Last month, the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), charged with coming up with ways to desegregate public schools, proposed scrapping the G&T programs in favor of creating new magnet schools and enrichment programs.
According to their report, nearly 75 percent of the G&T programs’ roughly 16,000 students are white and Asian, compared to the public school system that is nearly 70 percent black and Latino.
Rather than getting rid of G&T, however, two state lawmakers unveiled legislation last Thursday to diversify the program.
Standing in front of East-West School of International Studies in Flushing on the first day of school, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic proposed a bill that would require all students before the third grade to be screened for gifted programs, unless a parent or guardian opts out.
“We need to expand the screenings to help Gifted and Talented programs reflect that diversity that we know and love,” Rozic said. “We don’t want to close programs down, we want to expand them so that more students can get the resources they deserve.”
Rozic called the increased screenings an “objective and systematic” approach to identifying gifted children. The current system relies on teacher referrals and word of mouth.
Teachers may not have the time to identify eligible students for G&T because there are simply too many kids in the classroom, Stavisky said. Additionally, many parents are not aware of the program.
“Research has shown that a referral-only program introduces bias into the identification process,” Rozic said, “and may lead to a less representative program.”
Stavisky also referred to a 2015 study in Broward County, Florida, where the school district tested each child in the second grade for a gifted program.
The policy resulted in a 130 percent boost in Hispanic student participation and 80 percent bump for African-American students in the district.
“The more children you test, the better the diversity,” Stavisky said.
Earlier this year, the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) estimated that it would cost the city $3.8 million to screen every student for G&T. Stavisky said that figure is a “drop in the bucket” compared to its potential impact.
The state legislators added that they hope it will lead to an expansion of gifted and talented seats throughout the city, especially in underrepresented areas like southeast Queens and the Bronx.
Some critics of high-stakes testing, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have said testing children at such a young age is problematic.
Stavisky even said she’s “not wild” about testing four-year-old kids, but her legislation would target students entering third grade, which means they would be nine years old.
She also added that the legislation intentionally uses the term “screen” rather than test.
“A child sits down with a pencil and a bunch of boxes to check, that’s a test,” she said. “Screening can involve all kinds of ways, like interviews and using flashcards. It’s a broader term.”
Rozic and Stavisky are not the only legislators opposing the elimination of G&T program. The day before, a group of City Council members rallied on the steps of City Hall to urge the mayor and chancellor not to scrap the program.
They called for expanding G&T to more schools and creating more “on-ramps” to the program, such as exams at the third and seventh grade levels.
The group wrote a letter to the mayor and chancellor over the issue, and have received 14 signatures so far.
Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy said G&T is a “great model” that provides rigorous programming to high-achieving students, and wants to make it more accessible to students.
“I have been fighting for years to expand this program, particularly to underserved communities,” he said in a statement, “and I am not going to let that progress be rolled back.”
Queens Councilman Barry Grodenchik added that cutting gifted programs would drive parents out of the public school system, which would actually exacerbate the “racial divide.”
He said the G&T programs in his district are “models of diversity, filled with students whose families immigrated from across the globe.”
“There are gifted children in every neighborhood,” Grodenchik said in a statement, “and it is our job to provide the programs that will truly support and elevate them.”
Last Thursday, on the first day of school, de Blasio said his administration will take the whole school year for “deep stakeholder engagement” about the proposals.
He said in addition to conversations at the district level, city officials will talk to the unions as well as early childhood education experts.
“We’re all trying to figure out what’s a fair way to go about it going forward,” the mayor said.
De Blasio added on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” that the advisory group only provides advice, and that nothing has been decided.
“They came up with some very bold ideas,” he said. “That’s not necessarily where we’re going to end up, but it’s something to work with.
“I’m the ultimate decision maker, I haven’t made any decisions,” de Blasio added. “We’re going to look at and have a dialogue about it.”