Ask the grumpies: Dual-language neighborhood school vs. Gifted school

Azma asks:

I’m curious to know what you’d do in my situation. I live in the outer boroughs of NYC in a diverse, urban neighborhood with decent (but not great) public schools. My 5 year old got a spot in a dual language program (Spanish/ English) at our zoned school. He also tested very highly on the city gifted and talented test with minimal prep and got into an excellent program several neighborhoods away (he’d take a school bus to get there). There’s been a huge push in our neighborhood to convince educated, middle class families (like us) to keep their kids in the neighborhood schools. Many have historically sent their kids to charters, g&t programs, or private schools. We love the g&t program our kid has a spot in, but we also love our neighborhood and worry that we’re contributing to NYC’s problematic school segregation problems. What would you do in our place?

Right or wrong, I always put my kids ahead of general social spillovers.  So I try to decide what is best for them first, and worry about the ripple effects as a secondary concern.  Not that I ignore spillovers, but the spillovers would have to be larger than they are in this case and I would have to know for certain that the spillovers from removing my child from the district were negative.

What I mean by knowing for certain that they are negative– while we do know that having higher SES kids is good for schools (and having kids whose families have domestic violence is bad for schools) and many other network effects, the benefits to having gifted kids are not as clear-cut.  That is, it isn’t always clear that keeping a gifted kid in a non-gifted school is actually better for the school. Gifted kids are special needs and as such tend to draw resources, act up if their intellectual needs aren’t being met, etc.  The same isn’t true of kids who are high achieving but not gifted– they are more likely to provide positive spillovers. So most of the studies that find beneficial effects of, for example, cooperative learning, remove gifted kids from their experiments.

Still, worrying about neighborhood schools is still a really valid concern, and there are things you can do about that even if you don’t send your child there, *even if you don’t have kids*.  Personally, I donate a lot of money to education-related charities.  Donors Choose is a big favorite of mine. Using Donors Choose, I can also pick districts that have greater needs than the one we’re zoned in, which has even more positive effects than would donating to our relatively well-off district.  Before I had children, I supported schools more than I do now because I had lots of time to volunteer and could tutor in low income urban districts.

All of this is an argument to say, take that spillover concern out of your calculus right now.  If you’re worried about the school, there are ways you can have a bigger more positive impact than you would by sending your child there.

That doesn’t mean that you should automatically choose the G/T school, of course.  There are lots of things to think about when making your decision that only you and your family can place weights on.

  • If you feel you’ve made a mistake with either choice, how easy it is to switch?
  • How do you feel about the administration and teaching at both schools?  Do they seem willing to work with parents?
  • If you’ve visited the schools, do the kids seem happy and not acting up?
  • How will the school schedule work with your work-life?  Are there after school programs?  What happens if your child misses the bus or wants to do an after school activity?
  • How strongly do you feel about foreign language acquisition and are there other ways to get it?
  • How do you feel about the curriculum at both schools?

If you love the G/T school I would be very tempted to stay with it.  From folks I’ve talked with, dual-language is great for keeping GT kids occupied until 2nd or 3rd grade and then they start needing more acceleration.  Hopefully that would not be a problem at the G/T school.  On the other hand, the G/T schools in the city closest to us have a reputation for not actually being very good for G/T– their main purposes is for white parents to segregate their kids without paying 40K/year for private school, which means that they’re not actually geared towards G/T.  That’s not true everywhere, and is probably not true in NYC given how competitive the testing is, but I don’t know for sure.

Here’s a related question from jlp back in 2014!  And here’s one from Sarah back in 2015.

Grumpy Nation, what have we missed?  What elements would you put on your list to help with decision-making?

20 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Dual-language neighborhood school vs. Gifted school”

  1. Becca Says:

    Is there one school where the smart kids seem smarter and all the kids are happier? If so, pick that one. If one makes kids smarter and the other makes them happier, pick happier. Neuroplasticity can take care of content knowledge- thats what humans are amazing at- but fixing a traumatized brain with a miswired amygdala is hard.

  2. Omdg Says:

    If nothing else, n&m, your recent posts have made it clear to me that I am not alone in the degree to which I stress about doing the right thing for my kid from a school standpoint. Probably this is a no brainer observation, but nonetheless I’m grateful you have this forum where you discuss these issues openly.

  3. Mary Says:

    Totally agree that the spillover concern should not get much weight.

    I have a huge bias in favor of early 2nd (and 3rd) language acquisition, so that would be a big factor for me. Unless you have a native speaker to reinforce constantly at home, the easiest way to pick up a second language is at an immersion school.

    But my kids, while very smart, likely don’t qualify as gifted. And there are no G&T programs or schools in my state anyway, so I may undervalue the G&T option.

    Moreover, you may have different priorities and not really value the bilingual aspect.

    If the start in the immersion school, how hard would it be to switch to a more challenging school in a few years?

  4. crone Says:

    Given the current administration and Congress’s approach to funding education ~~ why in the world do you believe your public school will be financially able to continue ANY gifted program or multi-lingual school? In fact, do you really expect public schools to continue to exist in any meaningful way? Unless one of the schools is run as a private for profit school…. which is not public at all and will cherry pick the student body…… which might work for you. Maybe you like Ms. De Vos’s ideas. I don’t know.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I suspect NYC will take care of their own even in the face of federal funding cuts.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Also– multi-lingual programs actually cost the school districts very little. They are one of the least costly responses to legislation requiring accommodations for ESL students.

      • crone Says:

        Thank you for the kindness in your response. I am finding I am super depressed between education, healthcare proposals, the lack of humanity, and the ‘mean-spirited entitled rich privilege rights’ involved. I AM trying to lift my hands from the keyboard, but sometimes I fail.

  5. Cloud Says:

    You have a hard decision, but one thing that might help is to remember that you are choosing between two great options! Two data points for you that you might already know from my prior comments here:
    1. Our kids are in a Spanish immersion program and we love it. But, I’d say that the “keeps my gifted child challenged” aspect of it only lasted through 2nd grade. At that point, the language acquisition wasn’t so hard for my eldest anymore (her younger sister isn’t there yet: she just finished 1st grade), and as Nicoleandmaggie’s early post indicating, I’m looking for other ways to boost her challenge.

    2. I felt super guilty for considering parental convenience when we were choosing schools, but can now say it is HUGE. Think about the things Nicoleandmaggie mentioned, but also “what happens when my kid gets sick?” and “how easy/hard will it be to go to the extracurricular events and random in class programs?” And don’t feel guilty for prioritizing your convenience when choosing between two good options. Stressed out parents aren’t good for the family!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      re: the second item– events during the day are THE WORST for full-time working parents. So far that’s only been a problem for us with daycares since our public school systems have served a wide range of kids. (From what I’ve seen, schools that serve low SES kids even if they also serve extremely high SES kids are more likely to have the baseline assumption that both parents work during the day.) Now, if your kids are like I was, this seriously isn’t a big deal because I understood that my mom having to work was more important than her attending the stupid stuff they requested parents at during the day, but culture does tend to make “not showing up to X” a trope to increase parental guilt. Still, it is nice having concerts, information sessions, award ceremonies, plays, etc. in the evenings rather than during the day.

    • Leah Says:

      Another thing to think about with parental convenience: where will your kids’ friends be? In our town, there’s a lot of options for schooling. Some of my neighbors send their kids to a charter school ~20 minutes away that’s great. However, it draws kids from a wide radius, so their friends can live far away. Our neighbors that send their kids to the neighborhood school or charter school down the street have friends close by.

      Spending less time in the car is important for our family. If we’re in the car, it better be a road trip to go somewhere fabulous and not a daily thing. Our little one is just about three, but we’ve already decided to rule out the further away schools. She goes to a daycare on the other side of town (~10 minute drive each way — small town), and that’s been far enough for us.

  6. Azma Says:

    These are really good questions. Most of my answers lean in the g&t direction because the curriculum seems more thoughtful and the facilities so much better. For example, the g&t school uses a number of different math curriculums (including Singapore) whereas our local school uses one fairly standard and traditional approach. The g&t program emphasizes project-based, small group learning so they can accelerate the kids in the subjects they’re strongest in. The commute is a factor, though, and if we find it awful we can always switch back to our local school– but not necessarily to the dual language program. On the plus side, the g&t school is on my husband’s way to work. So you can see we’re pretty much decided. I do feel some regret about missing out on the language immersion, but on the other hand, my son was in a local pre-kindergarten dual language class (public because our mayor recently instituted universal pre-k) this past year that was awful. It left me with a lot of skepticism about how well dual language works when the teacher isn’t very good.

    And yeah, I think nicoleandmaggie are right that NYC will be fairly insulated from federal education budget cuts. Or at the very least, I can’t imagine the city cutting these programs (which don’t have smaller class sizes or any other special privileges besides the fact that all the kids scored highly on a difficult test).

    • Azma Says:

      I still, though, feel bad when I read stuff like this:

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Political action to make it easier for minority parents to send their kids to GT schools in NYC. Volunteering and donating to low SES districts.

        When you’re at the GT school you can ask them how you can help them recruit more minority students and direct donations to make it easier for them to stay.

    • Leah Says:

      Do what feels right for you. There are other ways to get language, including travel and language classes for youngsters. My brothers and I did both in the under-10 stage and picked up Spanish quite quickly once we began formal classes in middle or high school. We all speak it fairly well now, and I could be fluent if I spent a good chunk of time in a Spanish speaking country practicing. Just saying that it’s not the only way for them to learn a language.

  7. Sarah Says:

    As noted above, we were in a similar situation two years ago. We ended up choosing the public gifted school and are incredibly happy. I think one should not understimate the benefit of being around an entire classroom/school of bright/gifted/intelligent children. All of the other problems I can overlook (and there are many) because my child is spending his days with other children who love and appreciate his precociousness and extremely nerdiness.

  8. Rovamama Says:

    Having kids who have homes with domestic violence is bad for schools? Please explain

  9. Ask the grumpies: Gifted vs. Local school for a new Kindergartener? | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] a similar question from a past Ask the Grumpies.  Here’s one on dual language vs. gifted (this one has some links at the bottom to related questions).  (Here’s one on what dual […]

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