An advisory board tasked with finding ways to desegregate the nation’s largest school district wants to do away with New York City’s gifted and talented programs for elementary students. The suggestion has parents, politicians, and education officials in an uproar at the prospect of shuttering a successful program rather than figuring out how more people can benefit from it.
The students in New York’s elite, merit-based program do not reflect the general population.
According to district statistics, almost 70 percent of the district’s students are black or Hispanic. But of the 16,000 elementary students who participated in gifted programs last year, nearly 75 percent were white or Asian. The advisory group claims that since the demographics of the tuition-free schools do not match those of the city, the selection process must be rife with inequalities.
That process consists of high-stakes testing for incoming kindergartners whose parents aim to secure one of the limited seats available in a gifted class. Those classes serve as important gateways to the city’s best middle and high schools. Children as young as 4 undergo a rigorous entrance exam that demands keen focus and high-level thinking. Similar to the college admissions process, test preparation courses charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars, leaving many struggling families to prepare on their own.
A desegregation proposal would get rid of the gifted programs and incorporate their teaching methods into all classrooms.
The advisory board recommended city teachers develop instructional strategies for a wide variety of student abilities within their classrooms. It argued the selective admissions model that funnels students into special tracks and even entire schools unfairly skims a group of pupils off the top of the mix and causes all students to “miss the benefits of classrooms that are more diverse.”
Some critics said neighborhood schools are more segregated than the popular gifted programs simply because of the choices people make in settling near others like them. In a bold move, the board called on the New York City Department of Education to redraft district boundaries to rebalance heavily segregated neighborhoods to produce more integrated school populations.
The idea hasn’t exactly had a warm reception.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have made tackling racial inequality a signature issue of their tenures. De Blasio issued a tepid response to the task force’s recommendations, stating he would “assess it.”
Ron Kim, a New York state assemblyman from Queens, said the endeavor was “pitting communities against each other.” The city teachers union said administrators should improve instead of eliminating the gifted program.
“Every community has children who could thrive in a gifted and talented program, and it is our responsibility to help our children reach their full potential,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
An “equitable” outcome for 4-year-olds subjected to a stressful and strenuous admissions process might not have anything to do with their race but instead with factors over which the mayor, his task force, or the schools’ chancellor have very little control.
“There is unquestionably an advantage for a child who has a married mother and father,” said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member. He discussed the New York schools’ dilemma last week on his podcast The Briefing. “There’s an unquestionable advantage for a child who is growing up in a thriving family, in a thriving neighborhood, in a thriving community,” he said. “There is every advantage for a child that has all of those structural assets even before arriving at the school at whatever age.”