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.