Gifted In New York (Or Not)

Two depressing articles about gifted kindergarteners in New York City have just appeared; note the different focus: 10% More Qualify for Kindergarten Gifted Programs in the New York Times on Friday and Six districts in Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx don’t have enough kids to open gifted program in the Daily News yesterday (thanks to reader E for the tip).

Both articles mention data that don’t confirm their headlines. That is, the New York Times piece notices that the number of students taking the gifted test declined in poorer, less white areas of the city, and the Daily News article discusses the fact that “[at] the other end of the spectrum, in downtown Manhattan and on the upper East side” more kids than ever took the test and qualified.

As at least partial explanation for the greater number of test takers and qualifiers on the upper west and east sides both articles also noted what I regard as a depressing spectacle: “Experts speculated the increases might be due to more 4- and 5-year-olds studying for the entrance exams” (Daily News); and “[t]he cause of the higher passing rates was not immediately clear, but increased preparation may have been a factor … hundreds of students citywide had professional tutoring before taking this year’s admission test” (New York Timesfor kindergarten, or hundreds of primarily black and Hispanic children not even taking the entrance test.

There’s something else I find depressing about this sorry state of affairs, and that is the context of “diversity” into which everyone seems determined to place it, sometimes to weirdly humorous effect. Thus the always politically correct New York Times offers up the following almost mind-boggling paragraph:

The city’s 32 school districts used to use diverse criteria for admissions into their programs for gifted students, but the city made the test the sole factor in gifted admissions in 2008, in part to address the stubborn overrepresentation of white children being admitted into the programs. The city’s gifted programs have been criticized as a bastion of privilege, but are also seen as a way to keep middle-class New Yorkers in the public system.

Since “diverse” has become an almost universally recognized synonym for “black and Hispanic,” my first reaction was a double-take over “diverse criteria.” What could they be? I wondered, but then I realized the Times must have temporarily reverted to the now old-fashioned, conventional meaning of “diverse.” It’s also surprising that the city abandoned “diverse criteria” and went to test scores alone to reduce the number of whites. Most jurisdictions abandon sole reliance on test scores in order to increase the number of non-whites. What was this all about? (I would ask why the Dept. of Education or the Dept. of Justice didn’t raise objections to a city changing its admission policy to gifted program for the admitted purpose of limiting the number of admissions from one racial group, but what would be the point? Our current Dept. of Education and Dept. of Justice affirmative approve of such racial discrimination.)

Then, hard on the heels of the shock of “diverse criteria” comes “the stubborn overrepresentation of white children.” Must gifted programs be proportionally representative? If so, why no mention of Asian children? Are they “stubbornly overrepresented” as well? More or less “stubbornly” than whites? Who knows (or cares)? Apparently not the New York Times. And, for that matter, can “overrepresentation” be “stubborn”?

And the last sentence of that paragraph is also a stunner. Do those who criticize the gifted program as a “bastion of privilege” regard “middle-class New Yorkers” as the privileged? Do those who applaud keeping those “middle class New Yorkers in the public system” think of the middle class as “privileged”?

Not to be outdone on the political correctness front, the lede of the Daily News article suggests that the real victim here is “diversity” itself, not the black the and Hispanic children who do not qualify for gifted education:

Despite a years-long push to diversify city gifted programs, six districts still don’t have enough qualifying kids to open gifted kindergartens next fall.

In traditionally black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, fewer kids took the gifted and talented test this year, and in four of the six districts, fewer qualified than last year.

But hold on a minute. Even if a proportional number of children in “black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx” had been admitted to the gifted program and attended gifted kindergartens in those neighborhoods, would the gifted program itself have been more “diverse”? That is, wouldn’t those children still have attended their gifted kindergartens with other “black and Hispanic” children from their neighborhoods? Wouldn’t all those currently “overrepresented white children” from the upper west and east sides still have attended classes with other primarily white children?

Whatever magical effects “diversity” is supposed to bring to education (and they have still been only asserted, not established), what are the educational benefits (as opposed to political benefits) of a “diverse” gifted program that would be made up of what sound like racially distinct (or virtually so) kindergartens?

Has the City of New York considered doing what nearly all selective colleges do, simply lowering the admissions standards for the “underrepresented” and calling it “affirmative action”? If not, why not?

Say What?