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Can You Sue a Kid Smart?

Fighting to keep the children above average on the Upper West Side.

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Karen Ticktin and her 5-year-old, Lacie Foreht.  

The old Garrison Keillor joke about every kid being above average in Lake Wobegon just got a Manhattan punch line. Some Upper West Side parents are looking into suing the Department of Education over the fact that their children weren’t let into the Gifted/Talented & Enrichment program at the school where they went to pre-K. “I don’t think my child is brilliant, but I don’t think she’s on the low end either,” says Jennifer James, whose 4-year-old daughter was rejected from the G/T kindergarten at P.S. 9 on West 84th Street, despite scoring well on the Stanford-Binet IQ test. “She has this very curious mind. And now she isn’t even, according to the public schools, qualified? And I’m just supposed to say, ‘Oh, you’re right, my daughter obviously isn’t these things that the Stanford-Binet said’? Where does that leave me?” Certainly not alone: She and a dozen or so other parents, most of whose children attended the pre-K program at P.S. 9 (a.k.a. the Renaissance School of Music and Art) but didn’t get into its G/T program, meet weekly to plot their response. They sometimes call themselves the Renaissance Renegades.

For years, G/T programs were quietly used to entice middle-class white parents to stay in the city. Placement was often at the whim of local administrators; parents could repeatedly test their kids privately and submit only the best scores. But this year, under pressure from the federal government and immigrant activist groups, the city instituted a new, more uniform admissions procedure. Kids are now graded by their teachers on the Gifted Rating Scale using criteria like creativity and leadership skills (in addition to the IQ test). Preferential placement for siblings and neighborhood residents also went away. The result? None of P.S. 9’s pre-K students got into the school’s G/T kindergarten. “Will anybody look into that?” asks P.S. 9 mom Karen Ticktin. “I hear the party line and it smells fishy to me.” Many of the kids were admitted to other nearby G/T schools, or they could stay on in the general population at P.S. 9. “Honestly, I don’t want to send my white, middle-class kid to a school where there’s 2 percent white children,” says Kerry Neal-Shaw, an events coordinator who wanted her 4-year-old to go to the same school as her older child. “I don’t think it would be comfortable for him.”

Many of the parents say the GRS can be manipulated. But Anna Commitante, the head of the city’s G/T program, says, “It was really the cleanest process in many years.” (Unlike the IQ test, the GRS can’t be administered independently.) So why the P.S. 9 rout? “That was just random, just the luck of the draw.” The Renegades aren’t giving up—the next step may be a lawsuit. Commitante says P.S. 9’s parents complained last year before the changes too. “You don’t get this on the East Side,” notes another Department of Education source. “They send their kids to private school.”


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