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De Blasio's School Diversity Group: Eliminate Gifted And Talented Programs

Mayor Bill de Blasio and DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza
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Mayor Bill de Blasio and DOE Chancellor Richard Carranza Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

A panel tasked by Mayor Bill de Blasio to desegregate the country's largest and most segregated school system has issued a report recommending that New York City dismantle gifted and talented programs, academic tracking in elementary schools, and admissions "screens" in middle schools.

Effectively, this would mean eliminating lower school admissions based on grades, test scores, attendance, and auditions. These kinds of admissions policies "unfairly block educational opportunities for students who are Black, Latinx, low-income," the report states, "and who face other challenges, including learning differences, students who are multi-language learners, in temporary housing or face other structural barriers to the educational opportunities they deserve."

The report was prepared by the School Diversity Advisory Group ⁠— a group of academics, educators, and Department of Education staff convened by the mayor more than two years ago to come up with a plan to desegregate city schools. The group released its first report in February, which focused on broad integration goals.

This second report traces the history of Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs "as a method of avoiding required integration" after Brown v. Board of Education. Attempts to standardize and reform G&T programs over the years have actually made them less diverse, the report notes, as the defining factor in whether a student is placed in a G&T program has come to be whether or not their family can afford to prepare them for the admissions tests. As a result, "the number of White and Asian students in G&T programs far exceeds the number of Black and Latinx students, and is proportionally dissimilar from citywide White and Asian student enrollment," the report states.

The group recommends that the DOE instead create non-selective magnet schools and fund enrichment programs. The report points to enrichment centers in Montgomery County, Maryland, where admissions based on a combination of class performance, a student questionnaire, as well as an exam, have led to a more diverse student body.

The report is also critical of New York City's policy of school choice. "Allowing families to choose schools while simultaneously allowing schools to choose students through screened admissions methods led NYC’s schools to be highly segregated," the report reads.

The Mayor and his Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said they would review the group's recommendations, but offered no timeline when they would make any decisions. The group will unveil its report at a press conference at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

District 15 in Brooklyn, which covers Park Slope, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens, as well as lower-income areas including Sunset Park and Red Hook, eliminated admissions screens for middle school students last year, and a desegregation pilot program for Manhattan's District 3, which covers the Upper West Side, began this year.

Mostly absent from the report: New York City's nine specialized—and extremely segregated—high schools, where admissions are based on a single, state-administered exam, the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which Mayor de Blasio has sought to eliminate. The report notes that Chicago's public high school system uses a variety of factors to determine high school admissions, but does not make any concrete recommendations to change New York City's system.

In a statement, Amy Stuart Wells, professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a member of the advisory group, said the report's recommendation to scrap G&T programs "should not be seen through the lens of 'taking from' those students who have historically been tapped for screened and gifted and talented programs."

"Rather, it should be seen for what it is: a set of research-based recommendations that, in enacted, will free all students in NYC to be smart, talented and gifted in their own authentic way ⁠— to feed the cultural diversity and the power of difference that makes this the greatest city in the world," Stuart Wells said.

Tiffani Torres, a member of the student-led group Teens Take Charge, told Gothamist/WNYC, "We as an organization are ecstatic that they are being so progressive when it comes to middle schools and elementary schools. And I'm genuinely surprised that it is so progressive because the preliminary recommendations that came out in February were not."

Teens Take Charge has advocated abolishing all selective admissions at high schools and requiring academic diversity at each school instead, so perhaps unsurprisingly Torres said that the report's conclusions on high schools "fall flat."

Listen to Jessica Gould discuss the report with Jami Floyd on All Things Considered:

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