NYC pre-K G&T testing off the charts, ugh edition

A few years ago I wrote about the testing arms race in New York, which the school system encouraged as a way to keep rich families from going private. Today I repost that story, after a news update from today’s NYT:

Nearly 5,000 children qualified for gifted and talented kindergarten seats in New York City public schools in the fall, 22 percent more than last year and more than double the number four years ago, setting off a fierce competition for the most sought-after programs in the system.

On their face, the results … paint a portrait of a city in which some neighborhoods appear to be entirely above average. In Districts 2 and 3, which encompass most of Manhattan below 110th Street, more students scored at or above the 90th percentile on the entrance exam, the cutoff point, than scored below it.

Some parents who spent big bucks on pre-K training camp, and achieved 95th+ percentile scores, are naturally upset about possibly not getting spots. This seems bonkers — is there any real pedagogical justification for segregating kids based on test scores at age 4?

Here’s the previous post, with some updated links:

The New York public schools are desperate to keep high-income families in the system. High income parents would like to save for college instead of paying for kindergarten. These two forces have been brought together by a kindergarten test prep industry that trains 4-year-olds on how to beat the “gifted-and-talented” (or whatever they call it these days) admissions tests and get into the better public schools. For $1,000 or so, you can improve your chances at a 5-year stint in a premium public.

A couple hours of preparation and many students can at least learn to pay attention long enough to hear the questions, and get a feel for the format.

According to the Times, the real elite schools are incensed:

“It’s unethical,” said Dr. Elisabeth Krents, director of admissions at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side. “It completely negates the reason for giving the test, which is to provide a snapshot of their aptitudes, and it doesn’t correlate with their future success in school.”

In a lot of places, rich parents can get their kids into the schools they want by just picking where they live (shout out to my own Chapel Hill). New York presents a problem for that strategy.

Of course, parents make money partly so they can pass advantages along to their children, so don’t take this is moralizing against those parents. Maybe this is what it takes to keep middle-class parents bought in to the public school system – an update on what we used to call “tracking.” It just highlights the problems that come with an unequal education system.

Maybe the public schools should just let parents pay extra and choose their school or program, and compete directly with the privates. This seems like a back-door solution with unfortunate consequences for children’s sense of self-worth.


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4 responses to “NYC pre-K G&T testing off the charts, ugh edition

  1. Bonkers is not exactly the wordI used. What’s interesting is that bonkers is normal. Parents (upper-middle-class parents) all know it’s crazy, but they feel they have no choice but to participate in the craziness, thereby perpetuating it.


  2. “Maybe the public schools should just let parents pay extra and choose their school or program, and compete directly with the privates.”

    that’s essentially what the neighborhood-based system was — you paid extra money in nyc (and chapel hill, etc) to live in the neighborhood with the good school. in nyc until a couple of years ago (i don’t know when gifted and talented started but it’s always been more demand than supply i think) was to get a “variance”, essentially individual permission to not go local. bloomberg changed that a couple of years ago, introducing school choice so that you can apply for schools outside your district. now yuppie spawn like mine can live in gentrifying neighborhoods and not go to the neighborhood schools. the new problem is that because there’s still neighborhood preference (it goes in zone, then in district, then out of district in terms of who gets in to neighborhood schools — no tests for those), now there’s huge demand from within and without the ‘hoods. the solution is to improve all schools (ha.) or to bus like mad like wake co. did based on class. that was a brilliant social experiment and seemed, at least in the couple of articles i read about it, to work reasonably well in improving student achievement. the idea behind it is theoretically sound — peers influence each other, so if you have low achieving kids mixed (in the right numbers way) with high achieving kids, the low achievers will rise up. this essentially is why parents want their kids in the “good” schools — they will be with “good” peers. put a good school with good teachers and principals and curriculum in the ghetto and will the white parents send their kids there? do i need to even answer that question?


  3. lisa

    Paying to live in a good neighborhood is one thing, charging for public schools is another. They’re called public for a reason, last time I checked that meant they were intended to be free.


  4. Natalie

    People usually pay high property taxes to be able to live in good areas. Why shouldn’t their children be able to attend a good school in that area without having to pay extra for it?


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