Monday, October 11, 2021

Yes, the Mayor finally acted to phase-out the gifted program, but as usual, too late and in the wrong way

On Friday, Mayor de Blasio announced that he was finally going to phase-out the much-criticized Gifted and Talented program, which sorts and selects students on the basis of a single standardized test at the age of four.  On this blog and elsewhere I have long criticized this program, which has a segregating effect on our schools, given that the vast majority of kids who test “gifted” are white and Asian while most kids in the NYC public schools are Black and Latinx. 

Indeed, shortly after then-Chancellor Joel Klein announced back in 2009 that he would institute admissions to these classes via a single high-stakes test, we critiqued this and ran blog posts by others, among them Debbie Meier decrying this policy, even as other outlets, including the NY Times , ignored or downplayed the discriminatory impact of this program. 

A few words about classes for gifted students:  there is no research that backs the benefits of separating kids so early according to the results of any one standardized test – and much research against it.

The question is why the Mayor waited so so long indeed to the very end of his eight years  in office to do this, given that he promised to reform the gifted program when he first ran for office in 2013.  Later, in 2019, his own School Diversity Advisory Group advised him to eliminate the program  and establish system-wide enrichment instead that would benefit all students.  Last year, his own hand-picked members on the Panel of Education Policy voted against approving the contract with Pearson for the test used to assess four year olds, but he insisted on continuing for another year, even the in midst of the pandemic, and his stubborn insistence reportedly contributed to the decision of Chancellor Carranza to resign.  Because de Blasio waited so long, it will be very easy for our next Mayor who takes office in January to reverse this decision.

Yet even if it is implemented, I concerns about the new program that the Mayor and Chancellor announced to take its place will be structured.  This plan,  with the flashy title of "Brilliant NYC" involves training  Kindergarten teachers on how to  "learn to observe and identify students' strengths" to provide certain ones with special treatment. In addition, "seven borough-wide teams of experts will work with schools to support implementation." Then starting in second grade, "all students will be universally subject area to determine here their strengths lie in order to tailor accelerated instruction." 

It actually sounds like more top-heavy bureaucracy and more standardized testing, exactly what they don’t need, with little help  or support for teachers to actually individualize their instruction, given class sizes of 25, 30 or more.

Despite all the rhetoric, and the seven borough-wide teams, it will be more difficult for teachers to effectively reach students at all different levels, given the large class sizes in our schools. Instead, the Mayor should have paired the elimination of the gifted classes with a program to start lowering class size, starting in the earliest grades.  That would be an initiative with proven results for all kids, whether they are struggling or more advanced, to ensure they get the support and feedback they need.  See what Shino Tanikawa, a member of the Mayor's School Diversity Advisory Group, and I wrote a couple of years ago in the Daily News, about this very issue.

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