Monday, November 10, 2008

White Out in Gifted Programs in Manhattan and in NYC

At Penn State's home football games, the fans often create a "white out" to intimidate the opposing team - all fans are asked to wear only white clothing, thereby creating an apparent envelope of a loud white sea around the football field. See the picture at the right.

As Penn State continues to benefit from the added boost of the "white out" conditions often faced by its opponents at its home games, the "white out" that is occurring in the NYC public schools' gifted program is both intimidating and terribly disappointing. The racial make-up of the 2008 to 2009 gifted and talented kindergarten class in New York City is an outrage.

Recent Changes in Gifted Admissions

In April of this year, the Chancellor announced that he wanted to make it easier for students to qualify for gifted and talented programs and that he wanted to allow schools with as few as eight qualifying students to be able to participate in such programs.

Contrary to the tone of the Chancellor's announcements and contrary to acceptable public policy, the NYC Department of Education used its new policy to reduce the number of students in gifted programs and to sharply reduced the number of Black and Hispanic children participating in the program. The number of gifted slots available to students in the highest income portions of the New York City were increased while the number available to students in lower income sections of the city were reduced.

The overall gifted program lost half of its population, and while 17% of New York City public school kindergarten students are white, 48% of those in the current gifted program for kindergarten students are white. Blacks and Hispanics make up 68% of the students in this year's kindergarten classes and only 22% of those in this years gifted and talented kindergarten programs. The Chancellor announced these changes as a mechanism for increasing the diversity in the gifted programs and for expanding participation in general in these programs. Unfortunately, the changes he implemented resulted in a breathtaking move in the wrong direction on both fronts.

Increased Applications - Decreased Enrollment

Perhaps even more troubling than the profound racial inequity of this year's gifted program admissions results is the reality that the 50% decrease in the number of students in the gifted program comes during the same time frame in which applications increased by 161%.

Whether because of extreme incompetence or because of traditional preferences for white students over Black students and Hispanic Students (and higher income students over lower income students), the NYC Department of Education has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to administer the gifted program in a manner that creates the best opportunities for our city's children. The failures in the gifted program are part of an overall pattern of failure in the educational arena for Mayor Bloomberg and his team, and these failures serve as a backdrop to the re-election campaign of Mayor Bloomberg, who made Mayoral control of education a centerpiece of his seven years at the helm of our city.

Chancellor Klein now has an obligation to establish a plan to fix the racial balance problems and the declining enrollment problems. He should be encouraged to develop such a plan immediately to avoid a repeat of this year's fiasco.

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