achievement gap · Educational Equity · NYC Parent Voices · Parents Helping Parents

NYC School Drops Popular Gifted & Talented Program: A Parent’s Take

(In our May 10, 2021 post, NYC Endorses Gifted & Talented Approach Determined To Do Least Good For All Students (But Especially Minority and Low Income Ones), we printed an excerpt from a PS 163 parent about their school dropping its G&T program. We now present the letter in its entirety.)

On or around June 26, 2019 (the last day of the 2018-19 school year), parents got a letter (now lost to time) to the effect that the school would begin having “conversations” about improving “equity” at the school and what that would look like.  

Apparently, an Inclusion Committee (sometimes called the “Integration Committee”) was formed at some point thereafter. The Committee, picked by the principal, consisted of himself, the union rep, a Dual Language teacher, a G&T teacher (who happens to have publicly spoken against G&T, comparing it unfavorably with the Dual Language program, where her own kids were enrolled), and three parents, who are, I believe all on the PTA Exec. Board.  

There were, as far as I can tell, no communications to the school community about the Committee’s work until March 17, 2021, when we were advised in 1/2 paragraph that the G&T program would “sunset” as part of the school’s “commitment to advancing equity and accelerating learning for all students.” Apparently, the Committee had put together “reports” from both parent and teacher members which were “in favor of integration.”  At some point, the Committee had also come up with the school’s lengthy mission statement. In order to create some sort of a guide for “enrichment,” the school decided to form an advisory committee of parents, as well as some sort of a working group with the two aforementioned teachers. 

I believe this advisory committee on enrichment has now met 3 times. I am not on the advisory committee, so this information is second-hand. However, I have spoken to several people on it, whose information is consistent, and, I believe, reliable.  

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 differential learning would involve pooling students from different classrooms based on their level of attainment, coupled with periodic assessments which would allow students to move between levels (theoretically, the levels could be decoupled from grades). Project-based work would involve students rotating through several teacher-based projects, supplemented by extracurricular subject-matter clubs. 

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.  

At the third meeting, the principal announced that the work of the enrichment advisory committee and any work product it puts out would have to be guided by the school’s mission statement developed by the Inclusion Committee.  The mission starts with “bringing together a diverse group of students reflective of our neighborhood where students’ culturally [sic] and lived experiences are uplifted in the classroom.”  Words like “rigorous,” “advanced,” “challenging,” “standards,” “academic,” or even “education” do not appear.  It does talk about “learning” but says nothing about what the children are supposed to learn, except that whatever it is should “center identity and diversity at the core.”  

While I hope against hope that this enrichment committee will ultimately come up with some concrete ideas that could be implemented to improve learning opportunities (the principal has apparently been open to borrowing some ideas from P.S. 87, primarily related to field trips), this is not encouraging.  

I have agreed with (New York School Talk’s) overall view that G&T is far from perfect and that the primary reason parents flock to it is that Gen Ed in most zoned elementary schools is just very subpar.  

A better model of offering opportunities for more challenging or advanced learning for faster learners while supporting the slower ones *could* be developed, and you have listed ideas similar to the ones floated by a parent in our group. My strong suspicion, however, has been that there is precious little *interest* on the part of the DOE in actually developing such a model, and I think what has happened at P.S. 163 so far suggests my suspicion is well grounded.  

The G&T program has been eliminated with one goal in mind: “integration,” i.e. removing ethnically undesirable disparities in learning outcomes. Nothing in the school’s statements, or the principal’s ideas regarding enrichment so far, suggests a strong interest in improving overall outcomes or offering any meaningful extra learning challenges to all, enabling the more advanced to excel.  

The only goal remains to ensure “diversity” in every context and a result where no “identity” feels excluded. Allowing the more advanced to excel is seen as a danger to these goals.  This is not meant to pooh-pooh diversity or understate the importance of improving outcomes for children of all ethnic groups; quite to the contrary.  It is to suggest that the DOE sees diversity and advanced education opportunities as in tension and will emphasize the former at the expense of the latter. This is precisely the basis for the resistance to the destruction of G&T: the likelihood that it will be replaced by nothing meaningful.

What do you think?

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