JUMAANE WILLIAMS: 'Can't be about privilege.'

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams believes that the admissions process for gifted and talented classes needs to change in order to provide opportunities to more black and Latino students—and that children in gifted programs should be in the same classrooms as general-education students, he wrote in a Jan. 15 op-ed.

An alumnus of Brooklyn Tech, one of the city’s eight specialized high schools, Mr. Williams noted that the gifted-and-talented program at his middle school helped prepare him to pass the Specialized High School Admissions Test. “But right now, the barriers to that kind of enrichment are overwhelming,” he wrote.

Called for Phase-Out

Entry into the gifted-and-talented programs used to vary from district to district, but the admissions process became standardized during the Bloomberg administration, requiring 4-year old applicants to take a test. The School Diversity Advisory Group, which Mayor de Blasio convened two years ago and is made up of parents, students and other education advocates, in a report released last August called for gifted-and-talented programs to be phased out, sparking controversy.

The group noted that the program did not reflect the city’s diversity: although 65 percent of kindergarteners across the city were black and Latino, they were 21 percent of the student population in gifted-and-talented classes.

Mr. Williams has staunchly opposed the de Blasio administration’s failed plan to eliminate the admissions test for the city’s elite high schools. He argued that gifted-and-talented classes, which serve as a feeder to the specialized high schools should be expanded rather than eliminated. But he agreed with the group’s recommendation to change the admissions process for gifted-and-talented classes and stop testing 4-year-olds.

‘Remove Barriers’

“Enrichment cannot be about privilege,” he wrote in an op-ed published in amNewYork Metro. “Preparing for and passing an extensive verbal and nonverbal entry exam before a child can read and write is about privilege. The solution is not to eliminate the benefits of the gifted and talented program, but to remove barriers to them—to eliminate the entry test in favor of a multi-measure model…”

But criticism of the group’s belief that gifted-and-talented classes should be scrapped “obscured the substance and the truth of” some of its suggestions, Mr. Williams noted.

He also advocated that students in gifted and talented programs be enrolled in the same classes as the general population, pointing to studies that showed separating students by achievement levels at young ages hurts integration efforts. Research has also shown that struggling students benefited from sharing the classroom with high-performing children, who were able to help them.

“Isolating one group of students as talented, and the inherent contrast and explicit separation it creates with their fellow students, is about privilege. We can’t solve a diversity problem with segregation,” the Public Advocate said.

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