According to the New York Times, an analysis of enrollment in the city’s public school kindergarten giftedness programs found 56 percent girls to 44 percent boys. At some schools, the gender ratio is even bleaker, with classes containing 18 girls and 10 boys.
What gives? Weren’t we reading just a few years ago that the education system was failing girls, squelching their voices before they had even learned to use them? Well, our system, it seems, doesn’t want to hear voices be they male or female, but simply wants students who can sit quietly at a desk, calmly penciling in the bubbles of standardized exams. And those quiet students are more likely to be female.
As many of Babble’s readers no doubt know, much ink has been spilled on the subject of how the education establishment is failing its male students. Books such as Peg Tyre’s excellent The Trouble with Boys and Richard Whitmire’s terrific Why Boys Fail argue that as we have moved to a climate of higher academic expectations at ever earlier ages, more and more boys are getting shortchanged by the system.
It has, after all, been long known that boys are placed in special education programs, and diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD at significantly higher rates than girls. On the other hand, girls are much more likely to attend and graduate from college than their male counterparts.And when it comes to giftedness testing for pre-literate children, critics have contended for years that the main thing these exams are able to gauge is how verbal and compliant a child is. This too favors girls, since at the younger ages, when it comes to everything from language skills to impulse control, females are generally more advanced than their male peers.
As for New York City’s problem, many are blaming changes in the process for determining admission to New York City’s gifted programs for the lopsided ratios. Prior to 2008, determination on the giftedness of individual boys and girls was made by a combination of testing, personal interviews and observations. Concerned about the lack of minority children in New York’s City’s programs, the city’s education bureaucracy centralized the procedure process and only allowed admission based on scores received on one of two approved intelligence tests.
So once again restructure the process for determining giftedness to make it fairer to young boys and problem solved? Well, not exactly. There’s a bigger question here that needs to be tackled, one the New York Times only touches on: Can anyone even make a determination of giftedness in a child this age?
Evidence has emerged in the past few years that intelligence and IQ exams administered to young children are widely inaccurate at forecasting their abilities, a point highlighted by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman in their recent book, NurtureShock. Ironically, even as public schools are nonetheless increasing their reliance on standardized testing, a number of independent schools are moving to reduce their use of these exams to determine their admissions, concerned that a combination of wide-spread exam prepping combined with their less than stellar abilities to predict much at all has rendered them useless for anything but propping up the bottom lines of the companies responsible for devising the tests, as well as those devoting to coaching kids on how to take them.
New York City does not need to reform the system for determining giftedness in kindergarten-aged children but, instead, needs to ask why it has such programs in place at all. Given the well-documented problems with determining which children are intellectually advanced at young ages, perhaps more effort should go to enriching the education of all the children in the city’s public schools, instead of for a select few who are good enough test takers to secure admission to the best classes the system has to offer.
What do you think?
Photo: R.K. Singham