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Panel recommends phasing out gifted programs in city schools

August 27, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A group of educators hope to desegregate city schools by phasing out the Department of Education’s “gifted and talented” programs and pulling back on school screening, among other recommendations.

The School Diversity Advisory Group — a task force commissioned by the mayor in 2017 to address school segregation — takes aim at the programs in a new report. In it, authors allege that gifted programs and screened schools (where factors like test scores and attendance weigh heavily on the admissions process) promote racial and economic divisions by favoring families who can afford test prep.

“Simply put, there are better ways to educate advanced learners than most of the current ‘Screened’ and Gifted and Talented programs, which segregate students by race and socioeconomic status,” reads the report’s intro, a letter from the advisory group’s executive committee. The prologue goes on to say that screened schools and gifted programs “often fail to serve disadvantaged students and Black and Latinx students.”

Parents interested in the city’s gifted programs can currently opt their children into a standardized test as early as kindergarten. Kids who score above the 90th percentile get a spot in a district gifted program within a traditional elementary school, and those who make the 97th percentile may enter into a citywide gifted program, where every child in the school is in the same program. Sibling priority, family preference and available seats also play a role in the admissions process.

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The number of white and Asian students in gifted programs “far exceeds” the number of black and Latinx students, the group says, “and is proportionally dissimilar from citywide White and Asian student enrollment.”

Those numbers, the task force adds, include citywide, district and any other unofficial, in-school programs that segregate students based on academic ability such as “honors” classes.

Gifted programs are currently presented as the only way forward for elementary school enrichment, the report says. “[5, 6 and 7]-year-olds should not feel as though their path to academic achievement is stifled or predetermined.”

The group is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to phase out all forms of the program (so that current students can finish their courses), and swap them with “non-selective” magnet schools, which offer specialized courses or curricula, like Brooklyn’s Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technology.

The panel also recommends eliminating the use of exclusionary admissions practices like grades, test scores, lateness and attendance, putting a moratorium on the creation of any new screened high schools and even redrafting district lines.

This is the group’s second set of recommendations. In June, de Blasio endorsed 62 of 67 suggestions made by the panel, such as training teachers in culturally responsive education and requiring schools to work to eliminate racial disparities in suspensions.

Both de Blasio and Carranza say they look forward to reviewing the group’s new recommendations.

“We’re going to review their recommendations and take action to ensure all students have access to a rich and rigorous education,” Carranza said in a statement. “At the same time, we’re going to keep advancing equity in our classrooms — reducing disparities in suspensions, and increasing expectations and access to curriculum that reflects the diversity of our student population.”

“Every child, regardless of zip-code, has the right to attend a school where they can thrive,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I thank the School Diversity Advisory Group for all their hard work to promote equity and excellence across our system, and I look forward to reviewing their recommendations.”

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  1. Ro from Park Slope

    Once again, rather than create an additional type of program, some people in charge for 10 minutes of NYC life want to dismiss an entire program designed to be equitable for all. Why not design another Enrichment Plus program with different criteria for all? Rather than either/or, why not programs for (1) academically gifted and (2) another for talented in “Magnet” sort of ways? I would be proud of participation in either one. Selection criteria would be different for each, for example, as suggested in the article, for the new program: scores, lateness, and attendance do not matter.