Friday, June 01, 2012

NYC's gifted programs...and mine

I lived in New York City for 9 years, and my oldest two children were born there. We'd started thinking about the whole school question before we left -- though we didn't get very far down that road before moving to Pennsylvania instead.

Anyway, this past week, the NYC school system mailed out its letters informing parents whether their K-3 child landed a spot in one of the city's gifted programs. Unlike many school systems, NYC has quite an elaborate network of GT classrooms. On the other hand, getting in one is not all that straightforward. A child is tested and is labeled gifted if she scores above the 90th percentile. But there aren't actually enough seats in programs for the students who receive that label. Some 13,508 students got scores high enough to qualify. Of those, 7,562 applied for spots (the others presumably chose private schools or found other non-GT programs they preferred -- maybe a neighborhood school or a language immersion program). Of these, 5,486 received offers. The other confusing part is that there are two tiers for the program. Scoring above the 90th percentile qualifies you for "regular" gifted programs, but scoring above the 97th percentile qualifies you for "citywide" gifted programs. These, at schools like Hunter, are the most popular. But because more kids score above the 97th percentile than there are seats, in effect, you have to score at the 99th percentile.

Reading about all this has me pondering what we're doing with my 5-year-old next year. We moved to a school district outside Philadelphia that is known for being good. Certainly the offerings of contests and courses dwarf anything I experienced at the local schools in Indiana I attended for a few years. His elementary school is about a mile from our house. To enroll him, all I had to do is show up at the district office with his immunization record and birth certificate. I'm really quite grateful to have skipped all the stress of figuring out if he'd have a spot in a certain program, applying to private schools, and all that.

I have no idea if my son is officially gifted or not. We'll likely have him tested next year. But on some level, I'm not sure it much matters yet. Kindergarten is half day here. So he'll be in school for a grand total of 2 hours and 45 minutes per day. If it's all playing on the playground, we'd deal, because my son winds up doing a lot of academic work at home. He writes stories, reads books and informs us of various things he's learning about dinosaurs and planets. We sometimes do our bedtime math problems. Or we stumble into it. He's become obsessed with this guide book on San Diego (we might visit in August). He's informed me multiple times that it's 77 degrees in August (per the average high in the table). But he was trying to figure out, does that mean it's 77 degrees on August 1? or 10? or 20? So we started discussing the concept of averages (which I'm having a hard time explaining, by the way).

Anyway, I feel like next year will be about easing into school, seeing how it goes. I'm glad to have avoided the high stakes system of NYC, even though I'm glad NYC even has a system. What are your school plans for next year?


Anonymous said...

Out here in Suburbia, Midwest, USA, we had a harder time with schools than I ever expected to.

Older daughter has an August birthday, and our state sets the kindergarten cutoff date at July 31, so we went the private school route for her so she could start school the year she was 5. I actually had trouble finding a private school that didn't blindly obey the state guidelines, and we ended up at an independent Catholic school that bills itself as "academically rigorous". (We are Catholic, so the religious component is a bonus here).

Having attended an actual dedicated gifted school, I soon realized that "academically rigorous" is not the same thing :) In addition, many of the kids at this school are "old". Especially the boys. The school was hard on her in some ways--she struggled with handwriting which slowed down other parts of the school day. Still, my daughter tended to score middle-to-upper range of her grade level despite being a full calendar year younger than her classmates. Once she conquered the handwriting, other skills (writing stories and finishing long sheets of repetitive math problems) have really taken off for her.

Our younger son just turned 5 this past March, and he attended his sister's school for pre-k. Probably half of his class were 5 before they started last fall. At least one boy in his class was 6 before beginning pre-k. We were told that our son was socially/emotionally not ready for kindergarten, even though academically, he was way ahead of their expectations. He is both younger than his classmates and has less desire to please the teacher. When he's excited about an activity, you won't be able to pull him away. When he's not excited about an activity, you won't be able to motivate him. I read that behavior as the need to give him extra activities in the areas he really enjoys. The school read that as make him repeat a year of coloring pictures and singing songs.

So, we are moving schools. The local public school district has a good gifted program. The local parish-run Catholic school is large (read: wide variety of ability levels across the spectrum) and also has a gifted-esque program for high-scoring students. So we're giving the Catholic education one more try. If they don't work out, then our "fall-back" plan of public education is still an excellent choice--families move to our area specifically for the public school district.

Calee said...

We chose a private parochial school near our home for three reasons:
A) I wanted a longer program than the half-day Public option
B) Gifted programs don't begin until 3rd grade in our area and the standardized test prep takes up much of the year. We have the kindergarten "red-shirting" problem rampant in our area and my daughter actually attended a Pre-K this year that was intended for kids who were 5 but either just missed the birthday cut-off or were not "quite" ready for Kindergarten. She was the youngest student in the class and kept up and more. As a result, she's basically had Kindergarten already so I didn't want to throw her into it again.
C) We liked the "add-ons" that are sadly no longer available in public school. She'll do art and choir and Spanish and religion courses as part of the regular school day--which means I won't be playing taxi service all afternoon and trying to entertain her little brother when the two of them could be enjoying the southern California weather in the backyard.

Joshua Zucker said...

The real danger is not that they'd be on the playground all day, but that something in the environment would make learning seem like it's not fun, or that creativity is bad, or things like that. We've been fortunate enough to have public schools in our area that don't have any of those problems.

As for averages, I like the idea of looking at each day's difference: that is, you gain points for each degree a day is above 77, and lose points for each degree below, and at the end of last August, the total points gained and lost were the same. This avoids the issues of totals and division. Since "total temperature" doesn't really make sense, this kind of way of thinking about averages is even better for this purpose.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Even better than points of difference would be smoothing out a curve. Plot the daily temperature (say looking at WeatherUnderground plots) then move across the room to see about how high the curve is.

We're home schooling high school again next year—this year's homeschooling went much smoother than the past few years in public and private school.

joano4boys said...

From my experience working with the gifted association in NJ, most schools deny that giftedness is a component in education. Sounds rediculous but it is painfully true.

Odds are pretty good that your child will not spend kindergarten playing, but rather learning to sit quitely and wait for others to catch up. Imagine your child sitting for 2 1/2 hours a day with no stimulation. Now imagine your child doing that for 6 hours a day in full day kindergarten! Two of my boys went into kindergarten reading, adding, subtracting, etc. The first one had half day but still became very argumentative and stressed. He left school for 7 months in second grade with severe anxiety and depression. The next one sat, quiet and sad, for an entire year of full day kindergarten. The teacher told me he had no spark. Now he's home schooled and learns freely and happily.

'Nother Barb said...

My son is excited about next year. He thinks he'll FINALLY have challenging classes in 8th grade. He'll take Advanced Accelerated Algebra and Trigonometry at the high school (they start at 7:20,then bus the kids to the middle school), and honors French, and his LA teacher will be replaced with one who has more experience with gifted (at the end of the Shakespeare unit, they watched Gnomeo and Juliet. Sheesh. As a family we'd been to see an abbreviated Shakespeare show, which would have been a better choice, I think, or they could have produced a one-minute Shakespeare play.)

This is all after having been in the gifted program for 5 years (we, too, start it in 3rd grade -- what is with that?!)

The local academic talent search classes are very expensive, but we don't qualify for the aid. His friend did an online class and did NOT enjoy it, and our high school does not give credit. Perhaps he'll take a community college class next summer, or even a class at our nearby liberal arts college. Thanks to Gasstationwithoutpumps, I now know that is an option for high schoolers!

Miss Manti said...

I think people need to carefully assess their approach to gifted education. It's not only about faster, it's about different. While these kids have the ability to learn more content at a quick pace, we should really be advocating for ALL of their needs to be addressed. Let's not let the school systems get away with their same programs on fast forward, rather, these children need a different approach to learning and they need it as soon as they are identified.
My son is 7 and in the 99.9 club. I couldn't imagine him waiting until he's older simply because playgrounds are fun. The playgrounds are populated with children that have nothing in common with him other than their birthdays. It's not fair to any of the children not to find out what their needs are and service them as soon as possible.
It's like the line from Harry Met Sally, "When you find out what you want for the rest of your life, you want it to start right away."
Asking these children to jog in place has been shown to hinder their love of school, their peers and themselves.
If you have a gifted student empower them as soon as you can! My DS7 is named Liam, and we often say CARPE LIAM!

Tricia said...

I just read genius denied and decided to radically change my plans for next year. We are opting out of the local elementary school and I am going to homeschool my daughters age 5 and 8. I decided that my 8 year old shouldn't cry during homework because the math is too easy. I have gotten zero support from our school to help my gifted child. I am considering continuing to challenge the local school to do a better job with gifted education even though I have removed my daughters. I still feel that I have a right to an appropriate public education. However I am a realist and homeschooling will take so much time I won't be able to fix the district.

Anonymous said...

My daughter starts kindergartens in the fall. My daughter makes the cut-off date by two days. Her pre-school teachers said she was ready for kindergarten when they assessed her in the spring of 2011.

I am a former teacher and gifted selection committee member.

Gifted ED often starts in the third grade because before then it is difficult to distinguish between exposure and giftedness. This is also when kids are identified for special ed. Also, at that age teachers "ought" to be able to accomodate for kids in the regular classroom since 5th and 6th grade resources are available, etc. unless the child is profoundly gifted.

Most kids are not profoundly gifted. (99.9%)

Of course the tupical public school teacher has a lot on her/his plate and this is what I would recommend.

#1 - If your child cries because the homework is "too easy", have them do something else and send a note to the teacher. This option is not uncommon. It is actually in the written homework policy in my school district. Then turn in the alternative assignment. It should be related to the lesson in some way.

#2. Send something for your child to do. This may seem like it "isn't your job" but it is no more difficult than homeschooling but your kid gets to be out from underneath you all day. A second grade teacher may be completely unfamiliar with books/activities for 7 year olds reading on a 9th grade reading level precisely because that kind of kid is rare.

#3 Volunteer in the classroom. Create a "center" activity that is based on your child's interests but make enough materials for everyone. Then offer to come in for 30 minutes on a Friday to run it. Again, with so many needs it is hard to stay up to date with what the one precocious child is up to at home. Be the link.

Just a few ideas that I plan to use.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Laura, I am so jaded at this point and tend to agree with Joanof4boys. I agree that it is "only" kindergarten and if he's adjusting well (which could take a few weeks), making friends and enjoying the experience, that's half the battle, but be a relentless advocate for your son, even if means being THAT mom.

nicoleandmaggie said...

We did private K last year at the one school in town that believes in differentiation and academics. DC and one of his friends did half the day in K and half in first. It was great for DC, but a bit of heart-burn for us as the teachers and educational philosophy are amazing, but the board and administration are afraid of things like numbers and lacked the ability to balance a budget.

This year instead of half first/half second they're skipping both boys up to second. The second grade teacher is also awesome. More heartburn for us as last year's monetary scandal has lowered enrollment. Luckily the new head is not scared of numbers and there's someone on the board who understands how to balance budgets. But it is an uphill battle.

It's hard trying to keep a kid happy and challenged and loving school.