The debate over whether education of gifted children segregates them on the basis of pre-existing privilege rather than cognitive ability is neither new nor uniquely American. The number of selective, state-run grammar schools in Britain reached its zenith in 1965, before the Labour government of Harold Wilson embarked on a largely successful effort “to eliminate separatism in secondary education”. The three-tiered German education system—which sorts children on the basis of ability at the age of ten into either university-preparatory schools or vocational ones—has always been criticised for fostering social segregation. The fact that the children of Turkish migrants are now disproportionately sorted into lower-tier secondary schools instead of selective Gymnasien adds a disquieting racial divide.
In America the debate is kicking up anew. The issue is national: the most recent statistics show that whites are 80% more likely than black students to take part in programmes for the gifted, and Asians are three times as likely. But the principal battleground has been New York City.
Madison, 2006: “They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!
2018: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”