Elite schools need no defense

Only in this country are schools dedicated to educating gifted students subject to unrelenting criticism (“Elite Schools Make Few Offers to Black and Latino Students,” The New York Times, Mar. 8).  That’s because differentiation in educating the young is anathema to America’s system of democratization. To put it differently, elitism is a pejorative term.

Critics of these so-called exam schools want them to be representative of the overall population of a community’s school system.  Therefore, if a city or town’s schools are, say, 67 percent black and Hispanic, then the elite schools should also mirror the same.  Or that these schools should enroll the same percentage of girls who live in the areas served. I don’t agree.  I don’t believe that excellence is distributed evenly or fairly in life.  Yes, we should try to provide equal opportunities for all students. But even if we succeed in achieving that goal, it does not necessarily follow that we will have equal representation.

Our competitors abroad have no compunction about separating out students early in their education.  For example, Singapore, which is known for the quality of its schools, begins the process with its primary school leaving exam and continues the process throughout the entire education years. Germany, which has the lowest rate of youth unemployment, evaluates children in the fifth grade to set them on a track that will largely determine their future careers.

No country can afford to neglect its most promising young people and be expected to prosper in the global economy.  There are some three million gifted students in the U.S. – about six percent of the student population.  The only initiative to specifically address their unique needs is the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act that was passed in 1988.  It has languished in the shadows ever since, receiving a congressional appropriation of a paltry $12 million in fiscal 2017.

Ironically, our aversion to elitism does not apply to sports.  The U.S. spends more tax dollars per high school athlete than per high school math student.  Further, critics do not demand that teams reflect diversity.  Yet they do in exam schools.  Apparently, athleticism has immunity.

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