Thursday, June 19, 2008

Racism sucks

There is a great way of stating the obvious. I am disappointed by this New York Times article and the apparent contradictions it supports. First this claim is made:
"When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system."
This sounds like a great move to me. Take something that lets whiny parents get their way and replace it with an objective standard.

"The move was controversial, with experts warning that standardized tests given to young children were heavily influenced by their upbringing and preschool education, and therefore biased toward the affluent."

Hmmm...there's something wrong with this: "Tests are influenced by upbringing and preschool and therefore biased toward the affluent". The use of the word "biased" there is very misleading. They don't claim that the tests are biased- the claim that the results are influenced by prior education, and thus those who have had access to better preschool education do better. What sort of test do they propose that wouldn't exhibit this? I submit that any test that doesn't reflect this must be biased in some other way.

What exactly are we talking about here? We are talking about putting children in classes that move at a pace that will keep them stimulated and interested in learning. One that is not too fast nor too slow.

"...last year, there was no citywide cutoff, so available seats were distributed to the top scorers in each district. Some districts that had many spots or few applicants welcomed children with very low scores."
If we have children that don't know their alphabet in a class where everyone else is reading, that is missing the point of leveled education. But I see a much larger access problem that the Times missed- why do kids have to apply? Just test them all and put them in appropriate classes. Kids can learn how to count and other kids can learn how to add.

“They’re trying to push Hispanic kids and minority kids away from gifted program,” said Judith Amaro, a parent leader in District 6.
Now that just sounds idiotic. What does race have to do with a test? If I make a test where you have to be able to add 2+5 to get into the gifted addition class, the test doesn't care what race you are. Still, racism exists- see Obama in West Virginia. So people that don't understand the nature of the test, assume that any different performances of people across racial groups must be racist. It's really sad.

I still question Ms. Amaro- why would you want an underqualified kid in the gifted addition class?

I think the bigger problem with gifted programs is that it's all in. It should be differential by subject and you should have to keep qualifying. Check kids again every year. Check the pace at which they are learning.

“a group of professors and luminaries — including Deborah Stipek, the dean of Stanford’s School of Education, and former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo — deplored the practice in a letter to the chancellor and mayor. Testing young children for gifted classes most likely will increase inequities,” read the letter, “and undermine educational opportunities for all children
Far be it from me to say that the dean of Stanford's School of Education is wrong, but she is wrong. Gifted classes aren't magical bunny treats for rich kids- they are classes designed to run at a faster pace for kids that are ready for them.

If you want to fix the problem, spend money on Head Start and offer free preschool for the disadvantaged. Don't pretend the problem doesn't exist by pretending that kids who aren't ready for school are ready for school.

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