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6th November

First Published in The New York Sun, November 6, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

In the “gifted-and-talented free zone” that is the Bronx’s School District 10, the Department of Education has designated two schools as the sites for the first such programs here in a generation. Parents who might want to apply for these programs on behalf of their children need to look carefully at both schools involved, since under rules recently imposed by Chancellor Klein, there is no preference given to children living in the neighborhood, or to those with siblings in the school.

Instead, the decision as to which school a child will be admitted to will be based on the use of an objective I.Q. test and a subjective assessment by the child’s teacher. This policy is designed to promote “equity.” But parents and local elected officials increasingly see this as an effort to put middle class students of all races at a decided disadvantage.

This is of great concern to parents in Riverdale, the community that led the charge to restore special programs for academically advanced students and that now, once again, feels abused by the educrats at the Tweed courthouse. Can you blame the parents? They realize that their own 5-year-olds will not be guaranteed a space in the program in their local school, P.S. 24, even if the child qualifies for gifted and talented.

The alternative program appears to have been selected by a Department of Education apparatchik taking cues right from the lead character in the newly released film “Borat.” Only this is not a joke to concerned parents.

The school in question is P.S. 54, located miles from Riverdale. What makes this choice so absurd is that P.S. 54 has been designated by the New York State Education Department, acting under the federal “No Child Left Behind”law, as a “School in Need of Improvement.”

In other words, P.S. 54 is an officially designated “failing school,” one from which the local children have the right to transfer out of. They can — and do — opt to apply to schools that aren’t on the failing list, schools such as P.S. 24 in Riverdale. In the vision of “equity” promulgated by Tweed, buses will whisk the bright children from Riverdale to this “failing”school, as the seats they leave behind could be filled by children from the same school whose parents decided to take advantage of the ticket to escape educational failure at P.S. 54.

This situation opens up a Pandora’s box of legal problems and educational quandaries that work to the disadvantage of all.

If a gifted child accepts a placement at P.S. 54, can his or her parents then turn around and request a transfer out? The law does not distinguish between different types of students at a “failing” school. Presumably, a gifted child is just as entitled to appropriate services as a child in special education.

The bright children sent off to this failing school will get a curious welcome gift upon their arrival. All children attending “schools in need of improvement” are entitled to free government funded remedial tutoring, even if they are doing well in their classes. Parents of smart students, often smart themselves, are unlikely to pass this one up. One can never be too smart, after all. The tutoring price tag to the government is thousands per child. Add this to the more than $1,500 a year it costs to put the child on a school bus, and you suddenly are expending a pretty penny to provide a “gifted” program that shouldn’t really cost a nickel more that a conventional education. This wasted money is part of the price of “equity” Tweed-style.

Another unintended consequence of this folly could be that as the years pass and the gifted children will begin taking standardized tests, it is likely that the scores of the bright commuter children will begin to skew the overall test results of the school in a positive way. This could lead to the failing school being removed from the “failing” list. This may make some educrats happy, but for the regular school population, which is likely to be just doing just as badly as before, it will come at a cost. They will lose their opportunity to transfer to a better school and no longer be entitled to the supplementary tutoring that they may well need and benefit from.

A smart program to service smart children would begin with determining where, among the nearly 40 elementary schools in District 10, these children live. That should be the determining factor in choosing locations with an eye towards minimizing the wasted funds of unnecessary busing. Little children are best served when attending their neighborhood school. Moreover, it is an insult to the children of this district, more than 95% members of minority groups, to limit the program to only two classes, suggesting that just 56 of the 4,000 eligible kindergarten children are “gifted.” With so few white students in this district, and not a single school that is “majority white,” Tweed’s call for “equity” rings hollow indeed. It sounds more like politically correct harassment of the middle class to me, by deliberately constricting the supply of something they value and are entitled to.

And therein lies the folly in Chancellor Klein’s new gifted and talented admission policy. It will not foster equity, but breed resentment. Parents whose children are passed over after jockeying for too few seats will be angry. Other fully qualified students will be forced to endure unnecessary busing or lose their chance for the kind of education that their God-given gifts demand.

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

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