Achieving Diversity

More children took gifted tests in the Bronx and Brooklyn, but the number of children qualifying stayed the same

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

More New York City children took tests to qualify for gifted and talented kindergarten programs this year. But the number of students scoring high enough to attend those programs remained about the same.

The latest figures, released Thursday, come at a time when the city is debating the best way to diversify the city’s gifted programs. While 70 percent of New York City students are black or Hispanic, less than 30 percent of gifted students are.

While the overall number of test-takers went down slightly, the number of entering kindergartners who took the test went up 14.5 percent, to a total of more than 16,500, according to the city Department of Education. There were increases in every school district of the Bronx, and 10 out of 12 districts in Brooklyn — both historically underrepresented areas. The department has increased its outreach, mailing postcards to families, for instance, and sharing information about gifted at the city’s pre-K centers.

Still, the number of students who scored high enough to qualify for gifted stayed the same. The city noted there are typically year-to-year fluctuations.

But Halley Potter, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, pointed to a more systemic problem: The test itself poses a barrier for poor students, with scores reflecting uneven quality in pre-K programs or a lack of access to test prep, she said.

“The test is always going to be better at measuring social advantage than innate aptitude,” Potter said.

There have been similarly disappointing results in the city’s efforts to diversify elite specialized high schools, which base admissions on a single test. Though the city offered test prep programs and administered the test at a handful of middle schools in underrepresented communities, the number of black and Hispanic students who were offered admission to the schools didn’t budge this year. And the proportion of offers that went to black and Hispanic students stayed flat at just over 10 percent.

“It’s a paradox to think that some people aren’t doing well because some families aren’t getting into test prep, so we need more test prep,” Lazar Treschan, youth policy director at the Community Service Society, told Chalkbeat in March. “Test prep is the problem.”

The Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents recently launched a task force to explore equity issues in both gifted and specialized high schools. They have argued that without access to gifted programs early on, black and Hispanic students are less likely to pass the specialized high school test.

“I am certainly happy that more kids from the Bronx are taking the test,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said in a statement. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that high-quality gifted and talented programs are available to children no matter where they live.”

New York City’s diversity problem in gifted programs can be traced back to changes made about a decade ago under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to Clara Hemphill, director of education policy and editor of InsideSchools, a review website with a focus on equity.

Previously, admission rules were set by individual districts or schools. But Bloomberg moved to standardize admission based on national standards.

“Though this sounds fair, it works against bright kids in low income neighborhoods,” she said. “In low-income neighborhoods, you may be two or three years ahead of your classmates, but not two or three years ahead of the national norm.”

As a result, gifted programs in some communities disappeared since there weren’t enough students who passed the test to fill a gifted class. The education department, which is generally seen as reluctant to expand gifted education, recently opened new programs in Brooklyn, the Bronx and in one under-enrolled school on the Upper West Side.

Those programs don’t rely on the gifted test for admission. Rather, students are identified based on teacher recommendations and report card grades, and the program doesn’t start until third grade. This year, more than 1,800 students were identified as eligible to apply.

“We continue to review ways to ensure G&T testing is equitable,” education department spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email, “and maintain the high standards of the program.”

Clarification: This story has been edited to clarify that roughly ten percent of offers to specialized schools went to black and Hispanic students. That is not the pass rate for black and Hispanic test-takers.


Week in review: A raise for some Detroit teachers — no pay for others

PHOTO: John/Creative Commons

The situation at the Detroit charter school where teachers won’t get their summer paychecks is a reminder about the precarious finances that can affect both district and charter schools.

Charters don’t typically have historic debts like those that nearly drove the Detroit Public Schools into bankruptcy last year, but Michigan does not provide charter schools with money to buy or renovate their buildings. Unlike districts, charter schools can’t ask voters to approve tax hikes to pay for improvements. And when charter schools borrow money, that debt isn’t supported by the state or backed up by district taxpayers the way some school district debt is. So when a charter school shuts down and money stops coming from the state, there could be many people — that includes teachers — who simply won’t get paid.

Scroll down for more on that story as well as updates on the just-ratified teachers contract and the rest of the week’s Detroit schools news.

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Senior Detroit Correspondent


Paying teachers — or not

  • Detroit teachers who mailed in ballots this month have narrowly approved a new three-year contract in a vote of 515 to 474. “We certainly deserve more,” the union’s president said in a statement “but the package offers us the opportunity to build our local, move our school district forward and place students first.”
  • The new contract, which will now go to a state financial oversight board for approval, would raise teacher salaries by more than 7 percent over the next two years but would not increase wages enough to bring them back to where they were before pay cuts a few years ago.
  • Meanwhile, teachers at the shuttered Michigan Technical Academy charter school — which had a lower school in northwest Detroit and a middle school in Redford — were furious to learn that they won’t get money they’re owed for work they did during the school year. The money will instead go to pay off debts. More than 30 teachers are collectively owed more than $150,000.
  • The school is the second Detroit-area charter school to run into financial problems affecting teacher pay. Educators at the Taylor International Academy in Southfield say they haven’t been paid since their school shut down abruptly in early June. Taylor and MTA also have this in common: Both schools had their charter authorized by Central Michigan University.
  • Meanwhile, across the state, Michigan’s average teacher salary has dropped for the fifth year in a row, and many districts say they have trouble retaining high quality teachers because of low pay. The finding is included in a six-story series on state teacher pay from Michigan Radio that already has detractors.
  • An investor service says the controversial changes Michigan made to its pension system are a “positive” for the state.
  • A University of Michigan economist says substitute teachers are paid less in Michigan than other states — part of why the state has a sub shortage.
  • A suburban district got 952 applicants for a single teaching job but the district’s superintendent says that doesn’t mean there’s not a teacher shortage.

On the home front

In Detroit

Across the state

  • A judge has blocked the state from spending public money on private schools. A Catholic leader explains why he thinks private schools should be entitled to the money.
  • MIchigan has dumped its school ranking system in favor of a dashboard.
  • An advocate who wants schools to face tougher consequences for poor performance slammed Gov. Rick Snyder’s recent school reform efforts. “Parents are tougher on their kids when they don’t eat their vegetables than Detroit’s turnaround plan is with its hometown failure factories,” he wrote.
  • Many of the hurdles that make it difficult to provide enough early education in Detroit also exist in rural Michigan communities.
  • A New York writer says Betsy DeVos might be powerful and influential in Michigan but in Washington without her checkbook, she’s “like a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

In other news

money money money

New York City teachers get news they’ve been waiting for: how much money they’ll receive for classroom supplies

New York City teachers will each get $250 this year to spend on classroom supplies — more than they’ve ever gotten through the city’s reimbursement program before.

The city’s 2017-18 budget dramatically ramped up spending for the Teacher’s Choice program, a 30-year-old collaboration between the City Council and the United Federation of Teachers. More than $20 million will go the program this year.

On Thursday, the union texted its members with details about how the city’s budget will translate to their wallets. General education teachers will each get $250, reimbursable against expenses. (Educators who work in other areas get slightly less; teachers tell the union they spend far more.)

Money given to New York City teachers for classroom supplies, measured in dozens of tissue boxes.

The increase means that Teacher’s Choice has more than recovered from the recent recession. In 2007, teachers were getting $220 a year, but that number fell until the union and Council zeroed out the program in 2011 as part of a budget deal aimed at avoiding teacher layoffs. (Some teachers turned to crowdsourcing to buy classroom supplies.) As the city’s financial picture has improved, and as the union lobbied heavily for the program, the amount inched upwards annually.

“With this increase in funding for Teacher’s Choice, the City Council has sent us a clear message that they believe in our educators and support the work they are doing,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. “At a time where we see public education under attack on a national level, Council members came through for our teachers and our students.”