New York City to phase out gifted and talented public school programs critics call racist

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday unveiled a plan to phase out gifted and talented programs for elementary school students that many educators say discriminate against black and Hispanic children enrolled in the larger public school system from the country.

It will be replaced by a program called “Brilliant NYC” which will expand the pool of students for whom accelerated learning is offered, and not limit it to only kindergarten students who have performed well on an optional exam that will allow them to learn. set out to attend preschool in town. elite colleges and high schools.

“The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Brilliant NYC will provide accelerated education to tens of thousands of kids, as opposed to just a few. Every child in New York City deserves to reach their full potential, and this new fair model gives them that chance. “

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at New Bridges Elementary School in Brooklyn ahead of the schools reopening on August 19, 2020.Jeenah Moon / Pool via Reuters file

De Blasio’s announcement, which came in the dying days of his last term at City Hall, sent shockwaves across New York City that are likely to be felt in public school systems across the country struggling with similar types of racial disparities.

The new plan comes two years after a diversity working group in New York recommended removing most of the selective programs that use test scores and other criteria to determine class placement, and that have helped create a two-tier school system where 75 percent of students in the programs gifted and talented were either white or of Asian descent, while students who did not make this cut were relegated to lower schools with fewer resources.

Currently, the program admits only 2,500 pupils per year out of 65,000 preschools in the city.

Critics, including some fellow Democrats, were quick to rush de Blasio’s decision.

“Gifted and talented programs have been an integral option for generations of schoolchildren,” tweeted State Senator John Liu, a Democrat from Queens who chairs a panel on New York City schools. “@BilldeBlasio has promised intensive public engagement on this, but now wants a total elimination.”

A senior official from the National Association for Gifted Children, which advocates for gifted and talented programs, said “equity in the education of the gifted needs to be addressed,” but de Blasio’s plan fails.

“While we support several aspects of Brilliant NYC, such as increased teacher training and the elimination of a single gifted identification exam, we are not convinced that accelerated learning itself will also meet the challenges. needs of our gifted learners, ”Lauri Kirsch, President of the NAGC Board of Directors said. “Going forward, I hope the New York City Mayor and Department of Education will reconsider this plan and keep the best interests of our gifted children in mind.”

Asian American activists have been among the most vocal opponents of dismantling the gifted and talented programs, which they see as a way for the community to move forward.

“The elimination of the G&T program is just another example of this administration’s continued assault on high performing students and accelerated learners,” said Yiatin Chu, co-chair of PLACE NYC, a New York City advocacy group.

Some parents of public school students have also expressed concern.

Marcia Benjamin-Charles, 44, a mother of two at Brooklyn Public Schools, said she feared de Blasio’s move could lead to an exodus of bright students to charter schools.

“I am African American, and a lot of African American children now go to charter schools,” she said.

Benjamin-Charles said she plans to transfer her eldest, who is now 20, to a charter school after the gifted and talented classes he took until grade 4 were cut short at his school. But she ended up keeping him there and he finished second in his class.

“I was a student in a public school,” said Benjamin-Charles, who works as a manager of transitional care. “I shot well. I want to give my children the same education.

But Sok Svay of Queens, whose 14-year-old daughter is a public school student, said de Blasio’s new plan would level the playing field. She said while her daughter is thriving though she won’t not part of a gifted and talented program, basing children’s futures on their performance on a test taken at age 4 is unfair to parents who do not have the time or resources to prepare their children to that. exam.

“It’s really an exclusion because when you think of many immigrant parents who can’t read or don’t have time to go through this whole process, their children are likely to miss better programs because they will simply be excluded from it. understanding the process, ”said Svay, a Cambodian refugee who grew up in the Bronx. “Class segregation, which leads to racial segregation, must end. “

As part of de Blasio’s plan, students enrolled in the gifted and talented programs will stay there. But the programs will no longer exist for new kindergarten students next fall.

Instead of the much-criticized entrance exam, the city will determine which third-graders should be placed in accelerated classes by assessing their schoolwork and getting advice from their teachers.

The city will also train all kindergarten teachers to provide accelerated learning in areas ranging from robotics and computer coding to community organizing.

These deemed gifted students will no longer be separated from their peers. Instead, they will spend several periods a day working on specific subjects with specially trained teachers before returning to their regular classes.

The move also puts de Blasio’s likely successor, Eric Adams, in a bind. A Democrat in a predominantly Democratic city, Adams campaigned on a promise to expand the existing gifted and talented program to low-income neighborhoods and it would be up to him to implement this new program if elected.

“Eric will assess the plan and reserves the right to implement policies based on the needs of students and parents, should he become mayor,” Evan Thies, Adams campaign spokesperson, told the New York Times. “It is clear that the Ministry of Education needs to improve the outcomes of children in low income areas. “

Adam’s Republican rival Curtis Sliwa said he was getting crash courses at his college in Brooklyn and that New Yorkers should have “more gifted and talented programs, not less.”

“My younger sons tried to get into the gifted and talented program, but they didn’t qualify because there weren’t enough slots,” he said in an email.

New York is one of the most diverse cities in the country. Corn the Civil Rights Project at the University of California at Los Angeles, reported in June that the city’s public schools are the most segregated in the country.

“Two-thirds of a century after the Supreme Court declared separate schools ‘inherently unequal,’ New York is a national epicenter of racial segregation in unequal schools,” wrote Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project.



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