Abolishing Gifted and Talented program is big mistake

The likely new mayor of New York City, home of the nation’s largest school district, has said he will retain its Gifted and Talented program (“Adams Commits, With Few Details, to Keeping Gifted Program in Schools,” The New York Times, Oct. 15).  Eric Adams deserves credit for preserving what, in my opinion, is the only asset the vast system has to offer.

But predictably, his decision has already met with opposition from those who want to put an end to the program because too few Black and Hispanic students are enrolled.  Yet less than 2 percent of students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented program.  If they were suddenly scattered across all schools, integration would not improve.  It would only motivate more parents to take their children out of the system.

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Listen to parents

If there is one thing I’ve learned about education, it’s that parents of all races will not sacrifice their children on an ideological altar. I thought about that truism again after reading about how school boards are refusing to listen to their wishes (“Today’s School Board Fights Recall the 1970s Busing Battles,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12).

Busing was the issue that divided the country in the early 1970s.  It was no more on display than in Boston, when a federal judge ordered integration of the city’s public schools. Today, it’s seen in the controversy surrounding critical race theory. Just as forced busing caused many parents to enroll their children in religious and private schools, critical race theory will likely have a similar effect.

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Going to college and going broke

As readers of this column well know by now, I maintain that far too many young people are being wildly oversold on the importance of a four-year degree for a bright future.  The latest news in support of my belief is what is taking place at Baylor University (“How Baylor Steered Lower-Income Parents to Debt They Couldn’t Afford,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 14).

Rather than provide grants to cover tuition, Baylor has relied heavily on Parent Plus.  Under the program, taxpayers bear the losses if the loans aren’t repaid.  Such defaults do not hurt colleges because they get the money upfront. With no skin in the game, Baylor and other colleges offer nothing but condolences to parents who can’t repay their children’s debt. Their sympathy, however, has not stopped them from spending millions on stadiums and the like having little to do with academics.

My advice to high school seniors is to go to community college for the first two years to satisfy the general education requirements at a bargain price.  Then decide if continuing on is worth the debt.  I hope they will consider vocational education, which I believe provides the foundation for a gratifying career and life.

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NYC schools eliminate last educational asset

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse in New York City, home of the nation’s largest school system, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the elimination of the Gifted and Talented program (“NYC will phase out Gifted and Talented program,” New York Daily News, Oct. 8). The move will no doubt drive many parents to enroll their children in private and religious schools, where such programs still exist.

When it comes to education, de Blasio has been the city’s worst major.  He began by selecting Richard Carranza as chancellor, who promptly made it clear that whatever quality was left in the behemoth system would be eliminated in the name of equity. Then de Blasio slowly began to undermine whatever confidence parents had by his assault on high-achieving students.

New York City continues to get exactly what it deserves when it comes to education.  Any substantive changes, such as eliminating social promotion and closing persistently failing schools as Mayor Bloomberg tried to do, are resisted.

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Ballot measure to weaken teacher protections won’t fly

Even if an initiative makes it to the ballot in Nov. 2022 in California to guarantee all students “a high-quality public education,” voters will likely reject it (“Proposed California Ballot Measure Could Spark Court Challenges to Teacher Protections.” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8). I say that based on the history of similar efforts in the past to undermine teacher tenure.

At present, teachers in California gain tenure after only two years.  That’s far too soon.  But I doubt that voters are willing to blame tenure for the undeniable ills afflicting the state’s public schools. There are simply too many factors beyond the control of even the best teachers. As a result, when the smoke clears, voters will see that tenure is not the villain.

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Critical thinking without facts is impossible

Teaching critical thinking is a goal that has widespread support.  But it cannot possibly be achieved if students are not first grounded in factual knowledge (“Pandemic learning loss is real. Schools must follow the science to make up for it,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 6).

Without the facts, what purports to be critical thinking is nothing more than a farrago of feelings. Yet teachers are warned that insisting on facts will turn off their students.  If so, then I say so be it.

Most students today graduate high school without learning how to make an argument and support it because they’ve never learned applicable facts. But they believe they are critical thinkers because they feel strongly about issues.

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Record-breaking application year not cause to celebrate

Another record-breaking application year for colleges is overwhelming admissions offices across the country (“Another record year for college applications? Please, no,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 4).  Other than the revenue each application generates, the situation is a disaster.

The truth is that far too many high school seniors are not college material by any stretch of the imagination.  They lack the wherewithal to succeed.  But they are told they have a bleak future without a bachelor’s degree.

Saddled with onerous debt for a degree of dubious marketable value, they soon realize they would have been far better off pursuing a vocational education coupled with an apprenticeship. By then, however, the damage has already been done.

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More money won’t help schools perform

The failure of traditional public schools to post better outcomes is consistently laid on inadequate funding (“Are We Asking Schools to Do Too Much?” Education Week, Sept. 15).  But the New York City school system, for example, already spends nearly $30,000 per student per year, and still cannot close the racial achievement gap. 

That’s because teachers today are being asked to be parent, police and psychologist, rather than just teach their subject.  It’s a situation that no amount of money will ever cure. Catholic schools, which spend a fraction of the amount that public schools do, produce better results because teachers there are allowed to teach.

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Vaccine mandate for teachers is constitutional

It’s hard to understand why a judge for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked New York City schools from enforcing a vaccine requirement for teachers (“Covid-19 Vaccine Mandate for New York City Teachers Blocked by Federal Judge,” The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 26).  Although the ruling is temporary and referred to a three-judge panel on an expedited basis, it is still baffling.

In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1905 that the state could require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox.  It was a legitimate exercise of the police power of the state to protect the public health and safety of its citizens and did not violate the plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment right to liberty.

Covid-19 poses as much risk as smallpox to the health of the public, which is why I think that New York City schools will prevail in the case.

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No academic freedom for public school teachers

When Matthew Hawn attempted to teach about white privilege in his high school social studies class in rural Tennessee, he was fired for insubordination and unprofessional conduct (“He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He’s Fighting to Get His Job Back,” EducationWeek, Sept. 22).

Although I hope Hawn is rehired, I hasten to point out that he should have known better, particularly as a social studies teacher.  I say that because in 2010, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of the Tipp City Exempted Village School District that only school boards can determine the curriculum. Teachers have no such right.  In short, school districts hire teacher speech.

As a result, teachers who inject material into the classroom that has not been approved expose themselves to dismissal.  I wish that were not the case, but until the courts rule otherwise teachers need to be on guard.

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