Snow White wondered "who is the fairest of them all." But New York City's four-year-olds have to worry about who is the most gifted and talented of them all, and who has had the best test prep.
The mother of four-year old Chase was told by the teachers at the Bloomingdale Head Start program in Manhattan that he was bright. Even his mother, Alexis Stewart admits
“He knows about different fish, different birds, different species.”
But Chase missed the 90th percentile cutoff when he took the city's test for the public schools’ gifted and talented kindergarten program, and he was out.
The New York Times reports that Ms. Stewart didn't think that was fair. A single mother, working two jobs, she says she heard many reports of wealthy families preparing their children for the kindergarten gifted test with $90 workbooks, $145-an-hour tutoring and weekend “boot camps.” Ironically, race does not enter into this equation. Ninety-eight percent of the children at Bloomingdale are black or Hispanic, all are poor. In fact in order to qualify for entry, a family of three must earn less than $18,300.
The owner of a Manhattan tutoring company, Bright Kids NYC, says the parents of the 120 children that her staff tutored spent about $1,000 on test prep for their 4-year-olds.
Ms. Stewart says she tried to give her son some training. She used a city-issued booklet to review the 16 sample questions with Chase.
“I was online trying to find sample tests. But everything was $50 or more. I couldn’t afford that.”
Lawanna Gillespie, another Bloomingdale Head Start parent who is a medical aide says her son Zion also missed the 90th-percentile cutoff was surprised to hear that there were any prep materials for a kindergarten test.
Delores Mims, an education director at Head Start says
“Our parents are at a disadvantage.”
The Bloomingdale program, with headquarters at West 109th Street, is a highly regarded Head Start which was founded as a preschool in 1960 before the federal Head Start program was established, Bloomingdale is seen as a national prototype. Today, it’s considered a model, and educators worldwide visit it. Recently, they came from Iceland, Indonesia and the Netherlands to watch and learn.
Does it work? An early 4-year-old graduate, Patrick Gaspard, grew up to become a White House political adviser, and thinks so highly of Bloomingdale that he took one of its founders, Susan Feingold, to meet President Obama.
This week, Bloomingdale will mark its 50th year by graduating 100 4-year-olds. But interestingly, not one of them will be attending a city gifted kindergarten program in the fall.
That was not the case in 2007, Ms. Mims says, when she was a teacher, she knew of a half-dozen who were accepted because under a decentralized selection process, teacher assessment, classroom observation and interviews all played a role.
But New York City's Education Chancellor Joel I Klein says that approach was vulnerable to political manipulation and racial favoritism, since districts could take into account increasing diversity in making selections.
“The process was fractured and inconsistent, and programs were too often gifted in name only.”
So in 2008, Mr. Klein made the score on a citywide standardized test the sole criteria for admission. Mr. Klein is a great believer in testing, everything from grading schools to rating teachers, and he predicted that a citywide test would be a more equitable solution.
Two big developments have been the results of his ruling. First, blacks and Hispanics in gifted kindergarten programs dropped to 27 percent this year under the test-only system, from 46 percent under the old system. Sixty-six percent of kindergarten students in the city are black or Hispanic.
Secondly, a test-prep industry for 4-year-olds is thriving. Bige Doruk opened Bright Kids NYC in 2009, and there is so much demand that she says she’s opening a second site this month.