Friday, November 03, 2006

How "Equality" Hurt Bronx Kids

As many of you know, I live in New York City, which has the best and the worst in terms of public schools. High schools like Stuyvesant, a magnet school for gifted kids from all over New York, are as good as schools get in this country. On the other hand, many students come to Stuyvesant from the city's private elementary and middle schools, because the public options in the early grades are often wretched. That's not always the case. A city that created Stuyvesant certainly doesn't have a blanket hostility to gifted programs, and some isolated pockets of excellence exist. But unfortunately, all it takes is one bad district leader to plow these under in a misguided pursuit of "equality."

That's exactly what's happened in the Bronx. While the Bronx is one of the toughest boroughs in the city, it's got some rather middle-class sections up near the border with Westchester. Many parents of gifted kids in these neighborhoods -- and parents of bright kids in the grittier urban areas to the south -- kept their children in the public schools because of available gifted options. Then a few years ago, a superintendent for the district, Irma Zardoya, set about gutting them. You can read the tale and the aftermath in this article in the New York Sun. It's a rather chilling account of what ideology can do to schools.

As the Davidsons and I wrote in Genius Denied, destroying urban schools' gifted programs hurts all kids, and gifted kids especially -- but it does not hurt all gifted kids equally. The wealthier Bronx parents chose to move across the county line out of city limits. Or they paid for private school. Less well-off kids? They're stuck with the lousier schools they get as a result. Indeed, Bronx test scores have been so-so, and the number of applicants admitted to schools like Stuyvesant is way down. How did that help anyone?

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