Monday, May 15, 2006

"Bright Kids. New Counselor."

These are the responses to my May 15 article, "Bright Kids. New Counselor." Thanks to all, please continue to provide us with your feedback


  1. I remember vividly the account of a dear friend, now gone, who had been skipped ahead and was the smallest in his class. The Principal saw him being picked on in the playground, phone NYPD, they came, terrified his tormentors -- and enabled him to continue.

    I grew up in a school system that did not believe in grades. My classmates, very affluent, didn't care -- but I had to make the most of my time. The NYS Regents gave me a chance to prove what I'd learned on my own.

    The ladder is being pulled away -- more by the union than by any class system, and it's a terrible shame.

  2. This city has more public programs for the gifted than any city I know of!! Of course, I don't know them all. And more every year. Re the idea that people are embarrassed to speak of giftedness??? I know of no one who doesn't delight to brag about how gifted their offspring are, etc, etc. Or how this or that school is highly selective, takes only the best and brightest etc. Wherever are you coming from? Yes, all children are gifted, but certain kinds of gifts--surely the kind that show up on tests or auditions, are much in vogue. Stop feeling sorry for a nonexistent victim. Being the grandmother of a few, they have had all the choices they could possibly want in he NYC public school system - for free. Not to mention the entire array of private schools open only to the gifted--although there it helps also to be rich.

    And off hand I'm not aware that Farina had any objection to gifted programs. You probably agreed with her at least as much as I did--just on different things.

  3. Although treatment of bright children has improved from the time I was a child, they still too often don't get the education they deserve. In my book, Top of the Class, I report on my studies of high academic achievers, all members of Phi Beta Kappa, and find that they continue to do well in life - professionally, personally and socially. Did not inquire about IQ but assumed these subjects were, for the most part, bright. At any rate, the bottom line was academic success resulted in a "good life." Spoke to many of the subjects of the study and they were a delight to chat with. Book does include suggestions on educating children

  4. I too was gifted, reading at college sophmore level in the 6th grade 650 words per min.(I once took a speed reading course but dropped it because it slowed me down)
    They didn't know what to with me and skipped me. I was bored and subsequently got left back, evening the score. My son went off the board on his IQ tests. They couldn't measure measure beyond 175. He was lucky. He was admitted to Styvesent High
    The educated idiots who strive for political correctness should have their butts kicked. We need these kids and the media doesn't help.

  5. Agree with you, Henry. We need to do all we can to promote the intellectual curiosity and pursuit of our gifted students who wish to follow the urgencies of their minds, and who can be stimulated, led and guided to do so. This does not mean to reduce quality teaching for all, but the truth (iness) of life is that some people are more intellectually gifted than others, and if our society is to survive, we need all the brainpower we can encourage. Tom Friedman's book, "The World Is Flat" is frightening when one considers how low the US ranks in scientific achievement compared to other nations (e.g, China, Taiwan, Japan, India, etc.)
    So keep fighting. I'd be happy to lend any support I can.

  6. Like you I was raised in the era before "progressive education" in the Inwood schools.Like my friends,we skipped grades,went to SP classes in J.H.S. 52 and were allowed to thrive intellectually.We were challenged by our teachers.In my last year @ Stuyvesant,all my teachers had PhD's.Today,the downgrading of intellect is abhorrent.

    I was fortunate to care,as a pediatrician,in Houston,for a young man,Joshua Laub,who is currently the principal of the Banana Kelly school in the Bronx.Josh has a keen intellect and received,as I recall,an Annenberg Grant in education ,while attending Brown University.

    I trust young people like Joshua will foster an honest approach to honor the "gifted" student in the school system of NYC.

  7. We don't have precocious children anymore in our society -- now those
    kids are "ADD" or "ADHD" and we pump them full of drugs to make them

    Your previous education column sparked an interesting conversation
    between myself and my girlfriend, who is a graduate student in
    education at Stanford. It also drove home a point from a recent
    conversation with my sister, 11, where she complained "all we do now
    is talk about those stupid tests -- we don't learn anything." Scary.

  8. I think to say NYC is anti-gifted is a bit much. For 30 years, it has sorted the children from age 4 into

    1) those desined for a quality education
    2) those in special "disability" categories who get additional resources, and
    3) those destined for the social landfill.

    The first group appeals to the self interest of a political class, the second to the conscience, while the third saves money (and, for some of those working in the schools, effort) to be deployed elsewhere. I'm an agnostic when it comes to teaching philosophy, but when it comes to equity, I think Carmen Farina was right.

    When I was 16, as a result of the huge 1970s recession, my family had to move to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I also know people who are from elsewhere. This age 4 sorting does not happen elsewhere.

    While not every child is "gifted," and not every child is a scholar, just about every child can master the basic skills, and has some other skills to allow them to get a job. Look at all the Westinghouse winners. Who has NYC failed, the academically gifted and interested or those who ought to have learned a trade? My understanding is that NYC schools were state-of-the-art from top to bottom 50 years ago.

    Note that I was among the "gifted" myself (SAT 1400) though there wasn't any tracking in Yonkers, or much out in Tulsa. I was in a couple of advanced classes during the few years in between, in Rye. Then I went to a "tracked" college at Colgate. My own children have been in Catholic School in classes with mixed abilities through grade 8. Next year the oldest goes to Stuyvesant. Looking around that school (and knowing the physical condition of others) it's hard for me to feel she is being penalized. I tell her she should be grateful, despite the 34 in a class.

  9. It is probably inherent in the human psyche that the strong of arm become physical bullies unless society and civilization and morality intervene. Similarly the strong of mind tend to become intellectual bullies unless the same interventions occur. All people deserve respect. That respect is damaged more by the verbal put down than by a schoolyard scuffle. The moral goal should be to educate as many as possible to function with dignity in society. That may require more resources to the struggling middle (a middle that may constitute 80% of the children).
    Bilingual and special ed may have their place, but as practiced they hurt kids more than they help. They are a terrible drain on the resources and money that will produce more bang for the buck if used for the general school population. That alas is the inevitable result of the self-interest of the professionals in those fields. GBS noted that all professions are a conspiracy against the public.
    Education policy is a quagmire of self-interest and near religious fanaticism. The Calvinist remnant theory sneaks into the argument for special treatment of those already blessed. I do not know the "Answers". I am disappointed by the lack of rigor and of objective facts on the part of all participants in the field of educational policy. I do not know enough to be opposed to the IGC type programs. But I see merit in the arguments both ways. Heck, I am not even sure how I stand on LaGuardia closing down Townsend Harris High.
    Andrew Wolf knows how to sling the language. But his moral responsibility is to avoid strong arming us with his talent for reason. We must keep in mind that observation (something difficult to do) trumps reason (something easy for certain people to do).

  10. > Kudos to you and your staff to recognize the need to
    > support the gifted. Bright Kids. New Counselor. A the
    > father of "Second" the nickname for my son that you
    > annointed him, I completed a run of 35 years with the
    > board of ed. What kept me in the city and not out to
    > the burbs like the rest of my colleagues in the 70's
    > were the gifted programs that the city had to offer
    > and I could work with. Both of my kids were fortunate
    > to use these programs to maximize their future
    > potential. As for "Second" he speaks for himself and
    > those that he interacted with in the programs had the
    > impact to make him the special person that he is
    > today. His sister is a PHD in Organic Chemistry
    > working in research. Her AP chem teacher lit the fire
    > or her interest but her kindling was in the programs
    > in elementary and middle schools. Had not all three
    > been available I don't know if the potential would
    > ever be tapped.
    > Now as for Klein and the gang at Tweed. Farina did
    > not quit. She was the only person there that did not
    > need a waiver from the State Ed Dept. to hold the
    > position she aspired to. Klein dumped her because he
    > was threatened by her competency. She was just
    > waitinf for him to fuck up and she figured she would
    > be a shoe in for the job. Well Klein's little rats
    > saw the plan in motion and decided to clean house from
    > the top down. Don't get me wrong Farina was no piece
    > of cake. She was a hard ass with focus only in the
    > areas she was comfortable in. She wanted to model the
    > entire city in the K thru 8 format no matter what the
    > out come. But the would have carried her out in a box
    > before she put her papers into to TRS
    > So as the DOE stives for mediocrity it will push the
    > last remaining bastion Upper middle class families out
    > of the city because the would rather stay but have to
    > leave because there are no gifted and talented
    > programs for their kids to thrieve in.
    > Just look at what they are doing???? Did we have any
    > finalists in the Westinghouse this year?????
    > I miss the kids but I am glad I am out of the
    > bullshit.
    > Just last week another retired teacher with a child in
    > elementary school said that if things don't change he
    > and the family will be out of here come middle school
    > time. He has accepted the step down in the current
    > gifted classes but does not know what will happen in
    > grade 6.
    > Sure push more people out who can make the city
    > vibrant, diverse, and strong.

  11. Thanks for the article – as usual you are onto something before it starts to be a widely discussed issue.

    You might be interested checking out this website:

    The DOE has decided to risk the success of NEST+m, one of the most noted gifted schools in the city, by cramming another school into an already fully utilized building. The new school is sponsored by the Ross School and NYU, two politically connected entities who have Mr. Klein on their side. As a parent who was thrilled to find a public school for my son I was doubly disappointed by the DOE’s decision to disrupt my sons education for something that smacks of a political favor.

    The parents and staff are putting up a fight and Sheldon Silver appears to be supporting the cause. Lawsuits are filed and the outcome is still undecided.

  12. yes

    gifted programs are needed

  13. Tip O’ Neil, a former Speaker of the House, is renowned for his observation that whatever the level of government, local, State or Federal, all politics is local. Indeed, this is the rule in most political venues because issues relate to the needs of the local political district or community at the City/Town, State or Federal level whether they be matters of brick and mortar or the personal well-being of the constituents.

    In many ways, Manhattan is an exception to this rule in since in many ways in Manhattan politics is more vocal than local. Both for incumbents or those persons wanting to be incumbents, the view, or spin, on things or issues are usually ideologically or advocacy driven given the group of people you come from, or CHOOSE to speak for, or the issue be it housing, environmental etc., which the incumbent and wanna-be incumbent is championing . I mean where else but in Manhattan would NINE (9) people run for Borough President all believing they can win the election to such a toothless position. The one possible exception to this Manhattan phenomenon is George Spitz, the Harold Stassen of Manhattan politics.

  14. Being a product of accelerated learning and special progress (SP) classes from first grade through 9th grade, I find it sad and more than a bit hypocritical that formal encouragement and nurturing of intellectual "giftedness" has been swept away in our great national urge to democratize and equalize everyone and everything.
    For the past twenty years or so, educators have been constructing teaching practice and theory based in part on the following three premises:

    A) children are gifted in various ways;
    B) there are many kinds of intelligence and;
    C) children have different ways of learning.

    While these assumptions may be and probably are all true, it is also true that pure intellectual capacity --(which includes, but is not limited to, the ability of an individual to comprehend complex problems and understand and employ the logical means to solve them; to read, understand and extract pertinent information from text, to solve mathematical or spatial problems, to create something out of nothing) -- is something that not only deserves but REQUIRES special attention.

    Intellectually Gifted kids have not only a capacity, but a hunger to learn more, to explore their own minds, and the universe around them -- to push the intellectual envelope. The kids in my classes knew we were different, that we were smarter, and we were proud of it. We worked HARD, had a great deal of homework, took many many tests, and had a full complement of subjects that included stuff they don't even bother with now like music, gym, swimming, art, electricity shop, world history, American history, economics, geography. We had fun, we got very good grades and we weren't all nerds and geeks. Actually, because we spent the majority of our out of home time with each other, we were all remarkably well-adjusted, outgoing and confident, and not at all that stereotype of the shy, maladjusted, socially-inept brainiac.

    I believe my public school education rivalled that of any private academy of the time, and I'm so glad that the educators of that day took the trouble to pluck the smarties out of the field and plant us in a little garden where we got extra rain and extra sun and extra fertilizer.

    And as for the "whiff of racism" in grouping the smart kids - there really wasn't in my day, and there won't be in this if every smart kid, regardless of race or ethnicity, is given that same opportunity to excel. The numbers will fall where they will. That's true democracy.

  15. First, reading "Wolf's wise words" requires that I subscribe to the Sun which I do not choose to do. I find it annoying that to follow your thoughts here I have to spend money. I am familar with Andy's writings having been personally attacked by him in print on a number of occasions.

    But more importantly, what I could read in the first few paragraphs that I could see for free, and in your paragraphs below, is stunningly wrong. My children attended a regular k-8 public school in Region 1, so my experience is somewhat fresher than yours. That school, PS 95, has what is commonly referred to as a "top class." In an eighth grade, say, there might be 5 classes of 30 each. In a typical region one school about 40% of the kids are reading at or above grade level so the top class will largely include the 30 kids with the best performance. That means, of course, that the other four classes will only have about seven or eight kids each who are at grade level. In our school at least, that was seen as preferable to homogeneous groupings that leave 20% of the kids in the "dumb class". There are many arguements on both sides and since they cover 80% of the school systems 1 million + children, they are probably more important than worrying about the "gifted" but here we are.

    At any rate, at 95 we had 30 kids in the "top class". Now, are they all gifted? I knew them and loved them as my childrens' friends so I think so. But what does gifted mean? You mentioned Mensa, a group that allows the top 1% of IQ test takers to join. That would put one about two standard deviations above the mean or in the 700 ish range on SAT verbal and/or math. Is that what you maan by gifted? Some wag once suggested tha a gifted student is a kindergartener who came to school already knowing how to read and who looks attentive when adults talk.

    Even if we are not talking about would be tough to put a class together of kids in the top 1% in a typical school in NYC. So what do we do? we "cream" them. Seperate them into different schools like various gofted and talented programs, that test kids at 5 and label them gifted. (As Region 1 apparently chooses not to do to Andy's chagrin.) Or we wait til they're in fifth grade and test them for Hunter, a school with a higher than 99 percentile requirement, or for High School we test them for Stuyvesant (top1% or so) Science (1.5%) or Tech (top 2%) or the new ones like Lehman College American Studies. For decades there have been these creaming programs like LaGuardia and the Specialized High Schools that draw from the heterogenously grouped "top" middle school classes and bring them to the best facilities like the new SHS in Battery Park City.

    Meanwhile half of the kids in NYC high schools don't finish high school. But you write:

    The ambivalent attitude toward the gifted may be the final frontier of acceptable discrimination. It is certainly reflected in the educational establishment, many of whose members give lip service to gifted education because of the demands of parents, but in their hearts they view it as unsettling, an unpleasant obstacle to the democratization of education.

    I'm sorry, I find it tragic that all the truly musically gifted students wind up in places like LaGuardia and their neighbors regular local High Schools have no music programs whatsoever. And the gifted are shortchanged? Ambivalent? I met a young man who played soccer with My son. He was having dinner with his mother at the table next to my wife and I. He had just graduated from Cornell. But his mother couldn't refrain from saying "we were disappointed when he didn't make Science but..." This idea that one's children are doomed if they don't get accelerated learning starting in utero has become a pathology. As if the top 1% have to be removed from their neighbors and friends, at 4 or 5, and put in a "self-contained" environment, to absolutely assure a spot in one of those top tier colleges in the magazines. Worst is the notion that our driven to obsession parents of the highly capable are somehow worse off than or being cheated in favor of those who make eight grade graduations fabulous affairs because they know it's an even bet it's the only graduation they will ever attend for their children.

  16. That was interesting. There is not one correct answer.
    We need an eclectic approach which
    is a combination of everything. It is not one extreme
    or the other.
    That is the problem. Everyone thinks there way is the
    right way and they cannot accept that
    every approach has some advantages and disadvantages.
    The teachers are being harassed and
    intimidated for not adhering strictly to the Columbia
    Teachers College Model. Teachers teaching as long as
    35 years are being told that they have been doing it
    wrong all along even though they have had amazing

  17. why should people be ashamed of being smart? I was glad to leave P.S. 6

    after 7 years, even after being in so called IG classes, beacuae answering the teacher's

    questions or showing some initiative would be deemed trying to be "teacher's

    pet," etc.

    At Collegiate, most of my peers were smart (smarter than me, to be sure), but one didn't

    have to be ashamed of being intelligent--- or at least intellectually curious.

  18. Anonymous9:39 AM

    The Times agrees with me in private: see following exchange. Would do us more good if it agreed in public.

    Hi Mr. Hutchings,
    I agree with you, but I bet you'd get an argument from school administrators, who would surely say that limited resources should not go to another "elitist'' (NOT my word) school.
    It's a difficult, even painful, problem in a system and city this large and diverse in every way.
    [New York Times Columnist]
    At 12:36 PM 3/16/2006, you wrote:
    Dear [New York Times Columnist]:

    My son the Berkeley professor [I never miss a chance to say that!] is a Stuyvesant grad. He moved in with me and my wife from his mother's upscale Westchester home expressly to go there. That Westchester school, whence I graduated in 1960, had programs for advanced placement etc. but Stuyvesant's were way better and the kids were way, way more like my son. He loved Stuy then and he loves it now. Now the reason the Westchester school he came from has programs for academically talented kids is that the parents insist on it. Somehow it is politically incorrect for the New York City parents to feel the same way, and the school system here seems to resent schools like Stuyvesant -- even when, or perhaps because, admittance is based on a test alone. By contrast, nobody could get or hold a job in Westchester if they resented the programs for the academically talented.

    The argument that a good New York City high school is some kind of bribe, like low taxes for single family homes, that can only be justified by the need to keep a middle class is one I object to. Special education for kids with various kinds of problems is well- accepted and heavily subsidized. Special schools for the academically talented are viewed differently for some reason – even though there is no need for any subsidies at all.

    It is irrelevant, maybe even unfortunate, that Stuyvesant is now housed in a spectacular building. It wasn't when my son went there -- he was in the same dump we all imagine -- and I do not think he has even bothered to check out the new building: he loved the old one. I have a lot of sympathy for students of other schools who do not have a gym and are angry when they hear that Stuy now has a pool. Perhaps they should switch buildings: it wouldn't hurt Stuyvesant.

    If elected, I would open another couple schools of the Stuyvesant variety. Some of my son's classmates, in Queens especially, had to commute an hour or more each way to get there. It was evidently worth it to them.

    Yours truly,
    Peter Hutchings

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  24. Henry Stern,

    My father, David McKinney, sent me the link to your "Bright Kids" article because my four daughters are in public schools in Chapel Hill NC and the 3 who are old enough have tested into the gifted programs here.

    Nice to "meet" you via your helpful services.

    Mary McKinney