a new method

In four poorer neighborhoods, New York City will scrap tests to create new gifted system

PHOTO: J. Zubrzycki

Faced with another year in which few children in several poor districts met the city’s official criteria for giftedness, New York City is changing the rules.

The city will open four new gifted and talented programs and ditch the usual screening exams in favor of evaluations that will allow teachers to hand pick second-graders who they believe are performing above grade level.

“The goal is to create a pilot program in these areas that responds to families’ wishes and are based around multiple measures — which best reflect student achievement,” education department spokesman Harry Hartfield wrote in an email.

Education officials did not explicitly cite historic socioeconomic and racial divides in gifted and talented programs as a reason for expanding the program. But ever since the city stopped districts from setting their own eligibility rules, in 2007, the programs have disproportionately served richer and whiter students.

Last year, for instance, districts 2 and 3 in Manhattan had more than three times the number of kindergarten students receive gifted and talented placements than the city’s 10 poorest districts combined. And while seven in 10 city students are black or Hispanic, only three in 10 students in those selective programs are.

Now, with the addition of programs in districts 7 and 12 in the Bronx and 16 and 23 in central Brooklyn, every city student will have a gifted program nearby for the first time in at least five years.

The emphasis on making sure every student has access to a gifted program could represent a slight policy shift for schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “My children did not go to gifted and talented, and I think they had wonderful educations because their teachers taught all the kids in that class to the highest level,” Fariña said at a forum in 2014. She said her “goal would be to have neighborhood schools that provide gifted practices to all students.”

Allison Roda, who recently wrote a book about inequity in gifted and talented programs in New York, said she is encouraged by the new programs in Brooklyn and the Bronx, even though she still has reservations about the utility of segregating students into those programs in the first place.

“This is good news that they’re using multiple measures and they’re opening up access to these programs,” she said.

To determine if students should be funneled into the new accelerated programs, teachers will use evaluations that indicate “demonstrated academic performance” and “gifted behavior indicators such as being highly curious, motivated and a fast learner,” according to city officials.

The ultra-selective citywide gifted programs will still require a top score on the typical screening exams. But all second graders who perform above grade level in the four districts getting the new programs will be eligible to apply in May, and the programs will start enrolling third graders next school year.

Starting the program in the third grade rather than kindergarten is backed up by research, Roda said, since it is less likely that the programs will simply reflect privileges students have when they show up in the system.

It’s less clear whether the programs actually benefit students, though. “They’re still creating this parallel system in education and there’s so much focus on the admissions process instead of what’s actually taught in the classroom,” she said.

Sharon Weinberg, a professor of applied psychology and statistics at New York University’s Steinhardt School, echoed that expanding gifted programs in poorer districts is a good idea and might increase diversity.

But she also worries about research showing that involving teachers in the selection process is linked to bias against minority students. She pointed to a study of the Broward County, Florida school district, where the number of black and Hispanic children identified as gifted doubled after the district moved away from using teacher and parent recommendations.

Statistics released Thursday by the education department show that gifted programs across the rest of the city still reflect significant gaps between districts.

District 2 in Manhattan, for example, had 1,590 students eligible for gifted programs. By comparison, every district in the Bronx combined had just 830 qualified students.

Overall, the number of students eligible for the accelerated programs jumped to 30 percent of the students who took the test this year, up five percentage points compared with 2015, though the number of total students tested dipped slightly from 36,450 to 35,979.

enrollment wars

McQueen directs Hopson to share Memphis student information with charter operator

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson flank Gov. Bill Haslam at a 2016 event in Memphis. This week, McQueen sided against Hopson's administration in its battle with a charter operator over the sharing of student information.

Tennessee’s education chief has sided with a charter operator in the ongoing tug-of-war between Shelby County Schools and the state’s Achievement School District over student contact information.

Commissioner Candice McQueen directed Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Monday to immediately share the information requested by Green Dot Public Schools. She said the district’s refusal violates a new state law by withholding information that charter operators need to recruit students and market their programs.

“This is the only way to enable and support parents in making truly informed decisions about their children’s education,” McQueen said in a letter to Hopson.

Sharing student information would help to level the playing field in Memphis, where Shelby County Schools has aggressively sought to stem the exodus of students to state-run charter schools, most of which were once locally run before the state intervened due to chronic low performance.

Green Dot’s five state-authorized Memphis schools have contributed to that drain, and Hopson’s administration has pulled back on accommodating operators’ requests for information. The district contends that such sharing would violate federal student privacy laws, but McQueen said that’s not the case.

The Tennessee Department of Education’s directive sets up a possible legal battle between Shelby County Schools and the state.

“We are in receipt of the letter and will be reviewing the basis for the Commissioner’s response to determine next steps,” said spokeswoman Natalia Powers.

McQueen’s stance also could have implications for other districts like Nashville’s, which have received similar requests from charter operators.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Green Dot executive director Megan Quaile

In her letter to Hopson, McQueen notes that Shelby County Schools’ website only directs parents to a list of SCS schools their children are eligible to attend. It does not include public charter schools authorized by either SCS or the Achievement School District. That means that charter schools have to contact parents to make them aware of their options, which they say is challenging when the local district won’t share contact information.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers sought to address the tug-of-war as part of a sweeping overhaul of the state’s charter school law. One provision requires local districts to hand over student data to approved charters within 30 days of a request.

Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Tennessee, said she was pleased with the commissioner’s position and hopes that Shelby County Schools will comply.

“Our interest is making sure our communities are well informed,” Quaile said. “(The student directory information) is a vehicle by which that can happen.”

You can read McQueen’s full letter to Hopson below:

desegregation dilemma

Silicon Valley’s school integration paradox: More black and Hispanic students get to college — and get arrested

PHOTO: Thomas Hawk / Creative Commons

New research on schools in the heart of Silicon Valley comes to a familiar conclusion: Poor black and Hispanic students get a leg up academically by attending a less segregated school.

But the results come with a significant downside. Those students who left their hometowns to attend wealthier schools in places like Palo Alto were also more likely to be arrested.

The study, which was conducted by Columbia professor Peter Bergman and has not been formally peer-reviewed, speaks to both the promise of integration and the complicating factors — including discrimination — that can dampen its effectiveness.

“Policies that aim to integrate schools … could reap long-run benefits in college enrollment,” writes Bergman, who himself attended public school in Palo Alto. “These policies should simultaneously consider programs to mitigate the potential risks for participating students as well.”

Bergman examined an initiative created after a 1985 lawsuit settlement required several northern California school districts to allow a small number of students from Ravenswood, a largely low-income district, to transfer to more affluent schools in places like Palo Alto and Menlo Park. (Technically, the program can be used in both directions, but only two students have ever transferred into the less-affluent districts.)

Since the program included a random lottery, Bergman was able to compare the outcomes of students who won a spot versus those who applied but did not.

The results were fairly dramatic. Using data from 1998–2008, the study finds that students who got the chance to attend the more affluent schools were 10 percentage points more likely to go to college.

These results were driven by enrollment in two-year colleges, and the effects were largest for boys.

This is consistent with older research on integration programs, which have been shown to boost test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, and adult income for students of color.

Bergman was also able to link students who transferred school districts with their adult arrest records. Here, the results were more discouraging: The program increased the likelihood a student would be arrested by about 5 percentage points, with an even greater impact on boys and black students.

The rise in arrests was due to driving- and drug-related offenses outside the students’ hometowns, and there was no increase in violent crime. This suggests that the arrests may have less to do with any changes in criminal behavior and more to do with students doing more driving — and having more run-ins with police — in wealthier areas, where they had made connections or were attending school.

“Lurking in the background is definitely this idea of racial profiling,” Bergman told Chalkbeat. “[If] you’re driving a beat up Civic in Palo Alto and you’re minority, you really stand out — it’s all Teslas around here.”

Another potential factor: cops in affluent areas have more time and resources to prioritize traffic stops and drug enforcement.

“The Palo Alto police [are] probably facing a lot less baseline crime, so they have a lot of time on their hands,” Bergman said.

Still, the study can’t identify the cause, or explain the consequences for students, such as time in jail.

The research also doesn’t wade into other key questions about this type of integration program, including how it affects students who remain in the poorer, racially segregated schools.

It’s unclear why students who participated saw those academic gains. Research on older programs has found that the academic benefits of integration seem related to increases in school spending, potentially driven by the presence of families with greater political sway. Indeed, in this case, the more affluent California districts generally had greater resources and lower student–teacher ratios.