View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts 

According to "With Eye on Scores, Schools Fight Over Gifted Kids," by Daniel Golden, public schools are competing over the test scores of gifted students. Not all schools have magnet programs for gifted students, so those that do have students passing state exams at higher rates. Those without gifted programs claim that's not fair, and that it puts their schools at a disadvantage. Some districts count the scores toward the school actually attended; some count them toward the students' base schools, although maybe that credit should go to the local water utility. Some just distribute the scores over the whole district.

I suppose the proper, governmental, bureaucratic response, the kind that so ably runs the schools as they are, would be to look at the effects on scores and funding, to answer that the base school class size is reduced, or that the who district pays for the magnet programs, or that the better students really are at the magnet schools, or...

First of all, the requirement is that all students pass. If 95% of gifted students pass, it doesn't change the number of other students who don't. So rather than wasting time arguing over who gets credit for the relatively small number of gifted students, shouldn't these schools be figuring out what to do about the 4th-graders they have who still can't find Colorado on a map?

Secondly, as a homeonwner, I'd like these numbers to be accurate. School quality is one of the biggest factors when choosing a neighborhood for a house. That just makes the case for incentives and markets. These ratings should be part of making the market informed. As a parent, it might be comforting to know that a school has a high pass rate. But what really counts is whether or not my child passes the tests. Then, if he doesn't, I need to have other options. The whole debate on bean-counting isn't serving the interests of helping parents make informed choices, because without uprooting and moving across town, most parents don't have a choice. It's serving a bureaucracy that's trying harder to protect itself than do its job.

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