De Blasio to phase out NYC Gifted and Talented Program

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday he plans to overhaul New York City’s gifted and talented education system, a radical change for the nation’s largest public school system that could be the mayor’s most important act during the last months of his mandate.

The mayor’s action attempts to address what the city has known for decades: Its highly selective curriculum for the gifted and talented has led to a racially separate learning environment for thousands of elementary students across the city . The program will no longer exist for new kindergarten students next fall, and within a few years it will be completely phased out, the mayor said.

Students currently enrolled in gifted classes will become the last cohort of the existing system, which will be replaced by a program offering accelerated learning to all students in the final years of elementary school.

But Mr. de Blasio, whose mandate is limited, will leave the town hall at the end of December. His almost certain successor, Eric Adams, will choose which parts of the plan he wants to implement – or whether to implement it at all.

“Eric will evaluate the plan and reserves the right to implement policies based on the needs of students and parents, should he become mayor,” said Evan Thies, spokesperson for Mr. Adams. “It is clear that the Ministry of Education needs to improve the outcomes of children in low income areas. “

Barring a major reversal, the phase-out of the existing curriculum will remove a major component of what many see as the city’s two-tier education system, in which a relatively small group of students, largely white and Asian American, will have access to the highest standard-performing schools, while many black and Latino children remain in struggling schools.

Gifted and talented programs are in high demand, largely because they help propel students through selective middle and high schools, effectively putting children on a parallel path to their general education peers. Many parents, including black and Latino parents, sought out gifted classrooms as an alternative to the city’s struggling district schools and came to rely on them to prepare their children for future success.

But other parents and researchers argue that the programs deepen segregation and weaken education for children who are not in the gifted path.

Mr de Blasio said in a radio appearance on Friday that he believed the new program would be well received by many parents, as many more children would have the opportunity to receive accelerated learning than under the gifted and talented system.

“I bet a lot of parents are going to look at this plan and say it’s a reason to stay” in public schools, he said.

New York, which relies more on selective admissions than any other major system in America, is home to one of the most racially segregated school systems in the country.

The move represents one of Mr. de Blasio’s most dramatic moves to address this issue, though it also brings New York City more in tune with how other cities are approaching their own separate gifted classes.

About 75 percent of the approximately 16,000 students in gifted elementary school classes in New York City are white or Asian American. These groups represent about 25 percent of the entire school system, which serves about 1 million students. For years, these students entered gifted kindergarten programs by passing a standardized test.

Although the mayor has long vowed to tackle inequality in the city’s schools, he has come under heavy criticism for not taking stronger action against desegregation until the end of his town hall. He largely avoided the subject of the gifted and talented for most of his two terms and seemed wary of a political reaction to any major change.

His school’s chancellor, Meisha Porter, who was appointed this year, was instrumental in pushing him to fundamentally change the gifted and talented program, according to people familiar with the last few months of intensive negotiations on the issue.

The change presents an unfortunate challenge for Mr Adams, the Democratic mayoral candidate, who is expected to implement a whole new gifted education system in his first year in office.

Mr. Adams took a very different approach to the gifted and the talented: keeping the classes, but raising them in the lower-income neighborhoods. While this idea has been questioned by researchers, who said it wouldn’t do much to fit into programs, it is popular with some parents, including Black and Latino families who want more gifted options. .

The next mayor could technically reverse Mr de Blasio’s plan, but that could be difficult. The high-stakes entrance exam for young children was unpopular and widely criticized by experts. Mr Adams is likely to come up with an alternative admissions system in the first few months of his term, a complex and politically heavy task.

As part of Mr. de Blasio’s plan, New York City will no longer accept kindergarten students in gifted separate classes or schools starting next fall. Instead, the city will train all of its kindergarten teachers – around 4,000 educators – to accommodate students who need accelerated learning in their general education classes. The city does not yet have an estimate of the cost of the training, although it is expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars.

The city will definitely eliminate the much-criticized entrance exam which classified 4-year-olds in gifted classes. Some parents have paid for test preparation in the hope that their children will pass the exam. Mr de Blasio kept the test in place for most of his tenure, despite almost universal pressure from researchers studying the education of the gifted to do away with it.

Rather, the city will assess all rising third-graders, using past work and their teachers’ contributions, to determine whether they need higher-level education in specific subjects, for one or two periods per year. day.

The mayor has yet to seek feedback from parent groups or elected officials on his gifted and talented plan, which has been kept under wraps for months as it was finalized. Officials said he plans to consult with families and educators on the plan in October and November, and that aspects of the proposal may change before he leaves office.

We do not yet know, for example, what will happen to the five schools in the city which exclusively welcome children considered to be gifted. Officials said parental input will inform their decisions on how to reshape these schools.

A well-organized group of parents who support the maintenance of gifted classes in one form or another, with the support of elected officials like State Senator John C. Liu, a Democrat from Queens, has slammed the mayor in recent months for planning a new system without getting parents’ advice. Many of these families have children attending school in Manhattan District 2, one of the city’s whitest and wealthiest school districts.

Robin Kelleher, an elected relative from District 2, said on Friday that Mr de Blasio’s announcement sounded like a “political coup” and that the mayor would leave a pile of “bloody broken bone fragments” for Mr Adams cleans.

The mayor’s previous attempt to eliminate the entrance exam to the city’s most elite high schools, including Stuyvesant High School, failed after announcing the plan without first soliciting input from thousands of American parents. Asian origin whose children would be the most affected. These families spent months forcefully pushing back the plan, and their opposition ultimately helped bring it down in the state legislature.

The mayor’s other major move on integration, a plan announced late last year to remove certain admission requirements to competitive middle and high schools, has been rolled out without significant public comment.

Although changes to admissions to the city’s specialist high schools are subject to legislative approval, Mr de Blasio has full authority over all other schools, including gifted programs.

The mayor’s plan for the future of gifted education is similar to a proposal made in 2019 by a working group he convened on school integration measures – a plan he had, until present, largely ignored.

Although the general outcry from activists undoubtedly played a part in the mayor’s decision, nearly eight years of private pressure was even more significant from the three chancellors of the mayor’s schools, all of whom were skeptical, if not totally opposed, to separate gifted classes. .

The mayor’s first chancellor, Carmen Fariña, got rid of the gifted classes at Manhattan Elementary School that she led for many years as principal. Second Chancellor Richard A. Carranza resigned earlier this year, in part because he was frustrated by what he saw as the mayor’s reluctance to take bold action to educate the gifted and talented.

If Mr. de Blasio’s announcement represents a major change for New York, it is hardly a pioneer. According to Halley Potter, a member of the Century Foundation, a think tank, only about 10% of the country’s districts have fully separate classrooms and schools.

Some experts believe that labeling students as gifted and removing them altogether from general education classes often exacerbates segregation by removing resources from mainstream public schools and siphoning off the strongest students and teachers in different classrooms and schools. The researchers argued that children who need special support in certain subjects can still receive appropriate attention in normal classrooms.

But it takes several thousand city educators to do one of the toughest jobs in public education – teaching children with a wide range of abilities in one classroom, a practice known as of differentiation.

Jonathan Plucker, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Education and supporter of gifted education, said the elimination of the examination for young children and the new approach to screening was welcome and expected news.

But he said the hope that children can all be accommodated equally well in the same classroom by training teachers to differentiate between students was not supported by the research.

“Differentiation is like a fuzzy blue unicorn, it would be great if everyone had one, I’m just not sure that’s possible,” said Mr Plucker, who the city consulted on its plan. “There’s no shame in saying differentiation is really, really hard. We have decades of studies that say it’s not easy.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Teachers’ Federation, criticized the timing of the mayor’s announcement. “It’s a bit late in the game,” he said.

Precious Fondren contributed reporting.

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