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7th March

First Published in The New York Sun, March 7, 2007

By Andrew Wolf

Parents around the city who are anxiously awaiting the results of a high-stakes testing process that will decide the direction of their children’s education have a new ally in their quest to ease the pressure.

Comptroller William Thompson Jr. on Monday delivered a letter to the city’s school chancellor that firmly puts him on the side of the parents of children applying for gifted and talented programs. The comptroller, a former president of the old Board of Education, told Chancellor Joel Klein that the city’s new policies are “counterproductive,” and he urged immediate remedies to what he termed the “disjointed” approach the Department of Education has taken in redesigning the popular program.

In the comptroller’s cross hairs is the new admissions policy for the gifted and talented programs in the city’s public elementary schools. These new rules have the parents of 5- and 6-year-old children on pins and needles.

Specifically, the comptroller questions the city’s new policy that bases which gifted program a child is admitted to on the scores generated by a controversial new testing policy. Rather, he favors a program that “takes into consideration the proximity of a child’s home to his or her school.”

Mr. Thompson’s involvement is significant because the program hinges on addressing the concept of “equity,” following charges by activist groups that existing gifted programs are inherently “racist.” That Mr. Thompson, the city’s highest-ranking African-American public office-holder, seems willing to take this on — taking the side of parents, many of whom are white — could have implications moving forward to the mayoral election of 2009. Many politicians have shied away from open criticism of a policy billed as fostering “equity,” even in the light of evidence that it may be having the opposite effect.

Critics have charged that current gifted programs tend to concentrate students by race. But the imposition of the new policy last year on the West Side of Manhattan had some unintended consequences. Parents charge that the new rules led to the closing of a promising gifted and talented program at P.S. 145, a largely minority school in Morningside Heights. Stories like this resonate with Mr. Thompson, whose mother, a retired schoolteacher, taught gifted classes in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Mr. Thompson’s criticism of the new gifted programs and procedures comes as welcome news to a number of the city’s elected officials. State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn is upset over the elimination of his district’s Center for Intellectually Gifted Children, a program in existence since the early 1990s. Despite the anger of parents who joined him at a protest outside P.S. 193 in Midwood, he has hit a dead end with the educrats at the Tweed Courthouse. “Restructuring the New York City’s gifted programs seems to be synonymous with diluting the gifted programs until they’re watered down so much that they’re nonexistent,” he said. “The result — the desired result, apparently — will be a system where mediocrity rules.”

Mr. Kruger fears this will come at a steep price: “The real losers in all of this, of course, are the children who will lose out on the education they need — and all those families who will be needlessly driven out of the public school system.”

The irony that this controversy is coming on the heels of the recent school bus brou-ha-ha is not lost on Mr. Thompson.

“It’s mystifying why at the same time the Department of Education wants to save bus transportation costs by cutting services across the city and giving youngsters Metro-Cards, it is unnecessarily busing another group of students out of their neighborhoods to Gifted & Talented programs when such programs already exist in their communities,” Mr. Thompson said.

Focusing only on Mr. Thompson’s criticisms of what he termed a “truncated” application process, an education department spokesman, David Cantor, responded that the department has not received a “single complaint by parents alleging that there was insufficient time to submit applications to Gifted & Talented programs. In early October we began notifying nursery schools, daycare centers, elected and school officials, and advertising in local media for the December 1st deadline. Every school with a program held tours and information sessions.”

An assemblyman who represents the Bronx, Jeffrey Dinowitz, said the notification effort fell short as the department specifically and perhaps deliberately failed to advertise the program in either of the two newspapers serving his Riverdale community, while placing those solicitations newspapers in other Bronx communities and the Spanish-language El Diario.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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