Analysis: Fix Discrimination in the Educational System

By Gabe Pressman
|  Thursday, Mar 14, 2013  |  Updated 5:07 PM EDT
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Analysis: Fix Discrimination in the Educational System

New York City is discriminating against black and Hispanic students in its programs for gifted and talented children --- that’s the charge  made by some critics of the school system.

As reported in September by NBC 4 New York's Melissa Russo and Tom Burke, there’s a big gap between the total population of white and Asian people in the city and the number of students from these groups admitted to programs for the gifted and talented.

Thus, while blacks and Hispanics make up 77 percent of the city’s population, in the incoming class at Stuyvesant High School, 71 percent were Asian. Two percent of incoming ninth graders were black, 3.5 percent Hispanic.

Patrick Sullivan, a dissenting member of Mayor Bloomberg’s own panel on educational policy, told me: “The policy the mayor’s people are following is definitely unfair to black and Hispanic students. The rate of giftedness won’t vary by race. There’s too great a reliance on testing in evaluating incoming students.”

Sullivan claims it’s easy for certain parents to prepare young children for entrance exams into elementary schools. “We should move away from a system that encourages such parents to give their children an unfair advantage,” he said.

Sullivan claims that the city under Bloomberg’s appointees has followed the mistaken policy of assuming that, by having universal testing, it’s assured that all students will be treated equally --- and fairly. Not so, he insists, the testing system can be misused -- and abused.

Dennis Walcott, New York’s Schools Chancellor, asked about the disparity between the disproportionately low enrollment of black and Hispanic students in gifted and talented programs, told the Wall Street Journal that “is what it is.”

Walcott says: “It’s unfair to [black and Hispanic students] if they just need to be put in a program to satisfy some type of percentage.” He said the department was reaching out to these groups aggressively to open new programs.

Educational scholar Diane Ravitch pointed out that Mayor Bloomberg was responsible for the disparity because he set “an extremely high threshold” for children to get into school in the first place. The whole idea of basing academic success on test-taking ability is “absurd,” Ms. Ravitch told me.

“Yes, the city is discriminating against Hispanic and black children," she said. "And it’s not fair.”

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