In February 2021, when describing the new Gifted & Talented programs he was planning for the 2022-2023 school year, New York City Mayor De Blasio promised:
“We will spend the next year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that is more inclusive, enriching, and truly supports the needs of academically advanced and diversely talented students at a more appropriate age. We will also engage communities around how best to integrate enriched learning opportunities to more students, so that every student – regardless of a label or a class that they are in – can access rigorous learning that is tailored to their needs and fosters their creativity, passion, and strengths… We will develop new plans for identifying and serving exceptional students and release them for the next enrollment cycle.”
Five months later, he crowed:
(Our) new system will reach a lot more people, a lot more kids in a very different way, and that is being perfected now, and we’ll be announcing in September. But what you’re going to see is not yesterday’s Gifted and Talented. That’s gone. I said that last year, that’s gone forever. Something very, very different is coming to replace it.”
Not a single community engagement meeting on the subject took place in between.
We get it. The mayor has been busy. So busy that, here it is, seven weeks before the start of the 2021-2022 academic year, and parents have no idea how it will work. Will there be three-foot distancing in the classroom? Will kids be masked? Will teachers be vaccinated? Will there be air filters? A remote option? Nope. Nothing. Just like last year.
So because Hizzoner had no time for community engagement. We’re going to bring community engagement to him.
As this parent asserted:
What I would first like to see for the G&Ts is what the Deputy Mayor promised at the February PEP meeting, and what the G&T stakeholder families were denied in the SDAG process: a genuine opportunity to be heard. The City hasn’t once reached out to the G&T community to ask us why we chose the G&T schools and programs, how we feel they are performing, and what thoughts we have for improving equity and access to the G&T programs. Whenever we do hear the Mayor, the DOE leadership, or the members of the PEP council speak about G&T programs and parents, it is clear that they are drawing their conclusions about our kids’ programs by making assumptions about who we are and what we want without having spoken in good faith with members of the G&T community. These assumptions appear to be, for the most part, incredibly off base. Almost none of us care about whether or not our children are labeled “gifted and talented”. Almost all of us simply want a straightforward, rigorous education where our kids will be met and challenged at their level, because we know that’s how our kids will learn best. Before “reimagining” our children’s schools and programs, the City should be consulting us to at least hear what it is that we are looking for.
When the topic of revamping Gifted & Talented programming first came up, the School Diversity Advisory Group advised moving to an “Enrichment For All” model.
Some parents are in favor:
MA: As a mother of two “not gifted” students by New York City definition, I might belong to a group of parents with an unpopular opinion that actually long awaits the availability of specialty classes to general education students, in hope of creating the environment of enriched learning, diversification by student inclinations and/or interests regardless of their ability to 1) test well at the age of 4, AND 2) be lucky enough to get an actual placement in a g&t program. I wish the NYC department of Ed would abandon the outdated ineffective educational model altogether – it’s like a production line: impersonal and standardized.
XH: I think GT should be treated similar to an ICT classroom. Perhaps math could be a pull out program within schools so that kids are learning by level as opposed to by grade.
KJ: G&T program does not have to be full time all day every day, they can go 1-2 times a week, or one period a day, etc…. and do enrichment programs, same as other special services. If students were given a period a day or 1-2 days for G&T, then one G&T teacher per school would probably suffice, which would reduce a lot of classroom space limitations and staffing costs.
Unfortunately, a May 2021 study found that:
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. The research consensus, by contrast, argues for propelling high achieving children ahead. The relatively small estimates of the typical gifted program may reflect the fact that the “treatment” many students receive is not sufficiently intensive…. As national evidence shows that a majority of elementary school gifted programs include four hours or less gifted education services a week, the educational dose of gifted programs may be too slight to yield positive effects. Proponents of gifted education may well conclude that what our results suggest is that investment in gifted services needs to be increased, not decreased, so that gifted students are afforded higher-quality, more challenging opportunities by teachers trained in gifted education over more of their school day.
This parent, having seen the current NYC system in action, concurs:
We all know US public education lags in rigor behind many other countries. I am tired of critics saying the solution to G&T diversity issues is enrichment for all. No one has ever given any specifics about how “enrichment for all” is supposed to help a student who can read well above grade level be exposed to more challenging texts, be given assignments with more challenging comprehension and analysis questions and feedback that skillfully blends that child’s age with an accelerated ability to read, comprehend and synthesize. No one has addressed how to push kids – really push them – to be fluent in math beyond what are the generally low expectations for US students in math. Yes, I am familiar with the lip service about in-class differentiation but if your child doesn’t have books at their reading level in the classroom or isn’t given math problems of greater complexity because the curriculum doesn’t have those worksheets, what does differentiation do?
Other parents chimed in with the following suggestions for NYC’s G&T reimagining:
EV: Bring back the “g&t” of yesteryear: honors classes in each elementary and middle school. Determined by testing (later than at K level), teacher recommendations , academic performance. Problems solved.
NS: 1. Schools would allow kids to do accelerated math, social studies, whatever they’re into without grade level limitations. The schools can set baseline curriculum and aptitude for grade levels but not ceilings, if a kid demonstrates mastery of grade level work they should not be held back to conform for six more months or whatever.
2. Classrooms will have to be made more fluid, interconnected and flexible (think college model, where kids pick classes if they can do the prerequisites but there’s also a core curriculum that all freshmen have to either go through or can test out of if they are advanced). They will need lots of curriculum coordinators and flexible staffing to make this happen. Kids should also be able to continue work with teachers they especially connect with regardless of grade level (think favorite college professor that you take multiple classes with).
3. After-school programs should have classes for creative writing, drama, music, culinary arts(!) in addition to math, coding, scientific research, chess etc.
4. There should be opportunity at every level for independent study for any kid with specific interests.
5. Also, please make every kid in NYC learn how to swim. How’s that for equity?! A mother can dream.
MA: 1. First, rename the whole program to something slightly less outright idiotic, such as “Accelerated Education Program”
2. All kids go to a local school for Kindergarten
3. Have the kids assessed in Kindergarten by their teachers (whether by a test, teacher observation, or by the grades that they currently get)
4. By this assessment allocate a percentage of kids per zone/district, based on child population, to be offered slots in the accelerated education program. This ensures equal representation geographically.
5. The accelerated education program starts in First Grade
Would you support a teacher identification model? That was the stopgap put into effect this year, which resulted in many more students being recommended for the program (although no new seats were added and, in the end, the same number of students were placed).
This mother is not a fan, relaying that: My daughter scored a 99 (her K teachers were shocked as they kept assuming my child (a mixed race outgoing little girl) “was really average” and “not a particularly quick learner.” By comparison the teachers thought my daughter’s friend, a very white boy who was shy but hot-tempered, was and I quote “a genius” he scored a 98 after his mom enrolled him in a GT prep program–so yeah let teachers pick–what a great idea!* WHAT COULD GO WRONG?). (Ed. note: Teacher identification rather than standardized test have been shown to lower the identification of minority students.)
Other parents went on to say:
JF: I would like to see equitable access to G&T schools and programs, regardless of where a family lives. The City and the DOE have created a self-fulfilling prophecy of a comparatively racially homogenous G&T population by disproportionately locating G&T programs in wealthy, whiter neighborhoods. Parents living south of 96th Street in Manhattan can get free yellow bus service to any one of three Citywide G&T schools, not to mention numerous excellent district G&T programs. Because of the DOE transportation rules, no parents in the Bronx who wish to send their child to a Citywide can get yellow bus service, and there are very few functioning district programs in the borough which they could take advantage. Is it any wonder that, therefore, parents in the City’s most diverse and lowest-median-income borough don’t tend to apply for the G&T schools, while disproportionate numbers of kids from wealthy neighborhoods, including those whose parents can afford private bus service do apply for G&Ts? Before “reimagining” G&Ts, the first order of business for the City should be to ensure that every child in every district has bus service so that they can access any G&T program for which they qualify.
JS: It is shameful that Gifted and Talented education in New York is actually only the equivalent of ‘normal’ education in the rest of the world. What we need to do is raise the level of education across the board. Stop ‘dumbing things down’ even more!! Reach out to everyone and give children the opportunity they deserve. Don’t try to take it away from those children who need to be challenged more than others; those who will get bored with a lower level of education than already exists.
Do you have more community engagement that our Mayor needs to hear before unveiling his new plan in the fall? Let us know in the comments!