Calls For Closing All NYC Gifted & Talented/Screened Schools – Where Does Hunter Fit In?

On Tuesday, August 27, 2019, New York City’s School Diversity Advisory Group released a proposal that formally called for the closing of all Gifted & Talented programs and Screened schools. Not included in the report was Hunter College Elementary and High School, the most coveted NYC gifted school of them all.

Full disclosure: My husband and his older sister went to Hunter College Elementary School. It was the 1970s. African-American faces weren’t exactly prevalent. When my husband came out of the testing room, the psychologist asked my mother-in-law in confusion, “How can a child like this know so much?”

“He watches a lot of Sesame Street,” my mother-in-law snapped.

Both my husband and his sister ended up leaving Hunter before high school. My mother-in-law just wasn’t that impressed with what they were offering. And she was not a fan of her family being patronized.

Around our house, Hunter is known as “the school not good enough for Celia Wickham.”

It is, however, a school good enough for many, many New York City families. Even those who swear they fervently believe in public schools and that everyone should attend their zoned one — unchecked choice leads to… well, everything that’s wrong with public schools now — are willing to make an exception for Hunter, the Kindergarten through 12th grade publicly funded but not public (though free to attend) school for the gifted.

Every year, over 3,000 children take the test for Kindergarten entry (only Manhattan residents may apply). Every year, 50 children — 25 girls and 25 boys — get in.

Every year, over 2,500 6th graders take the test for High School entry. Every year, 150 get in.

According to NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, “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.”

Hunter tests children at even younger ages. While the G&T test is administered the January before children start Kindergarten, Hunter’s admission period is the prior September through November, which means some children with late-in-the-year birthdays are tested before they turn 4!

Privilege is definitely a part of it. Parents need to know about the test. Parents need to know how to sign up for the test, and parents need to calculate the optimal date for them to take the test. 

Oh, and one more thing: It costs money to take the Hunter test. The G&T test is free. (When my mother-in-law was invited to participate in a panel about how to attract more students of color to Hunter College Elementary, she proposed a single suggestion: “Don’t charge for the test.” For the record, Hunter College spokesperson Debra Wexler said the school has engaged in extensive outreach to find talented students from across the city. Well, there you have it!)

Fee reductions for qualifying families are available for both the Hunter Kindergarten and High School exam. In comparison, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) which the Chancellor and Mayor have made their diversity in admissions nemesis, is free. Plus, the SHSAT is open to any student who signs up to take it. (In 2019 it will be offered during the school day at over 50 low-income middle schools, in addition to the traditional weekend test date for all in October, with a make-up date in November.) High-achieving 6th graders have to be invited to sit for the Hunter exam, and, as their website states: “The HCHS Entrance Exam is administered once per year only, with no make-up dates.” 

A child could, theoretically, be so bored in a regular public school that they blow off their grades and state tests. This child could still get into an SHSAT school by doing well on the exam. Such a child, however, would have no shot at Hunter High School. They’d never be even given the chance to demonstrate what they’re capable of.

One of the primary arguments against the SHSAT is that a single test doesn’t measure academic potential the way grades and test scores would. (Despite an internal report countering that yes, actually, it does.) 

If grades and test scores are “better” at predicting student success, then why aren’t screened schools, which use precisely that method, “better” than SHSAT schools? And why aren’t the Mayor and Chancellor fighting to change admissions to them, since there are more screened than SHSAT schools? (For those who argue that since Hunter is administered by the college, not the DOE, the Mayor and Chancellor couldn’t make any changes, no matter how much they may want to, I remind them that the SHSAT is also not under their control, but the state’s. Hasn’t stopped the posturing and the charges of racism against those who disagree with them.)

Grades and test scores measure whether a child is performing at grade-level. The SHSAT screens for kids performing above grade-level.

So does the Hunter High School test.

Unlike the Kindergarten exam, which parents are warned – under penalty of disqualification – not to prep their kids for, there are sample High School questions on Hunter’s website

Clearly, Hunter wants prospective students to study for the exam. (According to the Mayor and Chancellor, studying for the SHSAT is “cheating.” When asked if his own son prepped prior to getting accepted into Brooklyn Tech, the Mayor claimed… not to remember.)

Because the Hunter High School exam features material not taught in a standard NYC classroom, kids have no choice but to prep on their own. And prep — whether it’s from a book, a testing center, or a private tutor — doesn’t come cheap. In that sense, we can presume that entry into Hunter HS is yet another “measure of the privilege of a child’s home (rather) than true giftedness.”

According to Chalkbeat:

At the specialized high schools, 10 percent of admissions offers went to black and Hispanic students last year, and nearly half of the students attending are poor. But just 7 percent of Hunter high school students are black and Hispanic, and only 9 percent come from low-income families. At Hunter’s elementary school, less than 3 percent of students come from low-income families.

Even at the ultra-competitive Anderson School, a citywide K-8 G&T which requires 4-year-olds to test above the 97% percentile for the privilege of entering an admissions lottery, 15% of the students qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch.

Before the most recent, sweeping proposal, there was a push to put in a quota system for Specialized high schools in the name of fairness and diversity. Heck, there’s even a bill to have the DOE take over private schools! Nothing is off the table with this administration!

Hunter Kindergarten applications for September 2020 will open on Friday, August 30, 2019. To learn more about the process, watch the video below:

I have no problem with Hunter existing. Just like I have no problem with Specialized and Screened high schools existing. Just like I have no problem with unzoned schools and dual language schools and Gifted & Talented and charter schools existing. I believe in parents choosing the school that best fits their child, no matter what type of school it may be.

But how long until Hunter is also on the chopping block?

What do you think?

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