A group of City Council Members Sept. 4 pushed back against the Student Diversity Advisory Group’s recommendation to scrap the public school system’s gifted-and-talented program and instead called on the Department of Education to ensure every school district offered the high-level courses.

The panel, convened by Mayor de Blasio two years ago to find ways to integrate the city’s 1,800 public schools, recommended in a report released late last month that the gifted-and-talented program be phased out because it “segregates students by race and socioeconomic status.” Twenty-one percent of gifted-and-talented students were black and Latino, while these groups make up about 70 percent of the overall student population. The advisory group also suggested an end to the use of the test given to 4-year-olds seeking admission into the program.

‘Going in Wrong Direction’

Mr. de Blasio has not indicated whether he is supportive of adopting any of the panel’s proposals. But the recommendation to eliminate gifted-and-talented classes, which serve as a feeder into the city’s most successful middle- and high schools, immediately drew backlash from the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, and other education advocates.

“We’re going in the whole wrong direction. That is totally opposite to what the City is demanding,” said Council Member Robert Cornegy at the City Hall press conference. “This flies in the face of intelligence as it relates to people of color and high achieving students in the city of New York.”

Council Member Peter Koo pointed to data published in a New York Times article earlier that day that showed that in District 2, which includes wealthy neighborhoods such as Midtown and Soho and offers eight gifted-and-talented programs, 1,800 4-year-olds took the admissions test. Meanwhile, in the South Bronx’s District 7, which has no gifted-and-talented classes, just 66 students applied. Only seven advanced learning programs were offered in the city’s poorest borough.

“Blaming G&T programs for lack of diversity when this kind of disparity exists across the city is disingenuous,” Mr. Koo said. “Why would students in the Bronx even bother to take the test if there are no programs in their district?”

Misplaced Priorities?

Council Member Barry Grodenchik argued that the de Blasio administration should be focused on improving scores on the state exams instead of looking to “fix” the gifted-and-talented program that was already working: 47.4 percent of city students in grades 3 to 8 were proficient in English and 45.6 percent met the standards in Math, according to the most-recent test results.

Council Member Robert Holden, who taught at the City University of New York for 20 years, noted that about 80 percent of students coming into that system from the city’s public schools must take a remedial course.

“We’re really at a crisis situation,” he said. “To eliminate gifted-and-talented is disgraceful; they’re going to be leaving all children behind.”

The coalition said that the Council has been pushing for more gifted-and-talented classes for years, particularly in low-income school districts. Council Member Ben Kallos said that in his district, of the 652 eligible students who passed the test and applied to the program, 346 were offered spots.

“That means that half the kids who are eligible are being turned away from G&T because they don’t have enough seats,” he said.

Opening Up Process

Mr. Cornegy recommended making the entrance test universal and using multiple admissions methods in order to ensure more black and brown students would be able to take gifted classes.

“What we don’t want to do is fall for that old trick ‘We’ll keep gifted and talented,’ ” he said. “We don’t want it kept, we want it expanded.”


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