Mayor de Blasio announced a plan on Friday to phase out the Gifted & Talented program from New York City public schools, sparking outrage and debate across the boroughs.
The controversial program tested incoming kindergarteners to identify “gifted and talented” students and set them on an accelerated learning track. The current cohort of first to fifth graders will finish out the program but Mayor de Blasio said it will be overhauled with a new plan, Brilliant NYC, which will offer accelerated learning options to students later on in elementary school.
“We’re going to train teachers and prepare schools to actually reach you as a child and bring out your gifts and abilities that would have been ignored if you were not accepted into one of those very small, very exclusive, Gifted and Talented programs previously,” the mayor said on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” on Friday.
“We’re going to reach 10 times more kids each year with accelerated learning,” he said.
Queens parents took to social media in criticism of the mayor’s announcement. “I’m livid and beside myself,” said Jean Hahn, a Rego Park parent and head of Queens Parents United.
“It tears down any opportunity for children who are more advanced and that need an academic push,” said Hahn. “Making vast changes to any policy, you should engage the public,” she said, adding that they were promised more public and parent engagement sessions.
This time, Department of Education Chancellor Meisha Porter says the Department of Education will turn to the community for input. “We want to hear from parents, community leaders, educators, and students,” she said on “The Brian Lehrer Show” alongside the Mayor.
“I know when we get out into communities, they will make it better. They will add more. And so we’re looking forward to engaging citywide and district-based conversations.”
Hahn’s daughter is in fifth grade and is part of the Gifted & Talented program. She was not accepted into the program for kindergarten even after taking a prep course, so they had the experience of one year of general education, said Hahn, until she was accepted for first grade and transferred schools to participate. “It really has made a world of difference for her,” said Hahn.
She recalled a lesson in her daughter’s second grade class where they were taught about Leonardo da Vinci and did a project on the artist.
An aspect of the Gifted & Talented program that she feels is important and overlooked is that teachers provide special emotional support in addition to the academics. “These kids need emotional support,” she said. “It’s different from honor students.”
Critics of the program say it leads to racial divides and that access to it is unequal. Some parents wish the program was more accessible in all schools.
“While the Gifted & Talented program is good for those special students, we want the everyday child to be able to have a good basic education,” said Michael Duncan, a Queens activist and founder of the Students Improvement Association.
“Our children in our community didn’t really have much access to them anyway,” said Duncan, who advocates for education improvements in Southeast Queens District 29.
“For the majority of them, the gifted and talented wouldn’t be for them because they’re not even ready to get to that level,” said Duncan.
Phil Wong, former president of Woodside-based CEC 24, says the Gifted & Talented program should not only be expanded but also aggressively promoted, especially in neighborhoods with less access to it.
“We have this problem right now because so many poor neighborhoods had the G&T program cancelled,” said Wong. He and former City Council candidate Donghui Zang are organizing a rally tomorrow outside the Manhattan DOE headquarters in favor of keeping the program.
Queens officials weighed in on the announcement, also calling for more widespread and improved gifted and talented programs.
“Mayor de Blasio’s decision to phase out the Gifted and Talented program instead of making it more inclusive with improved resources, is shortsighted and inappropriate, especially as his term ends in a couple of months,” said State Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) in a statement.
“I understand the desire to increase diversity in our Gifted and Talented programs, but getting rid of the program and exchanging it with a replacement program that is dumped on us with minimal parent input isn’t the answer,” he added.
Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) also touched on the fact that de Blasio’s term is almost up. “It is my hope that the incoming administration reconsiders this decision and offers full parental and community engagement on this important issue,” he said.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) is also calling for improvements to the program. “Reforming the process would be the harder choice, and instead of making any adjustments, the City is taking the easier way out by implementing a mass elimination of the program,” she said.