Separate and gifted?

Eliminate gifted tracks in New York City, argue Halley Potter of the Century Foundation and David Tipson of New York Appleseed in the New York Times Room for Debate blog.

Seventy percent of the city’s gifted and talented (G&T) kindergarteners are white and Asian, while 70 percent of students are black and Latino, they write.

“Segregation” harms the education of low-income students. they argue. “At the same time, affluent white and Asian students in the city’s separate G&T classrooms are also denied the cognitive and social benefits that socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms offer.”

Gifted children won’t “be fine” in mixed-ability classes, responds Rick Hess.

. . . we’re putting much at risk when we simply hope that overburdened classroom teachers can provide the teaching and learning that gifted children need. Anyone who has watched a teacher labor to “differentiate” instruction in a classroom that encompasses both math prodigies and English language learners knows it’s unreasonable to expect most teachers to do this well.

Students do best in classrooms with students of similar ability, researcher Bruce Sacerdote writes. “We know from data, from theory and, most important, from decades of experience that ability grouping or tracking can have a big payoff. . . . High-ability students benefit the most from high-ability peers.

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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    When I was kiddy, they kept all kids together for regular “homeroom” but separated us out by ability into individual classes beginning in first grade for reading and math only. We stayed together for social studies, science, art, music, gym until 4th or 5th grade.

    All kids, whether high, middle, or lower performing deserve instruction tailored as much as possible to their needs and abilities.

  2. One really great thing about all this “diversity” stuff is that no one has to slog through long reports that detail its many wonders.

    It is good, that’s that anyone who isn’t in complete agreement must be a racist and thus beneath contempt.

  3. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    “At the same time, affluent white and Asian students in the city’s separate G&T classrooms are also denied the cognitive and social benefits that socioeconomically and racially diverse classrooms offer.”

    This is absolutely true. No doubt about it.

    So’s this:

    When you’re sitting in Heaven, you’ll be missing out on all the icewater and mai tais that Hell has to offer.

  4. palisadesk says:

    Critics and defenders of gifted tracks are *both* right.

    A possible compromise is to delay separation of “gifted” children until several years later than kindergarten — till third, fourth or fifth grade. One valid reason for postponing such placements is that IQ testing of young children is very provisional. A child who tests as “gifted” at age 4 may be merely high average at age 9, and vice versa. Where IQ testing of the very young does have some stability is in testing for the severely cognitively delayed (the original purpose for which it was developed).

    Depending on the tests used, the number of “gifted” kindergarteners who later prove to be average may be as high as 30+ percent. Even testing of older school-aged children is only valid for a limited period of time. None of the high-IQ societies accept IQ tests before age 16 for admission of adults. Adult IQ is generally stable over time.

    Skill-level based instructional groupings in elementary would go a long way towards addressing the needs of both gifted learners and average or challenged ones. Schools often do this informally but it presents timetabling and scheduling issues which are major obstacles to wider implementation.

    • Cranberry says:

      I agree that delaying separation makes great sense. Kindergarten is too d**n early, especially in New York City, the known mecca of prepping for any sort of admission test.

      Many private schools use IQ tests for admission, particularly those which start in kindergarten. A fact people often overlook is the gradual departure of students from these schools as they age. Those spots are frequently filled by students who can do the work.

      The older a school’s starting grade, the higher the graduates’ test scores. It’s easier and more reliable to admit students old enough to take the SSAT or ISEE, rather than baby IQ tests. For one thing, it’s much harder to try to prep your kid to a high score, as the domain of knowledge a smart 12 year old should know is much, much larger than the domain a smart 4 year old should know.

      I will say, though, that the often repeated assertion that “affluent white and Asian” students won’t be harmed by multi-level classrooms seems to overlook the common sense point that affluent parents tend to pull their children out if they think they’re being harmed. So their children would be lost to the study. The only children left in the study are those who are not being harmed–the students who are too bored or “not learning anything” don’t stick around.

  5. I work for a company that is mostly Chinese owned and which employs many Chinese, many from mainland China. When I hear them talking among themselves about the local schools something which is often mentioned is what is the proportion of Chinese students in the various
    local schools. They clearly want their children to attend schools with as many other Chinese as possible. They have zero interest in the supposed “benefits” of diversity.
    The last thing in the world they want for their children is to be exposed to ghetto children. They regard middle-class white students as enough of a bad influence.

  6. When my son was given his NJHS invite, he was the only person on his entire team to qualify. Prevailing sentiment in his homeroom was that he was stupid to waste his time earning the required grades when a 65 was a pass and all NJHS did was extra work. Certainly gave him a diverse viewpoint.

  7. Crimson Wife says:

    Eliminate GATE in the NYC public schools and you’ll see a mass exodus out of the city public schools to private schools and the ‘burbs. The only reason my cousin has his daughter in public school despite living in the city is because she is in a GATE program. He wouldn’t send her to public school if the program got eliminated.

  8. In my school district, we have students who are in pre-Calc and AP Calculus by 8th or 9th grade. Clearly, they are “gifted” and it would be wrong to not accelerate their learning. All students do not learn at the same pace, and some children are truly gifted in areas where they should be allowed to exceed standards and expectations and work at their pace.

    All children do not learn at the same pace, and the idea of age-level standardization is a tired and worn out model which should be modified to meet the needs of all students. Certainly, the racial discrepancy in “gifted ed” should be addressed. But eliminating it is an absurd over-reaction. The underrepresentation of black and brown kids in gifted ed does not mean “giftedness” doesn’t exist. It means we need to get better at identification.

    Gifted education is real and necessary. To argue otherwise is to pursue a world mocked by every bit of dystopian literature I’ve ever read.

    • palisadesk says:

      “Gifted education is real and necessary. To argue otherwise is to pursue a world mocked by every bit of dystopian literature I’ve ever read.”

      Nobody (here at least) is arguing that gifted education is not real and necessary — the problem is how to implement it and when to begin “gifted” tracking. Because identifying “giftedness” in young children is HIGHLY unreliable, having “gifted kindergartens” is empirically invalid.

      A better solution is to provide performance-based grouping (sans IQ testing) which would permit advancement of students who can do the work, whether “gifted” or not. That way, students could still reach the levels you posit at 8th grade, but we eliminate a whole bureaucracy of psychometricians and classification bureaucrats. Separate tracks for the “gifted” could be introduced at some point, but what point would probably depend on local variables.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Visited friends in Mexico recently. We’re up to the third generation–ranging from three years old to eighteen. The entire family, extended version, is pretty bright.
    But. Hanging out at one place watching the little girls playing with dolls or…the seven year old would occasionally go to her Kumon English language worksheet and make a couple of entries. Twenty-five examples requiring vocab and spelling. The six-year old would drop her doll from time to time and get to multiplying fractions. Three or even four operations per example. I didn’t get that until the fourth grade, if that.
    I expect these kids are cognitively superior, but the quesiton might be how you tell the difference between native ability and early prep.
    BTW. What’s with Kumon? Is there any downside except, possibly franchise fees, that would preclude it being used in public schools?
    Is there an organizing principle which would be valuable?

  10. cranberry says:

    There is a huge amount of prep which goes on outside the school walls. I can think of a number of kids who were “ahead” by dint of outside prep–which the school did not know about–who later turned out to be age-appropriate in development.

    The problem with GATE education is that it depresses the expectations for the students not placed into GATE. So the children who are behavioral challenges and who would fall behind any class are concentrated in a smaller pool. Add in mainstreaming special needs students and group work, and it’s a difficult brew.

    There is an appropriate time for tracking. However, placing a huge award before the eyes of New York parents of toddlers, i.e., better curriculum and better peers, is not the way to go about it.

    And by the way, for any system, the teachers need to “buy in” to the expectations. I am hearing from parents of honors track kids in our local public high school that the teachers of the honors track don’t feel they need to teach all that much. So you may get the honors placement, but you might not learn much, especially if seniority determines who gets to teach the “easy” kids.

  11. Only in the U.S. do we spend more education dollars on the bottom 25 percent of students than we do the top 5 percent of students

    • Sad, but all too true. But then we’re constantly bombarded by the media with the message that it’s okay to hate on those in the upper 2% of any distribution, be it wealth, talent, or what have you.

      • SC Math Teacher says:

        With sports a notable exception…the one arena (no pun intended) in which merit carries weight even among those committed to the progressive cause.