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NYC’s Gifted and Talented Programs Need Accessibility, Not Elimination.

The New York Times reports that “[a]  group of selective schools and programs geared to students labeled gifted and talented is filled mostly with white and Asian children,” even though the vast majority of the 1.1 million students in New York City are Black and Latinx. And so a “high-level panel appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio” recommends that the city get rid of the G&T programs “in an effort to desegregate the system.”

This is a terrible idea, one that is personal, because I was in G&T classes throughout my public education.

Eliminating the Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs in the New York City Department of Education hardly seem like a solutions-oriented approach to this particular issue — one of many, I might add — of inequitable access to a high-quality education for all students, not just the White and Asian ones.

Are schools that have taught predominantly Asian and White students prepared to teach Black and Latinx students — talented and gifted or otherwise? More specifically, are the administrators who lead and educators who teach in these specialized schools ready to address the needs of a demographic with whom they’ve had minimal professional engagement? Such change would require sweeping professional development of not just content-training but social-emotional learning, implicit and explicit biases, and culturally-responsive pedagogy.

The changes that Mayor DeBlasio’s task force has proposed, in order to have a chance of working, must include in its implementation more employment of Black and Brown teachers to ensure that diversity is met at every level of the education that NYC schools provide. Simply put and for the umpteenth time, the teacher pool in the NYC DOE needs to be more reflective of the students educated within it. True desegregation of schools must include the desegregation of the teaching staff in these schools. 

Just like special education students, G&T students require a different approach to academic engagement than what is offered in general education classrooms. We would not think of getting rid of a student’s Individualized Education Plan. It would be a federal violation to do so. Getting rid of G&T programs should yield the same public outcry. Not providing students classified as G&T with the challenge and rigor that their aptitude and mental prowess requires often leads to increased behavioral issues and decreased academic focus. 

Instead of abandoning talented and gifted programs, why can’t a seismic paradigm shift occur in how students are selected?  There are a slew of Black and Brown children who are just as talented and gifted as their Asian and White counterparts, but get overlooked because their parents don’t know that such a program exists or when the tests to get into the G&T program are administered or their teachers don’t recognize their talents and abilities.

It’s been decades — excuse me — centuries of systemic racism and inequitable practices within the NYC DOE that have kept Black and Brown students out of traditional G&T programs. This is what needs changing — access — not an obliteration of G&T programs across the board. Open up the opportunity to partake in G&T programs to ALL students who qualify, not just the White and Asian ones. That omission of Black and Brown students from these academic spaces goes back to the belief gap that many educators have about the brightness of Black and Brown students. This faulty and biased thinking is one that many Asian and White parents of G&T children have, too. They just don’t want their kids around Black and Brown children. We saw the public outcry from parents on the Upper West Side at just the mention of the City reserving a percentage of seats for Black and Brown students in specialized schools.

Additionally, the Times article states that “[t]he proposals, contained in a report to be released on Tuesday, may also face opposition from some middle-class black and Hispanic families that have called for more gifted programs in mostly minority neighborhoods as a way to offer students of color more access to high-quality schools.”

 I am a member of this cohort. Accessibility, not elimination, is what’s needed.

Some of the recommendations of the committee do not resonate with me for they seem to assert that academic excellence is not a requirement for being in a  G&T program. I disagree. Being a cut above the rest — at least on a standardized test— is a very real part of one being deemed G&T. Is there room for revision for these requirements? Absolutely. For example, lateness and attendance need to be considered as criteria for admission, but not so much so that it would exclude students with extenuating circumstances,. This is where cultural relevance and knowledge of student demographics becomes important.

I will state this again because I believe it’s worth repeating: The truth is that no matter what changes are or aren’t made, some White and Asian parents and students are racists and do not want their children to be educated in classrooms alongside Black and Brown students. They will pick up and move to private/parochial schools before they allow that to happen. That’s what G&T Black and Brown students are up against — the belief that even when they exceed above and beyond, they are not accepted. Sometimes sending Black and Brown students into these hostile “diverse” schools is really not safe for them. 

This is what leads me back to my recommendation of a true separate but equal system because — let’s face it — the separate part is already in place and the separate part is what most people want.  The separate part is what makes the NYC DOE and its G&T woes a microcosm of our racially-divided America. Brown versus Board of Education meant to end separate but equal practices in the American educational system. It’s yet to be properly implemented. The equal part still has not happened.

And so I have my own recommendation for Mayor de Blasio: Offer the same rigorous G&T programs in the schools that are overwhelmingly Black and Brown. Anything other than that is a thinly-veiled form of modern-day educational deprivation and neglect.

What do you think?

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