Finding the Right School

Why Our NYC School Chancellor Is Absolutely Right About Gifted & Talented Programs… And Why He Is Absolutely Wrong

After announcing his plans to change admissions to New York City’s Specialized High Schools, and after expressing confusion as to why any family would opt for a screened school (despite his own daughter doing so in San Francisco), and after calling a mother “racist “ who objected to District 3 middle-schools setting aside 25% of seats in high-performing middle-schools for kids who score either a 1 or a 2 on their state tests, Chancellor Richard Carranza has turned his attention to the next logical target: Elementary school Gifted & Talented programs.

Last week, he told Chalkbeat:

We probably should be really clear about what we mean about truly gifted. The student that is doing algebra in the third grade, that’s a gifted kid.

Funny story:

Earlier this month, a commentator took exception to my post, 5 Secrets NYC Department of Ed Doesn’t Want Parents To Know About Gifted & Talented Programs. I wrote how programs weren’t all that accelerated as even in the citywide schools, Algebra is only taught starting in middle school, whereas in Europe and Asia, all kids begin studying it around 4th grade.

The commentator countered, “In NYC we learned Algebra in 5th grade not 7th and I went to a regular non-gifted school. The kids I teach are in a regular public school and with Common Core now Algebra is being included in their 3rd grade math curriculum.”

I directed him to this post: I Thought I Was Taking Algebra But It Was Really Pre-Algebra.

But how hilarious would it be if NYC’s General Ed curriculum did include Algebra in 3rd grade… but our own School Chancellor thought that was something only truly gifted kids could do?

Carranza also told Chalkbeat, “There is no body of knowledge that I know of that has pointed to the fact that you can give a test to a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old and determine if they’re gifted. Those tests — and it’s pretty clear — are more a measure of the privilege of a child’s home than true giftedness.”

Mr. Carranza is absolutely right. On the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, and Brownstone Brooklyn, over 50 percent of students score in the top 10th percentile. Even those kids who score in the 99th percentile (placement in district gifted programs begins at the 90th) are merely bright children of college-educated parents who have been read to (and, quite often, prepped for the test).

But the Chancellor is absolutely wrong when he assumes that the majority of NYC children in all neighborhoods couldn’t possibly do Algebra in third grade.

The reason that we need “gifted” programs in NYC schools is because our educational bar is set so ridiculously low. According to NPR, in some classes as many as over 50 percent of pupils are performing above grade level.

Parents get their kids prepped for G&T testing, then fight tooth and nail to get them off waitlists and into their first choice schools, because G&T may not be all that – but it’s still better than the painfully dumbed-down curriculum of General Ed, which is literally years behind other countries.

Last year, Bronx’s District 8 decided to offer a G&T curriculum to all students. Test scores went up

I have three kids of my own. I understand that not all kids can move through all subjects at the same pace (which puts me ahead of NYC’s gifted programs, which presume precisely that).

That’s why my modest proposal for improving schools, ending the defacto segregation of “good” and “bad” ones, and even solving the problem of fall babies forced to start Kindergarten before turning 5 years old, has always been to unshackle education from age and grade, and allow all kids to proceed at their own pace. It would even save the city money!

In my experience working with hundreds of families to help them find the best-fit schools for their children, I know that, save a few outliers, most parents don’t genuinely believe their kids are off the charts brilliant. (The most advanced boy I ever worked with – doing Algebra at age, not grade, three – had a mom who kept insisting he was average.) They are merely unhappy with what’s available in a General Ed classroom and see G&T as their one shot at getting something a tiny bit better.

But what if we could do a lot better? For all kids?

What if Richard Carranza is wrong even as he’s right?

What if we improved the quality of education for all children, not by a little, but by a lot?

And then Carranza could have what he wants, and NYC families could have what they want (in all the variations that implies). That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? The government is supposed to follow the will of the people? (Quick, someone send Mayor de Blasio the memo.)

PS: For those thinking, well, even if he succeeds in getting rid of SHSAT schools and G&T programs, we’ll still have Hunter as an oasis of accelerated education… uhm… not so fast

What do you think?

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