Opinion

Adams: Forward-Rolling Ahead or Spinning Their Wheels? A Question of Equity vs. Equality for NYC School Kids

By Alina Adams | January 13, 2020

My 10th-grader got a 100 in physical education on his most recent report card.

“Wow,” my husband exclaimed, “those eight years at Ballet Hispanico are really paying off!”

My son has been taking dance — ballet, modern and flamenco — since he was 8 years old. As a result, public school PE hasn’t been particularly challenging for him.

He is, however, shocked by how challenging it is for some of his classmates.

“There are kids who don’t even know how to do a forward roll,” he informed us, baffled.

My son is not a “gifted” athlete. In fact, dance comes harder for him than schoolwork, and his Ballet Hispanico progress reports testify to that fact. He is, at best, average there.

But because he loves dance and voluntarily spends over 16 hours a week on it outside of school, he comes to his PE class with what a social studies teacher of my older son — who loved history and geography, and voluntarily studied it outside of school — called “prior knowledge.”

So what is my son supposed to do with his prior-knowledge forward-rolling skills in the course of his regular PE classes?

A) He can continue doing his forward rolls over and over and over again, literally spinning his wheels. Then, when it comes time for the Presidential Fitness Test, he can score 100 percent, and his school can take credit for the great job it did preparing him for it.

B) He can spend the bulk of his class time helping those students who don’t know how to do a forward roll learn how to do a forward roll. (“I tell them, you have to tuck your head,” he reported recently.) Then, when he scores 100 on the Presidential Fitness Test, and his classmates do better than they have in previous years, his school can crow about how putting kids with different skill levels in the same class not only raised scores for the low achievers, but the high achievers’ scores didn’t go down. (See New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s boast about what happened when he got rid of algebra in eighth grade in San Francisco … and why he is implementing Algebra for All in eighth grade in NYC. According to him, he was right both times!)

C) His school can confirm that he has mastered high-school-level forward rolling and grant him his diploma so he can continue studying forward rolls at the collegiate level, regardless of his age.

D) In order not to lose the funding that comes with forcing a student to remain in school until age 17, his school can let him test out of Forward Rolling for Beginners and allow him to go straight to Advanced Placement Forward Rolling, so he doesn’t lose his mind with boredom and constantly beg to be allowed to quit school.

Am I being ridiculous? Yes.

Am I stretching a metaphor too far? Maybe.

Am I wrong? You tell me.

NYC has decreed that all children learn all skills at exactly the same pace. No exceptions.

The city’s education establishment asserts that students who perform well on gifted and talented assessments or the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or anything else that might suggest they already know material they are not yet scheduled to be taught, aren’t gifted or talented. They are merely privileged to have come across it outside the sanctioned school system.

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The city’s educational establishment is absolutely right.

But so what?

What difference does it make?

If the goal is to make everyone the same, we’ll have to ban any sort of outside tutoring and any sort of extracurricular activity. There can be no independent reading or watching YouTube videos and absolutely, positively no parents answering their child’s “Why” questions, unless they’ve checked their handy-dandy DOE-issued timelines and ensured that all other children in the five boroughs are having those exact same questions answered at the exact same time, in the exact same way.

Am I being ridiculous?

Is it ridiculous to believe that instead of spending money, resources and time on making sure everyone gets the exact same education, the NYC Department of Education should be spending money, resources and time on making sure all children get the education they need at the time they need it?

Is it ridiculous to care less about when a child masters skills than that all children have the opportunity to master them?

Is it ridiculous to believe that a school system should be able to accommodate both the — there’s no question about it — overprivileged and the underprivileged without sentencing some to spin their wheels while they’re being shackled to school via an arbitrary birth date, and others to flounder as they’re socially promoted beyond their current skill set, making it harder and less likely for them to ever catch up until they’re tossed out of school via that same arbitrary birth date?

Is it ridiculous to want equity over equality?

You tell me.

Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling romance and mystery writer, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School, a blogger at New York School Talk and mother of three. She believes you can’t have true school choice until all parents know all their school choices — and how to get them. Visit her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.

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