With the New York Times only allowing ten free online views of their articles per month, I am very selective when clicking on a news article to read. I usually stick to the opinion pages and the education sections. A headline caught my eye “Young, Gifted and Neglected” on September 18th. It met an important standard to use up one of my viewings; it is about education in the U.S. It was written by Chester E. Finn Jr. whose bio indicates he has been studying the US educational system for many years, written many books, and is a senior fellow at an institute.
The article is about how “gifted” school aged children are being neglected in our educational system. If you don’t want to use up one of your ten free NYT looks, allow me to provide a synopsis. Mr. Finn makes an opening argument that “Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity” for a “…rigorous private…” education. Unfortunately, according to Mr. Finn “…the system is failing to create enough opportunities for…these high-potential…” kids. Our public educational system not only neglects our “high-ability students” it also “…imperils the country’s future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.”
He states that there are three forms of education’s systemic failures:
1. We are weak at identifying gifted and talented children early;
2. At the primary and middle-school levels, we don’t have enough gifted-education classrooms; and
3. There are too few honor and advanced placement classes sometime populated by kids who are bright but not truly prepared to succeed in them.
Mr. Finn’s main focus for the rest of the article is on the third issue of advanced placement classes and the type of kids attending them. He indicates that there are more than 20,000 public high schools and his team found just 165 “exam schools.” Exam schools or advanced placement schools are those developed for high-ability and highly motivated students. He lists a few examples of these type schools and who are most likely to be enrolled.
He and his team built a list of these U.S exam schools, visited a few, and found that they mostly resemble Advanced Placement classes. They have stellar college placements, expose students to independent studies, have challenging internships and conduct individual research projects.
Now…all seemed well to this point in his article until he says that “Critics call them (e.g. exam schools) elitist, but we found the opposite.” First I had to make sure I understood the definition of the word “elitist” so I looked it up. It means, exclusive, selective, and restricted. So, what he is saying is that the 165 exam schools are not exclusive, selective and restricted. How does he know these are not, in fact, elitist schools? He provides the demographic data of the students who attend them.
According to Mr. Finn, the reason these schools are not elitist is because “African-American youngsters are ‘overrepresented’ in them and Asian-Americans staggeringly so (21 percent versus 5 percent in high schools overall). Latinos are underrepresented, but so are whites.”
According to Mr. Finn and his team, these can’t be elitist schools that serve high-ability and highly motivated students because African-Americans are the majority and whites are the minority.
I kept waiting to read what else made these advance placements, exam schools less than elitist. Did they produce poor results? No, he says they are great schools with “stellar” college placements. Are they not good for our U.S. student population? No, he states that “many more students could benefit from schools like these…”
He strongly argues for more rigorous private schools for gifted students. He also strongly states that public schools should stop raising the floor of education (e.g. helping the non-gifted) and raising the ceiling of education (e.g., helping gifted students).
That argument is perfectly fine. I agree that schools can do both. The main problem is Mr. Finn’s measure of what a “gifted” student looks like. According to him, gifted is measured by race. It seems if an exam school has a high percent of other than white students, it is “opposite” of elitist. And it seems that Mr. Finn’s article, Young, Gifted and Neglected, was not only a bad use of one of my ten NYT viewing for the month, it is a bad argument to use for improving education for all children.
The article can be read by clinking link below: (disclaimer, click at risk of wasting a click)