Gifted, Talented & White: Advisory Board Skewers NYC Segregation

MANHATTAN (CN) – As New York’s mayor continues his presidential bid, a school-diversity group he commissioned laid out a radical plan Tuesday to eliminate gifted and screening programs that disproportionately fail to include black and Latino students.  

The School Diversity Advisory Group released its findings in a 40-page report, calling for the city to replace so-called gifted-student programs with nonselective magnet schools “based on student needs and interests” across the city. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio has the authority to implement parts of the plan on his own if he so chooses. 

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson weighed in anyway. 

“Desegregation must be a priority and I look forward to reviewing this report in full,” the speaker said on Twitter Tuesday. “But, while I support moving away from relying on a single test for admissions to elite schools, I don’t believe eliminating gifted and talented programs outright is the solution.”

New York has the largest public school system in the country, with over a million students returning to the classrooms next week. Though 70% of those students are black and Hispanic, they make up a disproportionately low number of enrollees in the city’s elite public schools.

“The schools of New York City are as segregated as the schools of Mississippi and Alabama,” the report says. “The question is why.”

The issue is hotly debated in the five boroughs, and Tuesday’s proposal all but ensures more contention. 

“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,” the report says. “Today they have become proxies for separating students who can and should have opportunities to learn together.”

The group called for a moratorium on new gifted programs in city schools. It cites city Department of Education statistics that say just 10% of Latino and 8% of black kindergarteners receive offers to gifted and talented programs in New York City, while about 40% of white and Asian students do. As the group notes, this is partly because, since the stakes are so high, parents with the means to do so enroll their toddlers in test-prep programs.

Last year, the city’s elementary school gifted classes were nearly three-quarters white and Asian, The New York Times reported

Tuesday’s report notes that gifted and talented programs, in their current form, “reward[] students who can afford to prepare, instead of students who might definitionally qualify as G&T.”

New York City also screens students for about 25% of its public middle and high schools, a practice the group recommended be struck as “exclusionary admissions practices.” Screens, which can take into account factors like attendance and geographic zone, can perpetuate discrimination by race, class, income, disability and the language students speak at home. The panel recommended a moratorium on screens unless they meet inclusion guidelines.

The plan is not without critics, including the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s biggest union for public school teachers, which says gift and talented programs allow many children to thrive and reach their full potential.

“We do not support the elimination of the city’s gifted and talented programs,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We believe the programs need to be revamped and access to them expanded.”

Mulgrew did take aim at the admissions test that the city uses for very young children. “This test has always been unreliable and developmentally inappropriate,” he said.

De Blasio’s group meanwhile was critical of “school choice,” popularized in the early 2000s, which enabled parents to look beyond their neighborhood schools. 

“Allowing families to choose schools while simultaneously allowing schools to choose students through screened admissions methods led NYC’s schools to be highly segregated,” the report says. 

This is the advisory group’s second report.

“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.”

Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza also thanked the group.

“We’re going to review their recommendations and take action to ensure all students have access to a rich and rigorous education,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “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.”

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