Thursday, January 25, 2007

Vying for NYC's Gifted Programs

As mentioned in previous posts, New York City is trying some new methods this winter for figuring out which children belong in the city's gifted programs. Unlike many big cities, New York has a long tradition of offering gifted education; indeed, the city's public magnet schools for the gifted are among the best accommodations in the country for such special learners (think Stuyvesant High School, profiled in Genius Denied). The city also starts gifted education in kindergarten, while some districts insist (wrongly) that it's impossible to tell the difference until 3rd grade.

This year, the city is promoting a test for 4- and 5-year-olds to choose students for spots in the limited number of kindergarten and first grade gifted programs. The school system has been aggressively promoting the test in neighborhoods where parents may not be as savvy about these things. So far so good.

But this is New York, one of the most competitive cities in the country. And given the general weakness of the public school system, this test has suddenly become quite high stakes. You can read a Daily News story about the issue by following this link:

I sympathize with Anna Commitante, head of NYC's gifted program. She notes in the article that "It's unfortunate that it's turned into the belief that this is the only way to get a quality public education... Gifted doesn't mean the classes are better or the kids are better. ... These children learn differently and need modifications to their education program."

She's absolutely right. One of the problems with gifted education in this country is that so much of the rest of education is so mediocre. In many schools parents perceive, rightly, that the gifted classes are the only ones where academic expectations are kept high. But all children deserve to be challenged to the extent of their abilities. Unfortunately, many gifted programs feed into the nonsense by not covering academic material. Why should only gifted kids get to study myths or insects or the culture of Japan, or various other classic pull-out curricula? This special, more "fun" work invites resentment and the idea that gifted education is a reward. Many schools feed into the hysteria by choosing ridiculously high percentages of kids for their gifted programs and by creating quite arbitrary cut-offs that invite gaming the system.

Gifted education should never be a reward. It should be an educational intervention for kids who need it. This is one of the advantages of grade skipping as an accommodation. Clearly, it isn't a reward -- it matches the child to the curriculum that best challenges him. Maybe instead of having thousands of nervous 4-year-olds vying for spots in special classes, NYC should try having those who have already mastered kindergarten material start 1st grade, or 2nd grade, or, heck, 6th grade. My guess is that you'd see a lot fewer parents convinced that it's "gifted" or the private schools.


noshua watson said...

Hi Laura,

Have you seen this blog yet? It's about the scientific research on developing talent and giftedness

Quiltsrwarm said...

The whole idea of gifted programs being a reward of sorts drives a lot of outdated gifted programs. As recently as a couple of years ago, our school district would pull a child out of a once-per-week TAG program if that child got a grade below a B in a single grading period. This situation, bordering on emotionally abusive, illustrates the rampant misunderstanding of gifted issues in our public school system.

Today, this same school district has ditched the TAG program and in its place has re-instituted a sort of "tracked" system of remedial-average-honors levels for all kids, but in only one subject area. As you can guess, for gifteds this means being marginally challenged only in their strongest subject. A child with smarts in multiple subject areas is still left wanting.

I would love to see schools for the gifted in our rural community. However, because we are rural, we can only dream of a magnet school for the gifted and envy those communities with the student numbers to support them.