Education Opinion

Race, Ethnicity, and the Gifted and Talented Pipeline in New York City

By Eduwonkette — November 10, 2008 2 min read

“I’m convinced that there are gifted and talented children in all communities, and that we need to make sure that they avail themselves of the opportunities.”
-Joel Klein, October 30, 2007

In the last two weeks, the New York Times reported on two striking trends in gifted and talented enrollments in New York City. Not only have the new admissions requirements to G&T programs reduced the representation of poor, African-American, and Hispanic students in these programs at the elementary level, but we see growing racial disparities in the composition of specialized high schools like Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and Brooklyn Tech, schools that require a competitive entrance exam.

To be sure, the trend in specialized high school composition sits uncomfortably with the DOE’s claim that they are closing the achievement gap separating black and Hispanic students from their white and Asian peers, “in some cases by half.” As many others have found, it appears that the achievement gap at the top of the distribution - i.e. the gap separating high-achieving white and high-achieving black students - is even larger than the average gap between the two groups.

Let’s take a closer look at enrollment trends in the three of the selective schools. Starting with Bronx Science, we see that the school has a shrinking proportion of African-American students, dipping from 9% in 1999 to 4% this year. The most notable trend here is the increase in the percentage of students who are Asian from 46% in 1999 to 61% in 2008.

On to Stuyvesant: Even in 1999, only a small fraction of Stuyvesant students were African-American (3.7%) and Hispanic (3.9%). This year, 2% of Stuy students were African-American and 3% were Hispanic. Again, the most striking trend is the increasing fraction of the student body that is Asian - from 47.8% in 1999 to 68% in 2008.

Finally, we see that the proportion of students that are African-American and Hispanic has decreased at Brooklyn Tech. In 1999, 24% of Brooklyn Tech students were African-American; today, 13% of Brooklyn Tech students are. In 1999, 13% of students were Hispanic; today, 8% are.

These figures do raise some questions about pipeline issues. The Times article makes a lot of the Specialized High School Institute, which starts in 6th grade and helps to prepare students for the test. But only 12% of African-American students and 14% of Hispanic students that attended this institute were ultimately offered admission to a specialized school, while 52% of Asian and 42% of white students were.

Readers, a number of thoughts to kick around: Might 6th grade be too late to start leveling the playing field? What role might the changes in the gifted and talented admissions policy at the elementary level play in shaping admissions to the specialized high schools in the future? Or does the composition of the selective schools in NYC matter at all?

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