Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Appearance of Action

Upset with the lack of racial and economic diversity in its gifted and talented programs - and perhaps a little flustered under questioning by City Council members - the DOE is apparently going to be looking at the possibility of changing how they determine G&T eligibility. They'll be looking for a test that's a little harder to prep for so that families from wealthier communities can't "game" the test by hiring tutors, etc.

I have to say, this is not a great moment in critical problem solving by the DOE.

First of all, the idea that they're going to stumble upon some un-gameable test is just ludicrous. Change the test and you'll change how people prepare for it. That's all. Those families that want to prep their kids are going to prep their kids and it's really just a matter of what they're prepping for.

More fundamentally though, the DOE actually seems to be missing what the real issue is. Do they really think that the reason more kids from the Upper East Side are determined G&T eligible than kids from the South Bronx is that the Upper East Siders are "expending thousands" of dollars on test prep? Really? That's the only difference they might be able to think of?

My biggest pet peeve in any sort of policy discussion is when people try to look like they're doing something rather than actually doing something. The DOE is far from alone in this practice. But they are certainly guilty of it. Changing the test from one to another gives the appearance of action and seeking to redress apparent racial and economic inequality, but really it's just changing how that inequality is measured. It doesn't matter what ruler you use, until you actually do change something, the results aren't really going to change.

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