bonus program and the continued growth in Tweed's accountability office, the loss of arts and enrichment programs, the obsession with closing schools rather than improving them, the increased amount of test prep that dominates classroom time and the like -- all of which have contributed to the decline of educational quality in our schools, and all of which our paper of record fails to cover adequately, or not at all.


Anonymous said...

"In fact, if charter schools are the obsession of the editors of the NY Post, gifted and talented programs remain the singular obsession of the Times."

And they jointly are the fixation of the City's newest on-line education source.

Of course, not really jointly. Charters for some neighborhoods - G&T for others. I don't think they really intend them to mix. Ever.


Arthur O. Sulzberger said...

Ms. Haimson,

Sticks and stones. So what? Did it ever occur to you that the NY Times editorial focus on the gifted is simply a function of the fact that our editors, writers and the vast majority of our readership is gifted and therefore we naturally take a keen interest in people like ourselves? If you are not gifted or are but want to read about the rest of the school system, there are plenty of media options to address your needs.

Arthur O. Sulzberger

Leonie Haimson said...

Arthur -- you were born into a wealthy family that had owned the Times for years and by most reports, you and your son have now managed to run the paper to the ground. I can't see how you can call yourself gifted -- unless you mean gifted in the ways of losing money and making bad management decisions.

Leonie Haimson said...

But thanks for writing in, anyway! We welcome your comments.

Pogue said...

"People like ourselves", us, them, those people...interesting phrases, indeed. "Some of the news that's fit to print" for some of the people.

Anonymous said...

And, predictably, the Times has shut down the comments feature on the piece.