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DOE earns failing grade - City Councilman Lew Fidler gives the city a big fat ‘F’

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A local City Councilmember has a report card grade for the city Department of Education — F.

“I’m giving them a progress report card since they’re so interested in accountability and they’re getting an F,” Councilmember Lew Fidler told this paper. “We are calling them into the principal’s office on December 16 when they will explain themselves because we are holding a hearing on this.”

That City Council hearing will give DOE officials a chance to discuss the results of a new standardized admissions process for gifted and talented programs.

Fidler joins many Brooklyn parents in criticizing the new procedures, which, according to reports, led to half as many children being admitted to gifted programs this fall compared to the year prior.

“When these results came out I was livid because they were predictable and unfortunate,” Fidler said.

The DOE created a centralized system to set one universal standard for admission and to spread the programs around the city. There have long been complaints that the programs are concentrated in districts with large populations of white, middle-class students.

In spite of its goals, the new admissions rules led to fewer gifted programs in many Brooklyn school districts.

School District 22, which spans Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay, went from 28 programs to eight, according to Christopher Spinelli, president of the district’s Community Education Council.

District 18, which includes East Flatbush and Canarsie, has only one program, explained James Dandridge, president of the district’s CEC.

“To have a result where half the number of kids are in the programs as opposed to the prior year is a regression and not an expansion. It is unacceptable to have gone from two school districts without gifted and talented to seven,” Fidler said.

In a statement, DOE spokesperson Andrew Jacob countered, “The number of programs in a district depends on the number of students who qualify but the exact location of the programs depends on available space. We can’t force gifted programs into schools that don’t have the space to accommodate them.”

Fidler and Councilmember Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council’s Education Committee, sent a joint letter to schools Chancellor Joel Klein criticizing the new system.

“Rather than becoming more integrated, G&T classes have become far less diverse,” they wrote. “This year’s entry level G&T classes are 48 percent white, nine percent Hispanic, 13 percent black and 28 percent Asian. This represents a big step backward from ratios under the previous admissions policy which resulted in G&T classes that were 33 percent white, 15 percent Hispanic, 31 percent black and 20 percent Asian.”

Fidler and Jackson recommended four changes to the admissions process for next year, including setting aside 10 percent of kindergarten seats in each school district for gifted programs.

They also suggested a move back to the old system allowing teachers to recommend students for gifted classes.

“The tests that they were using don’t test intellectual potential, they test school readiness,” Fidler said. “And as you would figure, people in a higher economic status are more likely to have made their children school ready. They may have gone through more pre-K programs than a poorer family, and therefore, more likely to succeed on that test.

“The desire to standardize the program has taken the human element out of it,” Fidler continued. “A teacher is frequently better capable of recognizing a child’s potential than these raw scores are.”

Jacob argued, “We won’t allow our teachers to face unwelcome pressure from parents who want their child to be classified as ‘gifted.’”

The DOE stands by its new admissions system.

“Meaningful gifted and talented programs in New York City are premised on a rigorous citywide admission standard,” Jacob asserted. “The Council members propose to dilute standards in favor of a system where large numbers of students who score below the 10th percentile on a national scale would be admitted to gifted programs, and where the accident of a student’s address might determine whether she qualifies as gifted.”

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