New York City officials are phasing out the controversial “Gifted and Talented” program for elementary school students, a massive change aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
The entry exam identifying students as “gifted” will be eliminated, officials said Friday. Under the old status quo, about 2,500 incoming kindergarteners per year scored high enough on the optional exam to win a spot, going on to spend their elementary school years in separate classrooms and schools.
That test was temporarily scrapped last year amid the pandemic. The last group of students in the program will still take G&T classes in their current form over the next five years.
“The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over,” Mayor de Blasio said Friday on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” adding that a new program “will deliver ... for tens of thousands of children, as opposed to a select few.”
Under the new system, all students will receive “accelerated instruction” featuring real-world projects about topics like robotics and community organizing starting in kindergarten, according to officials.
Then, in third grade, students will be screened in each subject area to see if they would benefit from continuing with the accelerated projects. Officials didn’t specify how the third graders will be screened.
All 4,000 of the city’s kindergarten teachers will be trained in accelerated learning, according to officials. The city will also funnel extra resources to neighborhoods that historically had few gifted programs. Seven borough-wide teams will help schools with some of the challenges of implementing the new system — including accommodating students with significantly different academic needs in the same classes.
The overhaul of the gifted program comes after years of debate and criticism — much of it focused on the fact that white and Asian students made up around 80% of gifted classes despite representing about a third of kindergarteners. Critics argued that the old system did not measure academic promise, but the ability of parents to prepare young kids for a standardized test. That contributed to the racial segregation of city schools, critics said.
“This is a change folks organizing for school integrations and desegregation have been asking for for years, and it makes sense as good educational practice,” said Toni Smith, a parent of three public school students and organizer at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Some schools and districts had already made unilateral changes to their gifted programs before the citywide announcement. P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, moved to eliminate its separate gifted track in 2020 to increase racial equity.
“In a district that’s battling the effects of gentrification, you see in our Gifted and Talented [program] disproportionately high number of more affluent White and Asian students, and then in other classes there’s a disproportionality of Black and Brown students,” said District 13 Superintendent Kamar Samuels, who oversees P.S. 9.
The move to phase out the programs “can have tremendous impact on not only integration within a school, but also across schools,” Samuels added.
Defenders of G&T have argued that it provides a lifeline for kids with unique academic talents who are not adequately served in traditional classrooms.
“Phasing out this program is a mistake,” Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) said in a statement. “Reforming the process would be the harder choice, and instead of making any adjustments, the City is taking the easier way out by implementing a mass elimination of the program.”
Changes were promised much earlier
Since the start of his administration, de Blasio has vowed to reform the gifted program. Friday’s announcement comes with less than three months left in his term.
When pressed Friday about why he’d waited so long to make the announcement, the mayor blamed his former chancellors, Richard Carranza and Carmen Fariña.
“The first chancellor who ever gave me a plan to fix Gifted & Talented was Meisha Ross Porter,” said de Blasio, referring to his current schools boss. “And guess what? Because of her work, we’re going to reach 10 times more kids each year with accelerated learning. That’s the type of plan I was waiting for.”
A school diversity advisory group appointed by Hizzoner issued recommendations to scrap separate gifted programs in 2019 — and de Blasio sat on the suggestions for more than two years. Carranza was a critic of the separate gifted classes and was reportedly dissatisfied by Hizzoner’s slow efforts to reform them.
Officials said more changes could come before the end of the year as they gather parent feedback. A final plan will be rolled out in November.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, campaigned on promises to keep the gifted exam for 4-year-olds and expand the number of separate gifted classes across the city. Adams, the overwhelming favorite to win November’s general election, won the endorsement of PLACE NYC, a parent group that has vocally supported the gifted admissions test and separate fast-track classes.
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