The New York City Public School lottery system, which I have read a lot about, just seems crazy. Calling it a choice system is a joke, unless you mean that the schools choose the students, not the reverse. And even for families, it's so complicated. I can't imagine most people can navigate it. And even many savvy parents don't navigate it on their own--they pay someone to help them navigate it. I remember reading an argument that this system is more fair than the previous system, and that may be so, but I don't know if that's saying much.
I also want to address the twenty children with a mediocre or bad teacher vs. forty children with a great teacher debate. I think that's a false dichotomy. First of all, as I've said here, I don't really believe in inherently great teachers (teachers are made not born) and I think that circumstances such as class size or total student load can help to make or break great teaching. Yes, some teachers are just bad at their jobs, no matter what, but good teaching is highly dependent on working conditions and other circumstances.
And then there is something Gary totally left out: curriculum. He says for his child, peer group is more important than the teacher to him, that
I’d want my daughter, ideally, in an ethnically diverse class where all the students are functioning above grade level.And I totally agree with him about the peer group effect and honesty and charter schools (bolded emphasis is mine):
Here I want my daughter to be in a ‘peer group’ with kids, like her, who come to kindergarten already able to read while I seem to have a problem with charter schools excluding the toughest to educate kids and then kicking out the few that make it through their initial defenses, thus creating a peer group of motivated low-income students with motivated parents. The truth is, though, that I wouldn’t have such a problem with charters creating this enhanced peer group if they would not lie about doing more with the ‘same kids’ as the nearby ‘failing’ school. What this has caused is those ‘failing’ schools getting starved of resources, their schools shut down, and their teachers fired. All because they did not try to game the system.But for me, while the teacher and the peer group are important neither is as important as the curriculum, what my children are being being taught. Now, I do acknowledge that math curriculum works differently--after a certain point, it's very hard to differentiate a subject that is so heavily dependent on sequence, on mastering a previous skill, concept, or even set of math facts. I say this as a language and social studies teacher, though I guess I should be careful in asserting myself with too much confidence here because Gary is a maestro of math teaching. But anyway, I don't see what good it does my child if they're in a room full of above-grade level peers with or without a "great" teacher if they're learning gibberish.
Finally, I want to address the gifted identification and placement process he discusses. I have to admit though I don't advocate against it and I am relatively uninformed about it, that I have some reservations, generally, about gifted education. I think there are very few truly gifted people in the world. Hence, I am deeply skeptical of any gifted assessment(s) that would find as many as 40% of any population gifted, as the assessments do in NYC. That's not gifted-ness that being identified, it's something else. Second of all, I am deeply skeptical that you can prep for gifted diagnostic tests without invalidating their results. I understand that most people of means get their children prepped for these tests in New York City--this is not about judging Gary for following suit (and I deeply respect him for his honesty about it); the system only works as it should if no one preps their kid. As for the Hunter School and the playdates and the clipboards, that's mostly a matter of luck--what any four-year-old happened to say in that time and what the clipboard-wielder happened to denote is random. There has to be some way of choosing, but I don't see this way as being any more scientific than a lottery is.
In response to the question at the end of his post, I do not think Gary is a hypocrite for wanting the best place for his children, but I do not envy his having to be a part of a such a rat race. Most people prep for gate-keeping tests (I will write a series about my recent personal experiences with the GRE soon), but there's something obscene about preparing and assessing four-year-olds in this way--it makes it almost totally about the parents and their resources.
My father, a native New Yorker and (Gary should appreciate this) a Stuyvesant grad, often repeats this quote which he attributes to Norman Mailer, "New York has the best of everything: the best restaurants, the best plays, the best criminals. . ." and the best gifted and talented program, and the best ways to game it.