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NYC Endorses Gifted & Talented Approach Determined To Do Least Good For All Students (But Especially Minority and Low Income Ones)

On August 26, 2019, New York City’s School Advisory Diversity Group (SADG) proposed that the ideal way to integrate schools would be to get rid of stand alone Gifted and Talented Citywide and District programs, and replace them with an Enrichment For All Model.

What would that look like?

Chalkbeat reported at the time: (I)t might involve something called “schoolwide enrichment models” — an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics….For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism…

I countered:  I’m all for the arts and more specialty electives. My daughter, a struggling learner, has benefitted so much from being able to participate in student council, where she can show off her non-academic strengths. (Talking; she is very good at talking.) But the key word here is: Electives. How does being able to take photos, direct videos, and make robots keep boredom at bay during traditional subjects for kids who are reading chapter books in Kindergarten and experimenting with math algorithms in 2nd grade? Because the report isn’t suggesting replacing traditional subjects with the above, is it? It’s proposing them in addition to. That’s what “enrichment” means.

After a rough remote learning year, during which parents at PS 163 lamented, “The school has effectively (while denying that it has done so) eliminated its G&T and dual language program by creating cohorts which blend students from both these programs and Gen Ed (and) claiming that it will somehow offer “enrichment” to the G&T students on an ad hoc basis, but it has not provided any specifics, and no one is buying it,” the Upper West Side of Manhattan school announced that it would be accepting no new students for G&T in September of 2021, effectively terminating the program. 

Principal Danny Lopez used gentler language in his letter to parents dated March 17, 2021, writing:

We will begin to phase out our kindergarten Gifted and Talented (G+T) program. The G+T Program will remain in grades 1-5 until the program will gradually sunset. This decision was made following extensive community engagement and is aligned with our school vision and commitment to advancing equity and accelerating learning for all students.”

West Side Rag elaborates:

Parents say Lopez has told them PS 163 will switch to a more inclusive enrichment program to replace G&T in the future. He created an ‘Enrichment Committee’ to collaborate on plans for this alternate program.

A PS 163 parent familiar with the work of this committee wrote me in response:

The committee has struggled to get out of the gate and form a common understanding of what “enrichment” is. One parent did the work of researching other programs around the world and came up with a synthesis of two types of enrichment: differential learning (especially for math and, to a lesser extent, reading) and project-based work (for science, technology, possibly social studies, and non-core subjects). The principal did not let the parent present her work and insisted that all the ideas would come from him. So far, however, the sum and substance of his ideas have been one slide showing two word problems. When questioned as to how these word problems would differ from something offered in Gen Ed, the principal had no answer. After all, this type of problem is very much offered on the statewide math test mandatory for all students (except this year), and while it might be advanced for Kindergarten, it’s far too simple for 3rd Grade. What standard is “enrichment” measured against? Overall, the principal has not been able to articulate what, if anything, enrichment would offer that would be academically more challenging or advanced than what is already offered in Gen Ed. When asked how the school would “measure the success” of its enrichment program, the principal said he didn’t understand the question.  

According to The Hechinger Report, a study entitled Do Students in Gifted Programs Perform Better? Linking Gifted Program Participants to Achievement and Nonachievement Outcomes will be published this month in the journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Author Jill Barshay titled her summary of their findings, PROOF POINTS: Gifted programs provide little to no academic boost, new study says; National study finds Black students and low-income children don’t reap the small gains achieved by white, Asian and high-income children.

Well, that seems pretty clear and definitive.

Except that you have to read through fifteen paragraphs explaining how the study reached its conclusion before arriving at the following caveat (four paragraphs from the very end of the document):

Perhaps it should be no surprise that students aren’t achieving more in gifted classrooms when most educators admit they don’t even try to teach advanced material in them. A 2019 survey of teachers in gifted programs found they primarily focused on “enrichment activities,” such as creative, fun projects and critical thinking exercises and discussions, keeping children on grade-level material, rather than moving them ahead to advanced academic content. 

This bombshell was followed immediately by:

The research consensus, by contrast, argues for propelling high achieving children ahead. “This acceleration question is a really important one,” said Redding, arguing that researchers need to re-examine ideas for exceptionally advanced kids, from starting kindergarten early and skipping a grade to giving advanced instruction in a particular subject. “We need to learn whether other approaches would be more beneficial for supporting gifted students versus some sort of a pullout or enrichment model.”

So gifted programs don’t benefit students (especially minority and low income ones) because “enrichment” isn’t an effective method for offering advanced academic content to children capable of doing such work. (Which, as I’ve said over and over again, includes many, many more students than those who are identified via a test at the age of four. It’s why I’ve long advocated a pure “opt in” program. Which will also help with the integration issue.)

We’re sure that those who support the elimination of G&T programs were utterly delighted when they spied The Hechinger Report headline.

We strongly recommend they read through to the very end.

And maybe take a second look at the “Enrichment For All” model that SDAG insists will benefit all NYC students.

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