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NYC Cuts Gifted School Programs, Unveils New Approach Proven To Fail Poor & Minority Students Most

On Friday, October 8, 2021 (right before a long holiday weekend, as per usual), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio decreed that Gifted and Talented programming would be discontinued in public schools as of September 2022. (Remember that engagement he promised with families and communities to hear their thoughts on the matter? Didn’t happen.)

Hizzoner announced that, come the new academic year, “We’re investing in training all 4,000 kindergarten teachers so they can create rich learning environments in their classroom and learn to observe and identify students’ strengths and use that knowledge to differentiate learning within the classroom. Classrooms will house different instructional levels and tap into student’s unique interests.”

School Chancellor Meisha Porter added, ‘With the expansion of accelerated learning to all 65,000 students, 26 times more students will benefit from this tailored instructional model in its first year alone.”

OK, let’s break down some terms.

First of all, even existing G&T programs don’t necessarily offer “accelerated” instruction. The only ones who officially offer it are the five citywide schools, Anderson, NEST+M, TAG, Brooklyn School of Inquiry and The 30th Avenue School. These schools teach the standard NYC General Education curriculum one year in advance. 

The remaining district G&T programs are not officially accelerated. They are officially “enriched.” “Enrichment For All” was what the School Advisory Group (SDAG) advised all schools to switch to back in 2019. This fits the “tap into student’s unique interests” portion of the reimagined program.

The newly monikered “Brilliant NYC” claims they will train 4,000 public school Kindergarten teachers to “observe and identify students’ strengths and use that knowledge to differentiate learning within the classroom.”

Teachers currently working in G&T classrooms have presumably already received this training. Yet, parents regularly lament to us that there is no actual differentiation going on.

Despite NYC insisting that 97% of their teachers are either “effective” or “highly effective,” families have seen for themselves that this is far from the case. (If there are good and bad doctors, good and bad politicians, good and bad plumbers and, certainly, good and bad cops, why would the teaching profession be exempt from a similar bell curve?)

If experienced and certified G&T teachers have trouble differentiating instruction in a more homogeneous classroom, what are the odds that 4,000 new teachers hastily trained over the summer will be up to the task in a class with students at many more different academic levels?

Furthermore, let’s talk about the term “Accelerated.” As in “the expansion of accelerated learning to all.”

“Accelerated” is not an absolute term. “Accelerated’ is not a curriculum, it is not a lesson plan, and it is not an independent approach to education.

“Accelerated” has to be in relation to something.

Currently, students in citywide G&T schools receive an “accelerated” curriculum in that they are taught the standard curriculum one year in advance.

If the city has promised “accelerated for all,” does that mean that all students will now receive the same instruction that was previously only restricted to citywide students?

Great! Wonderful! I have been advocating for raising the academic bar since this post in 2017, when the students who will be entering Kindergarten in 2022 were first born.

This is a fabulous first step for enriching the learning experience of all. Bravo, Mayor de Blasio! Better late than never!

Except now, we have a problem again. Accelerated For All (whatever that may mean) is going back to One Size Fits All.

And anyone who has ever observed more than one child knows that no two children develop in the same way, on the same timeline.

What we call Gifted & Talented education in the United States would be considered General Ed… and three years ago, in many parts of Europe and Asia.

American children are capable of so, so much more than what is currently offered them.

So what happens to the students for whom acceleration by one measly American academic year still isn’t enough?

I often ask the question, “If a student speaks Spanish at home and is completely fluent, does it make sense to put them into Spanish 1 when they start school ?”

“Well, no, of course not,” comes the answer.

“So why then, does it make sense to put a child who is already reading Harry Potter into a class still learning how to sound out letters, or a child solving for X in a grade practicing single digit addition?”

Well, the answer comes back, that’s because those children were prepped outside of school, and it’s unfair to let them get ahead of those who weren’t. We demand equal outcomes for all! No Bronx High School alum should receive the Nobel Prize unless all do! (You think we’re kidding?)

Two things:

One) I know there are those who don’t believe it, but kids do exist who teach themselves to read and do math without adult interference or pressure

Two) So what if they’re prepped outside of school? That’s how those parents chose to raise their children. The same way some families choose to introduce their children to music or sports or a second language. Why should they be penalized because other families made different child-rearing decisions?

Brilliant NYC proposes to solve the above quandary by “observing and identifying students’ strengths” in order to provide “tailored instruction” for all.

NYC public schools are currently 28 students per one Kindergarten teacher. This goes up to 32 students in 1st grade.

How will this promised level of individualization be possible in a classroom where students come in at wildly different levels of preparedness when we know it isn’t even happening in classrooms where kids have been pre-screened to be as academically similar as possible? (Even small private schools don’t promise this much. The few who do are soon faced with an exodus of disappointed families.)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been buried in media coverage asserting that nobody had it harder than teachers. Not the doctors overwhelmed by emergency room admissions. Not the paramedics who responded to the desperate calls. Not the people who worked in sweltering warehouses packing the items you asked to be shipped because you didn’t want to physically go into stores, not the people who brought those items to your doors, and not the ones who remained working in the stores for those items you couldn’t get delivered.

Teachers had it harder than anyone else. All teachers are heroes. (Before you send the hate mail about how I couldn’t possibly understand what it was like for teachers or their families who lived in terror of getting infected and bringing COVID home, my husband is a teacher. Who taught in-person all through 2020-2021. I am not making fun of teachers. I am making fun of the hysterical media coverage that lionized them above all other essential workers. Many of whom did not have a work from home option.)

What NYC is asking of teachers with Brilliant NYC as proposed – we’ve been promised exact details in “December” – is impossible. Full stop. Even those willing to be run ragged and come up with 28 separate lesson plans for 28 separate students based on skill level and particular interest area, will fail.

Which means that Brilliant NYC will fail.

We realize that Mayor de Blasio won’t care. Like when his former chancellor Richard Carranza, prior to literally fleeing the state, urged the NY Assembly to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) by saying “All I need is for the legislature to get out of the way, repeal that law and then hold me accountable for the quality of those schools,” Mayor de Blasio will be long out of office by the time the full scale of his incompetence is quantified and exposed.

As an immediate result of his last minute, lame duck move, some families will exit the public school system for private and charter options, and some will leave NYC altogether. For many, the promise of a gifted public school was the only thing keeping them in place.

In the meantime, as always, it’s the children of NYC who will suffer. Those who require more than “Accelerated For All” will suffer. Those who have less than “efficient” teachers incapable of differentiation will suffer — with no recourse for replacing them. 

Those who might need extra help will suffer in the push to prove that anyone can manage the new curriculum, there’s no reason to track students, and those whom teachers have a tendency to overlook – especially, as it has been repeatedly determined, minority students, English language learners, and low-income kids — will continue to be overlooked in a classroom whose stated goal has already been proven impossible even before the first day of school 2022.

Brilliant NYC also promises to screen all students in 3rd grade to see if they warrant continuing being “accelerated.” Forget that we don’t know how they’ll be screened, using what metric, and who will do the screening. Forget that this doesn’t explain what will happen to those students deemed unworthy of continued acceleration. Will they do the year over? Will they remain in the same classroom as those still being accelerated? Is this the tracking  invoked earlier only pushed ahead a few years and with an even vaguer qualification criteria?

Focus instead on the fact that the above approach, where teachers assess what any individual student is capable of, has been determined to do the least good for all students – but especially minority and low-income ones.

You know, the students in whose name all this is allegedly for.

See what other admission changes are coming to NYC schools for both Kindergarten and High School 2022, below:

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “NYC Cuts Gifted School Programs, Unveils New Approach Proven To Fail Poor & Minority Students Most

  1. If they had periods then a teacher or child could move to the classroom for their level. Especially in ELA, Foreign pan gauge, Math, and science! We do it in high school so let’s do it in 2nd grade up. My 7 yo loves science and her class is learning things she already knows like habitats. She wants to do more hands on stuff.

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