Posted on October 8, 2021

De Blasio to Phase Out N.Y.C. Gifted and Talented Program

Eliza Shapiro, New York Times, October 8, 2021

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday unveiled a plan to overhaul gifted and talented education in New York City elementary schools, calling for sweeping changes to a highly selective program that has been widely criticized for exacerbating segregation in the nation’s largest school system.

Under Mr. de Blasio’s plan — released when he has just three months left in office — elementary school students who are currently enrolled in gifted classes would become the final cohort in the existing program.

The system would be replaced by a program that offers the possibility of accelerated learning to students in the later years of elementary school. And the test given to kindergarten students to screen for the gifted program, already suspended in part because the city’s advisory school board refused to renew it last year, would be permanently ended.


Mr. de Blasio has been criticized for not taking forceful action to fulfill his promise of tackling inequality in public schools. {snip}

Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor and the prohibitive favorite to win next month’s election, has rejected calls to get rid of gifted classes, and has instead said he favors an expansion of the programs into low-income neighborhoods. Experts have said that plan would do little to integrate the programs without more direct changes to admissions.


The mayor’s action attempts to address what the city has known for decades: Its gifted and talented program has contributed to racially segregated classrooms and schools for thousands of students citywide.

Though about 70 percent of the roughly 1 million public school students in New York are Black and Latino, about 75 percent of the roughly 16,000 students in gifted elementary school classes are white or Asian American. For years, rising kindergarten students have gained access to the program via a high-stakes exam that some families pay tutors to help their children prepare for.

The programs are considered a crucial stepping stone for students seeking to advance into competitive middle and high schools. Many parents, including Black and Latino parents, have sought out gifted classes as an alternative to the city’s struggling district schools, and have come to rely on them as a way to set their children up for future success.

But many other parents and experts say the system has worsened segregation and weakened instruction for children who are not in the gifted track.


Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Meisha Porter, who was appointed this year and has a good relationship with the mayor, has been instrumental in pushing him to fundamentally alter the gifted and talented program, according to people with knowledge of the last several months of intensive negotiations on the issue.


Reversing Mr. de Blasio’s plan could be difficult. The high-stakes admissions exam for young children was unpopular and broadly criticized by experts. {snip}


A well-organized group of parents who back keeping gifted classes in some form, with support from elected officials like State Senator John C. Liu, a Democrat from Queens, have criticized the mayor in recent months for preparing a new system without getting input from parents. Many of those families have children who attend school in Manhattan’s District 2, one of the city’s whitest and wealthiest school districts.

The mayor’s earlier push to eliminate the admissions exam for the city’s most elite high schools, including Stuyvesant High School, failed after he announced the plan without first seeking feedback from the many thousands of Asian American parents whose children would be most affected. Those families spent months forcefully pushing back against the plan, and their opposition ultimately helped defeat it in the State Legislature.


The mayor has faced eight years of private pressure on the issue from his three schools chancellors, all of whom have been skeptical of, if not completely opposed to, separate gifted classes.

The mayor’s first chancellor, Carmen Fariña, got rid of gifted classes in the Manhattan elementary school she ran for many years as a principal. The second chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, resigned earlier this year, in part because he was frustrated by what he considered the mayor’s reluctance to take bold action on gifted and talented education.

While Mr. de Blasio’s announcement represents a major shift for New York, it is hardly pioneering. Only about 10 percent of districts nationwide have entirely separate gifted classrooms and schools, according to Halley Potter, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank.