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8th December

First Published in The New York Sun, December 8, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

If published accounts of the arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court are accurate, parents of “gifted and talented” students here in Gotham may have caught a much-needed break. From where I sit, the plan to assign students to these popular programs looks like the racial assignment scheme put in place in Seattle, a plan that newspapermen covering the case say looks doomed after the scrutiny of the nine justices on Monday.

Should the justices overturn or modify this plan and one in Louisville, Ky., New York City’s self-described effort to provide “equity” in the distribution of students to gifted and talented programs could become a casualty as well.

The Seattle plan assigns students to high schools in a manner that is eerily similar to the plan put in place by Chancellor Klein this year for admission to the city’s all-too-few programs designed to meet the needs of academically advanced students.

In Seattle, if a high school is so popular that there are more applicants than available seats, the seats are assigned by race to insure “diversity” that reflects the overall composition of the Seattle school population, which is 60% minority and 40% white.

This is considered a “voluntary” plan, voluntary because the local school board decided that “diversity” above all else is its priority. Yet for the individual students and — this is the key part — their parents, it isn’t voluntary at all. Seattle was never under any court mandate to correct a state-sponsored pattern of segregation. “Diversity” as it has come to mean in today’s society was not the issue on the table when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education more than 50 years ago.

For the New York gifted and talented program, a more subtle methodology is being used to manipulate the school assignments of bright children. Rather than directly use race as a criterion for assignment, performance on a testing regimen is being used as a surrogate. For whatever reason, white students of kindergarten age outperform their minority counterparts on the standardized tests widely used to determine eligibility. By tweaking the testing process to include a weighted subjective evaluation, and artificially limiting the number of seats, the Department of Education has insured that a significant number, perhaps even a majority, of white applicants will be directed to schools outside their neighborhood.

In theory, a child is not being denied the right to attend his neighborhood school. He is only being denied a seat in the gifted and talented program of that school. The experience thus far in District 3, on Manhattan’s West Side, where the assignment program was first used last year, is that many parents refuse to put their 5-year-olds on a bus to take advantage of gifted and talented programs elsewhere. Since most of these parents appear to be white, that appears to be fine with the educrats at Tweed.

Last spring, so many previously qualified students were excluded from the program at P.S. 9 that an additional general education kindergarten class needed to be formed. When I asked Anna Commintante, who directs these programs for the Department of Education, why another gifted and talented class couldn’t be created at P.S. 9, her answer was that it wouldn’t be “equitable.”

A similar program is being established up in the Bronx in District 10, which includes the Riverdale community where I live. Four thousand kindergarten pupils are being given the opportunity to fill 56 gifted and talented spots divided between two schools. The limitation on the number of seats is in itself an outrage. One of the schools is P.S. 24 in Riverdale, and the other is P.S. 54 in Fordham, one of the worst performing schools in the city. Not a single child in any grade there achieved a top “level 4″ score on the most recent reading test. The state has designated P.S. 54 as “failing,” meaning that the students there have the right to transfer out.

In District 10, where fewer than 5% of all students are white, there is no prospect of integration. The only schools in the district with any measure of diversity are those in Riverdale, none of which has a white majority. All of them, without government intervention, happen to fall within the integration guidelines that the Seattle and Louisville school boards are attempting to create artificially, now the subject of the high court’s scrutiny.

But that doesn’t stop the social engineers at Tweed from tinkering with the naturally achieved diversity of Riverdale’s schools. Only a tiny percentage of applicants, I am told, have listed P.S. 54 as their first choice. A disproportionate number of applicants come from Riverdale. Under the current scheme, a significant number of Riverdale parents, most presumably white, will learn that the only way their children will be able to get the gifted and talented services they need and deserve will be to put their kids on the bus to failing P.S. 54. My prediction is that Riverdale’s parents, like their counterparts on the West Side, will reject those placements.

The cries of the West Side parents last spring and the concern in Riverdale have fallen on deaf ears at the Tweed Courthouse. It may well be that parents will have to pin their hopes on the nine justices in Washington, D.C., seeing each child as an individual to be nurtured rather than manipulated.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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