A freshman congressman approached Sam Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the House of Representatives and complained that the Rivers and Harbors Bill provided funding for infrastructure projects in virtually every town in the nation, whether or not they had “rivers and harbors,” and suggested there was no need for the bill. Rayburn, perhaps apocryphally responded, “Son, you’re messin’ with the testicles of the universe.” Klein is “messin’” with the criteria for selection of students into Gifted and Talented programs, to many, the jewels of their universe.
If you want to fill an auditorium just announce the topic is zoning or gifted and talented. Back in the halcyon days the Board of Education had citywide standards for selection of students into Intellectually Gifted Classes (IGC) in the elementary schools and Special Progress (SP) classes in the Junior High Schools based on scores on Citywide Reading and Mathematics tests. The Board even had criteria for the selection of teachers of IGC classes – Abe Levine probably has a yellowed copy in his files – if I remember correctly one of the criteria was that the teacher had to be “cultured” and defined as “regularly attending operas, concerts and museums.” Not a bad idea!
The advent of decentralization devolved the gifted and talented classes issue to local school boards. In some areas of the city the “standard” was being on the executive board of the Parents Association or working for a candidate in a school board election.
As the middle class, regardless of race and ethnicity began to flee the city gifted and talent classes became an anchor to retain parents. The Astor program had rigorous criteria based on IQ tests, other districts tied their criteria to the Hunter Admission standards. The criteria for “talented” was vacuous, ever meet a grandparent who didn’t think their little Johnnie wasn’t “talented”?
Last year a Brooklyn Regional superintendent made a comment some interpreted as ending gifted and talented classes in the region. A thousand parents and a host of elected officials packed an auditorium and excoriated the absent superintendent. Klein’s announcement of the creation of a citywide “test” to measure “giftedness” is the height of arrogance, and typical of the Imperial Chancellor who rules by edict, and expects his subjects to show proper obeisance.
The current hodge-podge of programs is far from perfect. The current term “screened program” means that schools get to pick their students. Occasionally a school stands out; high tests scores while the surrounding schools have mediocre scores. The press raves and points to a “charismatic,” leader, and the principal basks in the limelight. Closer looks frequently unearth a screened program, what a surprise! The school carefully handpicks their kids and the scores are high!
In the real world retaining middle class families in the City is an important goal and creating and maintaining effective, supportive programs within schools is vital. Programs whose sub-rosa goal is to segregate students by race and/or class are unacceptable. A transparent look at gifted and talented programs is long overdue. The Mayor may have handed the Chancellor the scepter and orb, however; parents, teachers and elected officials should use this opportunity to bring sanity back to the school system.