Stop The Presses: Upper West Siders Don't Practice What They Preach When It Comes To Their Own Children
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Manhattan's Upper West Side is home to the people who are most responsible for the Conventional Wisdom of the media. Wikipedia writes:

The Upper West Side is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan, New York City, that lies between Central Park and the Hudson River and between West 59th Street and West 110th Street. The Upper West Side is sometimes also considered to include the neighborhood of Morningside Heights. 

Like the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side is an upscale, primarily residential area with many of its residents working in more commercial areas in Midtown and Lower Manhattan. While these distinctions were never hard-and-fast rules and now mean little, it has the reputation of being home to New York City's cultural and artistic workers, while the Upper East Side is traditionally perceived to be home to commercial and business types.

Not surprisingly, people who have made it all the way to the Upper West Side by preaching one set of messages don't see why those principles should apply to their own children. 

A half century ago, the people running New York City were more naive. They thought their public ideals weren't just for the rest of country, they were for their own city. In their lack of hypocrisy, they managed to almost wreck the world's most important city. On the whole, the people currently running New York City aren't making that mistake.

It can be hard for us poor dumb out-of-towners to figure out how things actually work in 21st Century New York, but, I increasingly believe, it's worth making the effort.

The NYT has been running a series of articles on the Gifted and Talented system within New York City's public schools. Here's the fourth and last article:

Gifted, Talented and Separated 


IT is just a metal door with three windows, the kind meant to keep the clamor of an elementary school hallway from piercing a classroom’s quiet. Other than paint the color of bubble gum, it is unremarkable. 

But the pink door on Room 311 at Public School 163 on the Upper West Side [on 97th Street a block and a half west of Central Park] represents a barrier belied by its friendly hue. On one side are 21 fourth graders labeled gifted and talented by New York City’s school system. They are coursing through public school careers stamped accelerated. 

And they are mostly white. 

On the other side, sometimes sitting for reading lessons on the floor of the hallway, are those in the school’s vast majority: They are enrolled in general or special education programs. 

They are mostly children of color. [Assuming Asians are people of pallor, of course.] 

“I know what we look like,” Carolyn M. Weinberg, a 28-year veteran of P.S. 163, said of the racial disparities as she stood one day in the third-floor hallway between Room 318, where she and a colleague teach a fourth-grade general education class, and the one where Angelo Monserrate teaches the gifted class, Room 311. 

“I know what you see,” said Ms. Weinberg. 

There are 652 students enrolled at P.S. 163 this year, from prekindergarten through fifth grade. Roughly 63 percent of them are black and Hispanic; whites make up 27 percent; and Asians account for 6 percent. 

This reflects the flavor of the neighborhood, and roughly matches the New York City school system’s overall demographics. 

Yet in P.S. 163’s gifted classes, the racial dynamics of the neighborhood, the school itself and the school system are turned upside down. 

Of the 205 children enrolled in the nine gifted classes, 97, or 47 percent, are white; another 31 of the students, or 15 percent, are Asian. And a combined 65 students, or 32 percent, are black and Hispanic. 

In the 21 other classes that enroll the school’s remaining 447 students, only 80, or 18 percent, are white. 

The disparities are most apparent in the lower grades. 

Of the 24 students in Karen Engler’s kindergarten gifted class, one is black and three are Hispanic. Ayelet Cutler’s first-grade gifted class has 21 students, one of them black and two Hispanic. There are two blacks and two Hispanics among the 26 students in Athena Shapiro’s second-grade gifted class. 

On a recent morning, a line of Ms. Cutler’s students moved from the classroom to the corridor, ahead of the general education class of Linda Crews. A string of mostly white faces and then a line of mostly black and Hispanic ones walked down the hall of a school named for a New York politician who sought to end inequities in education: Alfred E. Smith. 

It was 11:25 a.m., and the classes wound their way to the cafeteria, a cavernous room at the school’s western edge. Once there, the children sat with those in their own class, each one at a separate long white table that, for a moment, froze the divisions. 

For critics of New York City’s gifted and talented programs, that image crystallizes what they say is a flawed system that reinforces racial separation in the city’s schools and contributes to disparities in achievement. 

They contend that gifted admissions standards favor middle-class children, many of them white or Asian, over black and Hispanic children who might have equal promise, and that the programs create castes within schools, one offered an education that is enriched and accelerated, the other getting a bare-bones version of the material. Because they are often embedded within larger schools, the programs bolster a false vision of diversity, these critics say, while reinforcing the negative stereotypes of class and race. 

Despite months of repeated requests, the city’s Education Department would not provide racial breakdowns of gifted and talented programs and the schools that house them.

That's a good lesson: stonewall.

In the long run, discrimination lawyers, as part of settlements of lawsuits, will make you publish data by race so they can trawl for disparate impact for future lawsuits. But, if you are NYC's Upper West Side, you can get away a lot longer with stonewalling than can some podunkville that the Obama Administration can push around.

But the programs tend to be in wealthier districts whose populations have fewer black and Hispanic children, and far more children qualify for them in affluent districts than in poorer ones. 

In District 3, which stretches for 63 blocks along Manhattan’s Upper West Side and includes P.S. 163, there are five gifted programs for elementary school children, including the Anderson School, one of five citywide programs. 

Farther north, for all of Districts 5 and 6, which are poorer and more heavily black and Hispanic, there are just two programs. 

And though programs are clustered in affluent neighborhoods around Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and in northeastern Queens, the accelerated classes are absent from broad swaths of central Brooklyn and southeast Queens, where more families are poor and black or Hispanic. 

In District 7, in the South Bronx, there is not a single gifted program. The area, dominated by Hispanic and black residents, is among the poorest in the nation, with many people living below the official federal poverty mark. 

James H. Borland, a professor of education at Teachers College, said that looking at the gifted landscape in New York City suggests that one of two things must be true: either black and Hispanic children are less likely to be gifted, or there is something wrong with the way the city selects children for those programs. 

“It is well known in the education community that standardized tests advantage children from wealthier families and disadvantage children from poorer families,” Dr. Borland said. 

And the city’s efforts to fix the system seem to have only made it worse.

Until recently, each of the city’s 32 school districts could establish the classes as it saw fit and determine its own criteria for admission. They varied, but educators often took a holistic approach; they looked at evaluations from teachers and classroom observations, relying on tests only in part, by comparing the results of students from within a district. 

That changed in September 2008, when the Bloomberg administration ushered in admission based only on a cutoff score on two high-stakes tests given in one sitting — the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. 

The overhaul was meant to standardize the admissions process and make it fairer.

Back in 2008, Half Sigma and I predicted that making gifted admissions fairer and more objective would reduce black and Hispanic numbers.

But the new tests decreased diversity, with children from the poorest districts offered a smaller share of kindergarten gifted slots after those were introduced, while pupils in the wealthiest districts got more.

Back then, I assumed that the Bloomberg Administration had been made stupid by political correctness. But, the more I think about it, the notion that Michael Bloomberg, one of the 20 richest people on Earth, is stupid is stupid. Isn't it more likely that Mayor Bloomberg wanted a system that would benefit the most prosperous and taxpaying whites and Asians and persuade them to not move to the suburbs when their children reached school age?

On the other hand, since nobody is allowed to explain that they want what they want, the system has lots of mindless churn in it.

This year, the department changed the process again, substituting a new test known as the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test — Second Edition, or NNAT2, for the Bracken exam. This is what children competing for placements next year started facing this month, in tests that began on Jan. 7.

Last April, I discussed this switchover.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer, said data showed that a “more diverse range of kids” excelled on the new test because it was less rooted in test preparation and would allow educators to more accurately identify gifted pupils.

The new test "relies on abstract spatial thinking and largely eliminates language" because, as we all know, African Americans are at an unfair disadvantage with use of the English language, but are aces at abstract spatial thinking. That's why so many topologists are black, but practically no rappers.

Seriously, if you conceive of the Bloomberg Administration as essentially a conspiracy to drive African-Americans out of New York City, much that would otherwise be inexplicable begins to make sense.

... Urban districts were seen as using the programs to help prevent white flight from the schools, in essence offering a system within the system that was white-majority and focused on achievement. “There have been claims that gifted education resegregates the public schools,” Dr. Borland said. 

“Certainly there was concern with keeping middle-class families involved in public schools, and to the extent that we use tests to select kids for gifted programs, that tends to skew the programs toward children from wealthier, white families,” he added. 

... “I guess it is a question of, ‘How much diversity do you feel comfortable with?’ ” said the parent of one child in the gifted program, who did not want to be identified for fear of animosity from other parents. “Do I want him to be the only white kid in an all-black school? No. Would I like it if the racial mix was more proportionate? Yes, whatever the percentage of the makeup. That’s an honest answer, from my soul. Is it hypocritical for parents to say, ‘We’re sending our kids to public school,’ but they’re sending them to an all-white gifted and talented program? But it’s not our fault. We want the best for our children.” 

Carrie C. Reynolds, a co-president of the PTA, said parents seemed to be basing choices not on race but on the academic environment and on socioeconomic factors. 

The concept of disparate impact should only be applied to bad people, like New York City firemen, not to good people, like Upper West Side parents.

“If you were upper income, well educated, you want your kid to have a more enriched education,” she said. “I think it is more economics than race. They tend to go hand-in-hand in New York City, but I certainly know families that have made a different choice, that are here at this school, that are white and are not in gifted and talented.” 

But one afternoon at the school, Ms. Lindner, the fifth-grade teacher, said she was “always surprised” when she saw more than two or three white children in her general education classes. 

As a parent herself, and a resident of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, she said, “there’s no way I’d put my kid in a general-education class here, no way, because it’s right next to the project and all the kids in general education come from the projects.” 


She said her experience was that many of the children in her general education classes were at grade level or below and did not get the same support from their parents that the children in the gifted classes got. “They’re tougher kids,” she said of the general education students in the school. “They’re very street-savvy. They don’t have the background; their parents are hard on them but don’t know what to do with them.” 

Andi Velasquez, who as the school’s parent coordinator has helped lead tours of the school for prospective parents over the last two years, said she had occasionally heard very “vocal” parents expressing surprise in seeing even a few black and Hispanic children in a gifted class. 

“They say, ‘It has too many minorities to be a G&T class; that can’t be a G&T class,’ ” said Ms. Velasquez, 48, who is white and is married to a Hispanic man from Colombia, and whose two children attended the dual-language program at P.S. 87. ...

SANDRA M. ECHOLS, 46, a single mother who is black, has sent all three of her children to the gifted classes at P.S. 163, beginning with her oldest son who, in 1998, when he was entering fourth grade, gained admission to the program. 

“It is an elitist program,” Ms. Echols said. “They don’t advertise it the way it should be advertised, but I’m glad I was savvy enough to navigate the system and give my children what they need.” 

Los Angeles isn't quite as privileged as New York in terms of immunity from disparate impact persecution, but that's how the magnet system works in L.A.. As I explained in in 2007, to get your kid into the magnet middle or high school of your choice, they have to first be rejected when applying to a magnet elementary school. So, you have to pick an extremely popular magnet elementary school where the odds are there won't be room in order to build up "points." It's such a counter-intuitive method that few people figure it out from reading about it in the official instructions. We only figured it out from listening in to other baseball parents talk about it.

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