The release by Mayor de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group of a series of proposals that include getting rid of gifted-and-talented programs in city schools amounts to giving up rather than aspiring, settling for mediocrity because it is considered preferable to the harder work of raising up those who are struggling.
While it quickly earned the approval of Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who possesses the blind certainty of an ideologue, Mr. de Blasio has reserved judgment so far, perhaps influenced by the harsh critiques coming from so many different quarters.
Or if, as in his continuation of a doomed presidential campaign, he is listening solely to his own voice, perhaps it is telling him that adopting the panel’s recommendations would be an acknowledgement of failure.
It would take him one step further than Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who over his final five years in office reduced the number of gifted-and-talented programs in largely black and Latino neighborhoods from 60 to 10 because not enough students there were scoring well enough to gain admission.
How would Mr. de Blasio square outright elimination of the program with the rationale he offered families of color for electing him in 2013: that he would make a difference because he cared about them in ways that Mr. Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani hadn’t during their 20 years as Mayor?
If he has paid any attention to the history of the gifted-and-talented program, he knows that it is important not just because it’s capable of lighting a spark in children whose family backgrounds didn’t prepared them for success from the time they set foot in a classroom, but because it can persuade Teachers to step out of their comfort zones, working in neighborhoods where they never had to worry about their cars being vandalized or their personal safety, because of the energy and possibilities such programs generated.
That is a big part of the reason United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, whose cultivation of a solid working relationship with the Mayor and his Chancellors has made him cautious about criticizing them, made clear he believed the panel had gone dangerously astray in its primary recommendation. He spoke of how the program allowed children to thrive, and while he agreed with most critics that the panel’s one worthwhile suggestion was getting rid of the admission test given to 4-year-olds, the UFT leader said, “We believe the programs need to be revamped and access to them expanded.”
Mr. Bloomberg, with his businessman’s pragmatism, viewed the gifted-and-talent program as he did school arts and athletics programs: frills that should be cast aside to better focus on the nuts and bolts of education. That view overlooks the reality that such programs are often what capture a child’s imagination and wind up enriching the entire school experience for them.
Take them away and it becomes one more reason for parents to look to charter schools or private schools as alternatives, because the juice is being squeezed out of public education.
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