Nepotism Reinstituted in NYC Schools For Gifted

A continuing theme of mine is: Pay Attention to What New Yorkers Do. I don't emphasize this just to point out hypocrisy, but to furnish lessons for Americans in places where citizens tend to be less clever and less certain that the rules don't really apply to them. 

The decline of NYC in the liberal era of roughly 1965-75 was a self-inflicted tragedy. New York's long climb back has furnished many object lessons in how the world really works, but you have to be willing to read the local news out of New York to figure out what's actually going on as smart white people figure out how to afford to have more than one child in the world's most important city.

Fortunately, the Bloomberg Administration isn't always clear on the concept when it comes to education (as opposed to crime). Bloomberg tends to appoint to education jobs people he and other billionaires consider world class (the guy who prosecuted Microsoft for antitrust, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines). Billionaires don't get together at Jackson Hole to talk about how to fight crime, so Bloomberg does a good job of that. But his billionaire pals have lots of bright ideas about fixing the public schools, so Bloomberg's more clueless education appointees frequently make illustrative mistakes by taking seriously the ideals they hear so much verbiage about, and fixing systems that aren't broken. Then, the upper crust parents who send their kids to public schools have to rebel, and arrangements that would otherwise remain quiet becomes local news.

From the NYT:

A Policy Shift in Programs for the Gifted Is Abandoned 

By AL BAKER 

In a reversal, New York City school officials on Wednesday said they would continue their sibling-preference policy for gifted and talented programs that have more eligible students than seats. 

Amid an explosion in the number of students who qualify for the seats, the city in October said it would end the policy as part of a raft of new changes to the program’s admissions process. School officials at the time said their move would create a fairer system for its highest-performing pupils.


Silly school officials, thinking that "a fairer system" is what the people who matter in New York want for their kids.

But the idea is being abandoned until it can be analyzed more deeply, officials said, a reflection of just how combustible such tweaks can be for programs that serve just a sliver of the system’s 1.1 million students but that are highly coveted by parents. ...

The announcement came three weeks before the start of admissions testing for the programs. Students must score in the 90th percentile on an admissions test to qualify for a district-level gifted program, and in the 97th percentile for one of the citywide programs, like the Anderson School or the Brooklyn School of Inquiry.  

If there are more students who qualify for a gifted program than there are seats, students with a sibling in the program will be admitted first, as long as they obtain a qualifying score. Any remaining seats go to students without siblings in the program, based on who scores highest. The policy aims to keep young siblings together and avoid making parents take children to separate schools. But it also irked the many parents of students who, for example, scored in the 99th percentile, but lost out to other students who scored in the 97th percentile but had a sibling in the program. 

So in the fall, the Education Department did away with the sibling preference “to make it fairer and more equitable for students scoring most high on these exams,” Robert Sanft, the chief executive of the department’s Office of Student Enrollment, said at the time. 

The change drew equal parts praise and condemnation, as did the reversal on Wednesday. 

... But Rachel Fremmer, who has a 7-year-old daughter in the gifted program at Public School 163, in Manhattan, and a 4-year-old daughter in preschool hoping to enroll there next year, was relieved. “It’s great for us,” she said. “A lot of families were desperate to have their children in the same school.”

The nepotism policy makes New York City more competitive with nice suburbs for upper middle class people with more than one child. And upper middle class people with more than one child are, basically, Who You Want.

The advantage of buying an expensive house in a suburb with "good" schools is that all your children can go. In contrast, a test-based gifted program in a large urban school district is fine for people who have one smart kid, but what if your second child isn't as smart? NYC's nepotism policy means that if you can get your first kid into a gifted program, your second or third will probably get in too. (Scoring at the 90th percentile in NYC isn't terribly hard for upper middle class children -- there are a whole lot of public school students in NYC who don't even know anybody at the 90+ percentile), but competing dog-eat-dog against other upper middle class children is much less certain.)

So, the nepotism rule encourages parents who can get their first kid into a gifted program to buy a home, reasonably assured that younger siblings will be grandfathered in to a "good" school as well. This encourages a higher birth rate among the upper middle class.

This isn't terribly fair, but it's probably good or making the city more bourgeois, which is, on the whole, a good thing.