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31st January

First Published in The New York Sun, January 31, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

It appears to me that there are a disproportionate number of foreign-born students among the finalists and semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search competition. Moreover, many of these students appear to have received their early education in their country of origin, not here in America. Is there a lesson here?
I think there is. Education practices in America are designed to “level off” all students into the vast middle ground lest we damage the self-esteem of those performing at lower levels. Students from other countries, where academic competition is encouraged and curricula are designed to challenge the brightest, may well have an advantage over the children who have been held back by the “progressive” educational theories that dominate in American schools.

The Intel competition is just that — a competition with winners and losers. This is not the kind of thing that the progressive educational establishment encourages. In District 10 in the northwest Bronx, the traditional science fair was abandoned in the early 1990s. When a new school board was elected in 1999, the fair was re-established at their insistence. But lest the self-esteem of the losers be damaged,there are no winners declared.

Similarly, schools in regions 1 and 2, which cover virtually the entire Bronx, were poised to be the only public schools in the city that were forbidden to participate in the citywide spelling bee.When State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. heard about this, he was livid and issued an angry press statement.The Department of Education, concerned about negative publicity during this election year, ordered the two recalcitrant regional superintendents to participate. But what the incident discloses is the philosophy that guides so many of the top educators in the system.

In his State of the City speech recently,Mayor Bloomberg promised that gifted and talented programs would be established throughout the city, partially in reaction to the introduction of a bill in the City Council by Brooklyn’s Lewis Fiedler that would mandate such programs.

On Tuesday the mayor journeyed to Staten Island, quickly becoming a battleground in the upcoming election, to announce the first of these new programs.

Unclear in the announcement is the specific program put in place. Regrettably, the Department of Education has tapped into the “expertise” of Joseph Renzulli, the University of Connecticut professor who designs “gifted” programs that involve virtually all students.This is the backdoor way that progressive ideologues attempt to satisfy the demands of the parents of academically advanced students. Often these programs are called “enrichment and talent development.” Parents should know that any program that does not actively attempt to identify children who are truly “gifted,” and seeks to be expansive and inclusive, is NOT a gifted and talented program.Every child is entitled to enrichment, but only a select group needs the advanced opportunities that true gifted and talented programs offer.

The decimating of the existing programs in New York’s public schools, which has systematically occurred over the past 20 years, may explain in part why children who have begun their education abroad seem to do so much better in the rarefied world of the Intel competition.

Another reason why foreign-born students may be doing so well is the watering down of American mathematics programs as compared to the rigorous programs offered abroad, particularly in Asia and Eastern Europe.These are the places where many of the winners seem to come from. What are America’s concerns about mathematics education? Consider a dispatch that appeared recently in the Tab, a weekly in Newton, Mass., a suburb of Boston.

According to reporter Tom Mountain, Newton’s once stratospheric scores on the math portion of the Massachusetts MCAS standardized tests have dropped precipitously since 1999,when a new administration came on board and installed a new math curriculum.

Since nothing else has changed in the town’s demographics or the condition of the schools, Mr. Mountain seems to feel that the only explanation for the drop is the imposition of the new curriculum.

This curriculum is described as “antiracist multicultural math,” and was designed to “emphasize ‘Newton’s commitment to active anti-racist education’ for the elementary and middle schools.” And just what is the anti-racist program Newton has put in place in their elementary schools? It is, I’m told, one of the popular “constructivist”or “fuzzy”math programs, Everyday Math. Yes, friends, the very same math program the disgraced former Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam mandated for our children here in New York, and we are still stuck with.

In Asian countries and Eastern Europe, they are not concerned about nonsense like “anti-racist multicultural math.” Students in those countries learn real math. Our children deserve nothing less. Perhaps then we can start homegrowing Intel finalists,instead of just importing them.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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