Most school systems have gifted and talented programs for students who are substantially advanced in courses and need more challenging material. The programs allow teachers on both levels to offer a more holistic curriculum and it also has served to keep advanced students in the public school system after years of “white flight.” The programs however have a majority of white and asian students. A panel appointed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has now come up with a recommendation to solve that de facto “segregation.” It wants to simply eliminate the gifted and talented program. Problem solved.
Rather than focus on working to identify and cultivate minority students, the panel prefers to achieve desegregation by eliminating the much valued G &T program. I have been a huge supporter of public schools my whole life. While my parents could afford private schools, they helped form a group to keep white families in the public school system in Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. They wanted their kids to be part of a diverse school environment.
I believe strongly that public education is a pillar of our democratic society. My wife and I sent all four of our children in the public schools. This proposal will only accelerate the departure of such families who will have to chose between private schools, with more challenging courses, or the New York Public Schools with its one-size-fits-all approach.
With 1.1 million students, the G &T programs allowed highly talented students to stay in the public schools and move on to top universities. It is a great benefit to have such students in the system. De Blasio’s panel however views the advanced programs as inequality and, rather than improving the scores overall, he prefers to chop off the top performing courses to achieve the appearance of equality. It is not. These students will be moved back into the general student body. Many are unlikely to get the attention or advanced work that they need to stay intellectually engaged.
The report reads more like a political than an academic document, declaring that gifted programs have “become proxies for separating students who can and should have opportunities to learn together.” For a teacher with a large class, “learning together” means that gifted students have to largely teach themselves or follow less demanding curriculums.
Two things are likely. First, these gifted students are likely to push the scores and ranking of other students down. Currently, students in the other programs can still excel and achieve high rankings in their classes in seeking college positions. They will now likely find themselves less competitive. Classes are likely to be dominated by gifted students with teachers struggling to keep both sets of students engaged. Second, many gifted students will simply leave and calls for vouchers will increase. This will achieve the desegregation interests of the panel by reducing the diversity of the system overall.
Finally, as educators, our mission is to educate. These children have different educational needs. Many students in the regular schools will emerge as leaders. Some simply bloom later. The way to cultivate those students is not to throw them into classes with gifted students but to create a curriculum that allows them to master foundational subjects. They can, and often do, excel. As for the gifted students, these students need to be engaged or they can become bored and disconnected from their classes. They are ready for more advanced word and, as educators, we have a duty to help them progress at their own pace. To put it simply, this proposal does more for the politicians like de Blasio than the actual students.