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NYC gifted, talented programs under threat

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The destruction of our city’s gifted and talented programs, especially in black and brown communities, is one of the main reasons we see a lack of diversity in our specialized high schools. A high quality education for our accelerated learners must be available at the earliest ages.

The most recently announced results of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) put the crisis our city’s public education system faces into clear focus. Of the almost 4,800 students admitted to the city’s eight specialized public high schools this year, just 506 are Black or Latino, down slightly from last year. This inequity is unacceptable.

Numerous options have been proposed to lessen this shameful gap and move more public school students in every community from middle school to Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and their counterparts.

A true fix to the problems facing our high schools must begin in the earliest grades. This city must recommit to a robust gifted and talented program in every community, and reverse the eradication of these programs that began under Mayor Bloomberg and continues unabated during the de Blasio administration.

The most recent results of the SHSAT found that Black and Latino students continue to lose ground when it comes to specialized high school admissions. Slightly less than 11 percent of all seats at the eight specialized high schools were offered to Black or Latino students this year, despite those two groups making up roughly 70 percent of all public school students.

At Stuyvesant High School, the most prestigious of the specialized public high schools, just seven Black students and 33 Latino students were offered admission out of a total of 895. At Staten Island Tech, just one Black student was offered a seat in next year’s freshman class.

We can easily draw a direct correlation between these numbers and the populations of the city’s 86 gifted and talented programs, which provide students with accelerated learning options at the earliest ages. Of the 15,979 children in those programs, just 21 percent are black or Latino. In many minority communities, such programs do not even exist.

I have advocated for expanded gifted and talented options in every community throughout my career. I am a product of the gifted program that once existed in P.S. 31, a District #7 school in the South Bronx. Today, there are no gifted programs in all of District #7 and the results of that exclusion are crystal clear. Just seven students received offers this year to the specialized high schools out of District #7.

Our children can do this work. Black and Latino students are just as capable as anyone else. Their talent must be nurtured at a young age. The DOE must ensure that every single student has access to gifted education as early as kindergarten, regardless of where they live. Every student should be required to sit for the test, as well. If more students take the test more students will qualify for the programs, and the DOE will be unable to ignore these numbers.

Opportunities for gifted and talented education have been sorely lacking in many underserved communities, despite rhetoric about desegregating our school system and the clear evidence that such programs are a pathway to specialized high school admissions and academic success.

If we are going to close the achievement gap and make our specialized high schools more representative of the city, we must nurture gifted minority students at the earliest ages and provide them with the accelerated learning options they deserve in the neighborhoods in which they live.

Anyone who is for real educational opportunity should be embarrassed by these numbers, and by the administra­tion’s continued failure to deliver for minority public school students.

The integrity of our public school system as a democratic ideal rests on addressing this issue. A chief responsibility of any elected official is to ensure that city services and programs are working equitably to the benefit of everyone.

Mayor de Blasio can make changes immediately to provide all students with equity at the earliest grades.

Posted 12:00 am, April 27, 2019
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