Home > Essays > Three Paragraphs from Bob McManus’ NYPost Op Ed Underscore All That is Wrong with Gifted and Talented Programs

Three Paragraphs from Bob McManus’ NYPost Op Ed Underscore All That is Wrong with Gifted and Talented Programs

In three paragraphs, Bob McManus unwittingly reveals everything that is wrong with the notion of segregating “gifted and talented” students from their purportedly inferior classmates. Here are the paragraphs: 

…the most serious threat to Asian-American New Yorkers is the Department of Education’s ill-disguised effort to eliminate merit-test-based admission to the city’s eight highly selective high schools. The process is dominated by Asian kids to the virtual exclusion of black and Hispanic students.

The new numbers came out last week, and they are beyond harsh: Asians won 54 percent of this year’s freshman class seats; whites, 28 percent; Hispanics, 5 percent and African-Americans, 4 percent.

Whereupon Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter demanded an end to test-based admissions — because “It’s far past time for our students to be fairly represented.”

Throughout the article, McManus never questions the presumption that “merit-test-based admission” is the only way to identify students who might thrive in the kinds of non-traditional programs that are currently open only to those students who perform well on standardized tests. Nor does he question the presumption that “merit-test-based admission” is the only way to identify the “highly selective” cohort who should qualify for the small number of “elite” schools. Mr. McManus’ world tests are the be all and end all… much the same way they are in China, North Korea, and Russia. 

As for Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter, her heart is in the right place but her use of the term “our students” is unfortunate… but fully in keeping with the kind of “othering” that results when a sole test is used to sort students into externally imposed groups. Once a system dedicates time and energy into segregating “gifted and talented” students from other children it is simultaneously dividing students into winners and losers… and, in the case of NYC, the losers FAR outnumber the winners and the sore losers likely outnumber the winners. 

Schools don’t need tests to motivate students to succeed. They only need to identify the topics students are interested in and give them the chance to pursue those interests. Given time, students sort themselves into interest groups: “cliques” of jocks, stoners, nerds, gear-heads, party animals, band kids, etc. etc. They don’t take tests to enter the groups, they gravitate toward students with common interests and common backgrounds. MAYBE instead of testing kids to sort them into externally defined groups of “gifted” and “ungifted” children schools should spend time reinforcing the interests children have so that they can learn on their own. 

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