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NYC Mayor Promises Gifted School Programs for 2021: How This Could Benefit ALL Kids

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and his School Chancellor Richard Carranza have been railing against elementary school Gifted & Talented programs since they both stepped into office. (Despite not having a very good grasp of what ‘gifted’ actually meant or why NYC families were so desperate for the meager programming the Department of Education offered. Click here for more on that.)

When the pandemic struck, accelerated education activists were terrified that the Chancellor’s promise to “never waste a good crisis” meant he’d use the resulting upheaval as an opportunity to unilaterally get rid of all the programming he hadn’t been able to abolish via democratic means.

The best I could do to calm families was to assure that this administration was too incompetant to be Machiavellian

I didn’t realize they were also too cowardly.

When given the chance to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, Mayor De Blasio… didn’t.

On January 12, 2021, he announced that Gifted & Talented testing and placement would continue for one more year. After which the city would reevaluate and reimagine the entire program, including assessment and instruction.

In other words, he kicked the can down the road for the next Mayor to deal with, as De Blasio’s term concludes at the end of this year.

But just like Hizzoner’s tug-of-war with NY Governor Andrew Cuomo over who really had the authority to open or close schools, the Mayor’s own hand-picked Panel For Education Policy threw him a curveball a little after midnight on January 28 when they voted down the contract with the testing company scheduled to administer the exam.

Unbowed, a few hours later, the Mayor was still promising:

NYC parents are very, very familiar by now with the DOE’s promise that information will be coming “soon.”

They wondered how the city could still test for G&T placement without a G&T test?

Prior to the current, standardized admission system, parents had been allowed to submit private testing results for consideration, such as the Stanford-Binet V or the WPPSI. In addition, teacher recommendations were accepted.

Since not all families have the means for private testing, and since not all children are currently enrolled in a preschool program, perhaps both methods could be considered this year, with all qualifying students entered into a lottery.

Or perhaps it could just be a straight lottery with no pre-qualification.

After all, if the DOE could get rid of academic and talent screening for middle schools because it was unfair to assess 4th graders on what they’d learned, how could it be fair to assess 4 year olds on what they might be able to learn?

But that’s outrageous, I can hear some parents screaming. How could you place a child in an accelerated academic program without first testing whether they’d be capable of doing the work?

Here is the thing, though: Every year, two-thirds of students who qualify for a Citywide, and one half of students who qualify for a District gifted program, are shut out due to a lack of seats based on the whims of a random lottery. 

In some areas of NYC, such as the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, Downtown Manhattan and Brownstone Brooklyn, over 50% of the students are in the top 10th percentile.

G&T is a self-selected program. If a parent thinks their child belongs in G&T, if a parent puts in the work to prepare their child for taking the G&T test, then the child will likely do fine in G&T, especially if their parents continue to get them tutored, which is how most “high-performing” schools get their results, anyway

In other words: Any child from a family who makes the effort to get them into G&T, will do fine in G&T.

Especially since what we in America call accelerated education would be considered General Ed in Europe and Asia. Which means any child can do the work, if they are taught properly.

As I wrote back in August of 2018 about Chancellor Carranza’s confusion regarding what “gifted” meant:

He told Chalkbeat: We probably should be really clear about what we mean about truly gifted. The student that is doing algebra in the third grade, that’s a gifted kid.

Funny story: Earlier this month, a commentator took exception to my post, 5 Secrets NYC Department of Ed Doesn’t Want Parents To Know About Gifted & Talented Programs. I wrote how programs weren’t all that accelerated as even in the citywide schools, Algebra is only taught starting in middle school, whereas in Europe and Asia, all kids begin studying it around 4th grade.

The commentator countered, “In NYC we learned Algebra in 5th grade not 7th and I went to a regular non-gifted school. The kids I teach are in a regular public school and with Common Core now Algebra is being included in their 3rd grade math curriculum.”

I directed him to this post: I Thought I Was Taking Algebra But It Was Really Pre-Algebra.

But how hilarious would it be if NYC’s General Ed curriculum did include Algebra in 3rd grade… but our own School Chancellor thought that was something only truly gifted kids could do?

Here is another Algebra-based story from a review of the book, “Dumbing Down America: The War On Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (And What We Can Do To Fight Back)” by James Deliesle:

In defining his own strict notion of a gifted child, Delisle writes on page 127, “These kids (and adults)… understand that although it’s not always politically correct to tell people that the guy behind the curtain in Emerald City is not a wizard but merely a man, they feel compelled to make the obvious known.” Then, on page 137, he relays the anecdote of a boy from Rumania who was left behind in school because he didn’t speak English. Once little Vitale could make himself understood, he explained that he’d already done Algebra back in 4th grade in Rumania (not in itself a sign of giftedness, as that’s standard curriculum in Eastern Europe). Delisle writes, “When asked why he hadn’t mentioned that he had such advanced math skills, Vitale responded that he didn’t want to appear rude and ask for something more challenging.” So it would seem that politically incorrect, compelling rudeness is only a symptom of high intelligence in America?

Why am I telling you these stories? Because I want to make clear how meaningless the gifted label is in American education, and how watered down the curriculum is even for the supposedly advanced students.

Because I’m a notorious optimist, I’m looking at the bright side of a year where students can apply for Gifted & Talented programs via lottery rather than testing. And what I see is:

  • The kids who get into G&T via lottery will be no cognitively different than the kids who would have gotten in via testing. Sure, a student who otherwise might have gotten a 94 on the test might luck into a citywide school that previously only accepted those who scored 97+. But considering how unreliable testing of 4 year olds is, that’s not a meaningful difference. (I know this from my own three kids, as well as all the families I work with, where a child might qualify for Second Round at Hunter College Elementary, but tank the G&T test, score in the 99th percentile in G&T but rank in the low 70s when applying to private school.) And yes, a student who might have scored a 99 might be placed in an Enriched District, rather than an Accelerated Citywide school, but that already happens now, due to the aforementioned lack of seats in all programs.
  • The kids who get into G&T via lottery will do as well as those who previously got in via testing, opening the door for an opt-in program where any parent who wants their child on an accelerated track can simply sign them up — and there are enough seats for everybody due to the DOE listening to families and actually doing their jobs. (Don’t make the assumption that all parents would want this. I’ve worked with multiple families who turned down G&T for dual language programs or progressive schools. The goal is to give every family the school choice they want.)
  • The kids who get into G&T via lottery will do as well as those who previously got in via testing, and the DOE realizes that all NYC children are capable of so, so much more than the watered down curriculum they’ve been saddling them with, and raise the bar across the board, so that all children get an “accelerated” (i.e. perfectly normal in the rest of the world) education, which benefits everybody in the long run.
  • Just like with kids who got in via testing, some kids who get in via lottery will do well, some will fall behind, and some will still need more challenging material, proving to the DOE that education cannot possibly be one size fits all. This opens the door to letting all kids proceed through all subjects at their own pace, which benefits everybody in the long run.

Mayor De Blasio promised families, “You will have an opportunity to apply for those programs this year.” 

Will he also take advantage of the opportunity to make it so that this – his last year in office – actually lays the groundwork for increasing educational opportunity for all students?

What do you think? Tell us in the Comments!

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