Schooled Reporting on education

Equal but not fair

Education | Desegregation effort would eliminate gifted and talented programs for students in New York City
by Laura Edghill
Posted 9/04/19, 04:28 pm

An advisory board tasked with finding ways to desegregate the nation’s largest school district wants to do away with New York City’s gifted and talented programs for elementary students. The suggestion has parents, politicians, and education officials in an uproar at the prospect of shuttering a successful program rather than figuring out how more people can benefit from it.

The students in New York’s elite, merit-based program do not reflect the general population.

According to district statistics, almost 70 percent of the district’s students are black or Hispanic. But of the 16,000 elementary students who participated in gifted programs last year, nearly 75 percent were white or Asian. The advisory group claims that since the demographics of the tuition-free schools do not match those of the city, the selection process must be rife with inequalities.

That process consists of high-stakes testing for incoming kindergartners whose parents aim to secure one of the limited seats available in a gifted class. Those classes serve as important gateways to the city’s best middle and high schools. Children as young as 4 undergo a rigorous entrance exam that demands keen focus and high-level thinking. Similar to the college admissions process, test preparation courses charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars, leaving many struggling families to prepare on their own.

A desegregation proposal would get rid of the gifted programs and incorporate their teaching methods into all classrooms.

The advisory board recommended city teachers develop instructional strategies for a wide variety of student abilities within their classrooms. It argued the selective admissions model that funnels students into special tracks and even entire schools unfairly skims a group of pupils off the top of the mix and causes all students to “miss the benefits of classrooms that are more diverse.”

Some critics said neighborhood schools are more segregated than the popular gifted programs simply because of the choices people make in settling near others like them. In a bold move, the board called on the New York City Department of Education to redraft district boundaries to rebalance heavily segregated neighborhoods to produce more integrated school populations.

The idea hasn’t exactly had a warm reception.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have made tackling racial inequality a signature issue of their tenures. De Blasio issued a tepid response to the task force’s recommendations, stating he would “assess it.”

Ron Kim, a New York state assemblyman from Queens, said the endeavor was “pitting communities against each other.” The city teachers union said administrators should improve instead of eliminating the gifted program.

“Every community has children who could thrive in a gifted and talented program, and it is our responsibility to help our children reach their full potential,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

An “equitable” outcome for 4-year-olds subjected to a stressful and strenuous admissions process might not have anything to do with their race but instead with factors over which the mayor, his task force, or the schools’ chancellor have very little control.

“There is unquestionably an advantage for a child who has a married mother and father,” said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member. He discussed the New York schools’ dilemma last week on his podcast The Briefing. “There’s an unquestionable advantage for a child who is growing up in a thriving family, in a thriving neighborhood, in a thriving community,” he said. “There is every advantage for a child that has all of those structural assets even before arriving at the school at whatever age.” Bicher Bicher

Virtual lockout

Students in Georgia went back to school nearly a month ago, but those enrolled in the Georgia Cyber Academy got off to a rocky start. The virtual school is locked in a contract dispute with for-profit curriculum provider K12, which school officials blame for students’ weak academic performance.

Last year, the Georgia Cyber Academy’s board decided to work with a less expensive curriculum vendor that appeared to yield strong results in other schools. But K12 argued its results and pricing were competitive and accused Georgia Cyber Academy, which has more than 11,000 students, of breaching its exclusive contract.

At the start of the school year, students found a message on their laptops ordering them to return the computers to K12 immediately. K12 locked school employees out of their email and shut students out of their coursework.

Georgia Cyber Academy Executive Director Mike Kooi said the school is doing what it can to get course materials and replacement computers into students’ hands while the two organizations work through an arbitration process. Many parents, especially in more remote areas of the state, have complained about difficulties obtaining the new computers and gaining access to the curriculum their children need. —L.E.

Let them sleep

Teenagers who sleep in are less likely to engage in mid-afternoon mischief according to researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The study found a strong link between being well-rested and well-behaved, particularly at times of the day when fatigued teens display heightened moodiness and diminished self-control.

“The time after school—2, 3, 4 o’clock—has been shown over and over to be a key time for when kids get in trouble,” Rutgers researcher Daniel Semenza told KYW-TV in Philadelphia. “When their socialization is unstructured, there might be fewer adults around, they have less set activities in place.”

The results add another powerful reason for the education community to consider a shift in the common practice of starting high school early to accommodate after-school sports and extracurricular activities.

Numerous other studies also link higher academic achievement to later bedtimes and wake-up times that follow teenagers’ natural circadian rhythms. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. —L.E.

On second thought

The College Board dropped plans last week to include a so-called “adversity score” in a student’s test profile. The original plan was “a mistake,” according to the company’s chief executive, David Coleman.

“The idea of a single score was wrong,” he said. “It was confusing and created the misperception that the indicators are specific to an individual student.”

The plan had been roundly criticized for its potential to oversimplify a student’s socioeconomic status and to introduce a veiled method of using race as a factor in college admissions.

Instead, the company revised the plan to include data on whether the student’s school is rural, suburban, or urban, as well as other factors like the size of the school’s senior class, percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches, and number of Advanced Placement classes offered. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 09/05/2019 10:20 am

    Good article, but I have concerns about any program that requires a high-stakes test for four-year-olds.

    Posted: Sat, 09/07/2019 08:24 pm

    Re: "Let them sleep"

    Making kids go to bed earlier isn't going to happen. Way too much "good stuff" is on TV/cable/etc. late at night.

    Maybe they should have "nap time," instead of study hall, after lunch. Just like when they were little. It helped crankiness when they were little. 

    Do you think their employers will understand their need to sleep later?

    I remember a college student coming to the department of education at ASU complaining that a class that she needed was offered too early for her to get up. That was over 30 years ago. I thought it was funny.