Phasing Out Gifted Programs Would Have a Big Impact on the UWS; Parents Weigh In


PS 166 on 89th Street has a gifted & talented program.

By Jackie Delamatre

A city proposal to eliminate gifted and talented public school programs has started a complicated discussion on the Upper West Side, where a particularly large percentage of parents apply for the programs.

District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, has several gifted programs where children can apply starting at 4 years old, including at P.S. 163 on 97th Street; P.S. 165 on 109th Street; and P.S. 166 on 89th Street. The Anderson School on 77th Street is a citywide gifted school. In one recent year, more than 1,500 kids from District 3 applied for spots in gifted programs. As in other districts, the programs tend to have a higher percentage of white and Asian students than the overall district.

The Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) released a report on August 27 recommending that gifted and talented programs be phased out. Mayor Bill de Blasio has not signaled whether he’ll follow the recommendation, but Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza indicated general support for the idea in a recent interview with community media outlets, including the West Side Rag.

“Gifted and talented is not a term I use,” he said. “There’s no such thing as gifted and talented now in our system. It’s just faster and more. I want a true program that serves the needs of intellectually gifted students and I want it available across the entire system. I want everybody in every school to have the opportunity for enriched learning.”

The proposal to phase out G & T has been met with criticism and questions from some education leaders on the Upper West Side.

Kim Watkins, President of the Community Education Council for District 3, said she worried about unilateral decisions being made in a city as big as New York.

She said that District 3 is already working on its own diversity plan and is concerned about whether districts would “continue to be encouraged to develop and execute their own plans or whether mayoral control would be executed without parent feedback and involvement.”

“I think checks and balances and engagement with constituencies is really important even if it makes it ugly. The process needs to bring out the voice of the people,” she said.

She also said that while her primary commitment was to ensure that all zone schools in her district could educate students properly, there are many parents who aren’t satisfied with their zoned schools based on attendance, grades, and test scores and want an alternative.

“The gifted and talented program in District 3 is a big deal – for a lot of parents and not just those escaping a zone school,” she said. “Many parents feel very strongly that their children need to be in an accelerated learning environment.”

Watkins said that District 3’s report on equity and diversity was so successful the city is going to use it as a template for others. One of its innovations is now in its third year and getting good reviews: At PS 191, second graders can apply to a G & T program that starts in third grade and admission is based not on a single test but on teacher recommendations and grades.

Approached outside of PS 191’s new stone-and-glass school building this week, PTA President Kristy Sanchez said the new G & T program at PS 191 is very popular. She described its population as diverse and said students do not feel isolated from others in regular education classes because they see each other for extracurriculars.

She hoped the program would remain and said attempting to teach “one way across the board for every learner is unrealistic.”

One parent, Angee Cortorreal, said her son is in PS 191’s G & T program and loves it.

“If anything,” she said, “they need more programs like this.”

Michael McCurdy, the founder of Testingmom.com, an online test prep company that prepares many young children on the Upper West Side for G & T tests, agrees. He said the G & T program is incredibly popular and the city needs “more programs like this, not less.”

Still, he acknowledged that the program needed to diversify.

“Certain communities are underrepresented. That’s true. I can’t argue with the facts. But give those kids an opportunity to enter the program. In many cases, parents don’t know the program even exists.”

He suggested testing kids in their Universal PreK and 3K programs and opening more programs in underrepresented areas like Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

However, the SDAG report says the latter suggestion has already been tried. In the early 2000s, New York opened more than 20 new G & T programs intended for underrepresented communities but not long after, most of these new programs “were unable to fill a single spot in their incoming classes, because the majority of students in these neighborhoods and districts were low-income and not able to invest in equitable test-prep resources. Since the mid-2000s the number of G & T programs has nearly halved, with most surviving offerings operating in affluent white neighborhoods.”

McCurdy also wondered why the report hadn’t recommended altering admissions protocol the way Chicago had – by considering test scores, academic records, and socioeconomic status – instead of eliminating the program entirely.

McCurdy called it a “hasty decision” without enough input from the G & T community and said there would be consequences if the changes went through.

“What you’re really going to see are a lot of parents who can afford it opting for private schools. I’ve heard from parents exploring a home school program,” he said. “Other parents might move to an area with better gen ed programs. And we’ve heard from other parents who might just completely move out of the city and into the suburbs.”

But NeQuan McLean, co-chair of the Education Council Consortium, member of SDAG, and father of four children including one that previously attended an Upper West Side school, encouraged people to read the whole report.

“We don’t just say to get rid of the program but to replace it,” he said.

In place of the G & T program, McLean believes every school in New York City should offer an enrichment program to accelerated learners. Unlike PS 191, a G & T program starting in third grade didn’t work in his district in Brooklyn because families that qualified didn’t want to leave their zone school.

“Families should not have to travel to get a proper education,” he said. “I should be able to walk out of my house and go to school across the street and get a good education.”

McLean said that SDAG took families’ voices into consideration as they devised the report. There were town halls in every borough, he said, though he was frustrated that in some districts few families came out for these sessions.

“People thought the recommendations wouldn’t affect them and they didn’t show up to meetings,” he said. “Folks who showed up were like me – black and brown families who voiced their concerns about the current system.”

Still, McLean insisted that the report wasn’t intended to force other districts to comply. He also praised District 3’s report on diversity and its process for putting it together with community input.

This question of how unilateral the decision-making would be across districts has been a subject of consternation. Sara Lind, an Upper West Side parent and candidate for city council, thinks that SDAG could have done a better job communicating to the public.

“Maybe they should have been a little more careful about their messaging when they rolled out the report. Every single parent wants their child to have the best opportunities,” she said. SDAG “has to communicate to the public that everyone’s children will benefit.”

“I think the Upper West Side is a liberal place,” she said. “I know we believe in equity and inclusion. I know that our parents will get behind the right thing.”

Back at PS 191, another parent, Jenny Medina, agreed with SDAG, especially when it came to early testing. “The deck is stacked in favor of those families that have money,” she said. With all the test prep, “they’re not testing for the gifted and talented, they’re testing for privilege.” Medina said that even her family, with plenty of resources, was frustrated with the program’s practical hurdles. She’d had her son tested at a young age and while he’d done very well he wasn’t admitted to the G & T program steps from their house.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 26 comments | permalink
    1. Zanarkand says:

      It’s not even about “gifted and talented” anymore when you have toddlers taking prep courses for the test to get into the program. $2k a pop for those courses. If a child truly is gifted, then why the need to teach him/her how to game the test? From what I’ve heard a child needs to score 99+ to get into the program. Sounds more like a barrier to keep out lower income families.

      • Take the $2,000.per child the IS refunds you each year per child and pay for those classes!

      • Paul G says:

        I agree. Lose the test. Base any accelerated programs on performance in first grade or so and ensure that all schools have the necessary and appropriate accelerated classrooms. There has to be a better, more equitable way to handle this at the elementary school level.

        Middle school is another matter.

      • wlnyc says:

        My child is in a G&T program and she did not get tutoring or test prep. We checked out a workbook from the library. And with the growth of the Universal Pre-K, it could be made available to all. I agree that the test is ridiculous as the ONLY qualification for entry. My son was in G&T in Florida and their approach was much like 191’s. You entered in second grade through your academics, teacher recommendations, and a psychology assessment to ensure the child was emotionally ready for accelerated courses throughout their regular class day. This is a much better approach. I am, however, grateful that she is in G & T, which is still not very challenging to her. I could argue she is being under served – as she scored high enough for a city-wide school, (which are more rigorous) but did not win that lottery. That said, I do not know how taking away programs that enrich students makes sense – increase them! Improve our public schools! And let’s not get in a race to the bottom.

        • Clare Voy-Ant says:

          Re: “…how taking away programs that enrich students makes sense – increase them!….let’s not get in a race to the bottom.”

          A race to the bottom is EXACTLY what the School Diversity Advisory Group and its Super-Librul supporters wants.

          But it’s NOT just here on the UWS; it’s become a mantra for many, like those who:
          1. argue that a college education just adds to D.I.E. (Dreaded Income Inequality);
          2. ask “what right does anyone have to earn a Billion dollar$”;
          3. Bleat ‘Capitalism Bad, Socialism Good’ echoing the sheep in “Animal Farm”.

          Someday our young people, then adults, will look around and ask ‘when did the USA fall behind the rest of the civilized world?’

    2. Chrigid says:

      Either outlaw test prep, or set up a fund for kids who can’t afford it. Who knows how many geniuses we’re missing out on or how many mediocrities we may be pushing forward?

    3. Wijmlet says:

      Chancellor Carranza says, “I want a true program that serves the needs of intellectually gifted students and I want it available across the entire system.” This does not make sense, because not all students are equally “gifted”. Enrichment for all, yes, but keep some type of G & T programs.

    4. Nina says:

      I just saw today a private preschool offering to prepare your kid just for this test for a couple of 1,000… therefore, there is not such talented kid, it is a privilege kid that happen to learn at a good school… And also know lots of kids that got 99+ and never got a spot, so either my guess is that the test is not even appropriate to evaluate who really is gifted. So all and all: this program is wrong.

    5. Hell in a handbasket says:

      I am shocked…shocked! that “Michael McCurdy, the founder of Testingmom.com” thinks we need more G&T programs and that administering standardized tests to 3 & 4 y olds is a good idea.

    6. Debra says:

      Every time I read or hear of something Richard Carranza says
      I feel so thankful my kids are older and out of school. He is so myopic.

    7. Beth says:

      I have read the report and the only concrete proposal is to eliminate G&T. They propose “enrichment alternatives” for which they ask the DOE to “provide resources”. They offer no direction as to what these enrichment alternatives would be and how they would be implemented. Asking the DOE to “provide resources” does not mean they will actually do so, or do so effectively.

      It’s no surprise there has been significant backlash to their proposals. As someone who advocates for G&T, I was relieved to see many politicians immediately come out against these proposals. The negative reaction to this indeterminate proposal has instigated many defensive replies from SDAG (like McLean’s reply above) without any acknowledgement that the whole report is basically a lengthy, research-based repudiation of G&T with an ill-defined counter-proposal attached.

      What is worrying is the extent to which SDAG willfully stereotypes the G&T program and its families. In both traditional media and social media SDAG members actively promote the false notion that the only age for entry into G&T is 4, that every family is paying exorbitant amounts of money for prep classes, and that the only reason why children get into a G&T program is because of paid prep classes and not because of any innate ability. You can see this propaganda repeated in comments within this news article and the comment section.

      In their report they claim, “The Advisory group operates with respect, transparency and inclusivity.” Yet, it is my understanding that there are no G&T representatives on this committee – whether staff, parent, or student. It is unjust for a committee with no G&T representation to suggest eliminating G&T.

      For those who are interested in some perspective, I would recommend reading any article by Alina Adams or “How de Blasio is Driving City Parents Crazy” by Karol Markowicz. I usually don’t care for Murdoch’s NY Post, but I am so over both de Blasio and Carranza. Their tenure can’t end quickly enough!

    8. C says:

      The whole idea of testing and test-prepping three- and four-year-olds is mind-boggling to me.

    9. Leon says:

      I am skeptical of the merits of G&T. I’m not really sure what a test of a 4 year old proves.

      Perhaps limit G&T programs to kids in more poorly performing schools – G&T programs are no better than Gen Ed at PS 9, 87, 199 so students zoned for those schools should be excluded to free up more spots for those who really need it – I know countless students at these schools who are offered G&T spots but turn them down.

      • S says:

        Kids who are zoned for the schools you mentioned but attend a G&T class in a different school then free up spots for other students including those that may “need” it.

    10. Bubbie says:

      In the 40’s and 50’s Brooklyn schools had SP classes. These were classes for the gifted. What resulted was a generation of scholars,scientists, writers Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners. The list is endless.
      As a parent of a very gifted child, the struggle to navigate the system that had nothing to offer was truly a nightmare. I want all children to have an opportunity to reach their full potential, and that means addressing our highly gifted students.

      • MJ says:

        Excellent point. People often forget that gifted children can be at an equal risk level as children who struggle academically. They are both being underserved. For truly gifted kids, it can be a HUGE detriment. The idea that “they’ll be ok, they’r smart” simply isn’t true.

        The current G&T program seems like a way for parents to avoid Gen Ed because they won’t trust the quality of the Gen Ed programs.

        But seriously, with the rezoning and now possible elimination of G&T without a real plan? When is the UWS going to stop being a dumping ground?

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        my recollection of SP classes is that they kicked in at JHS (7th grade) level, and were not based on a single test but a variety of factors. also they were in the same schools as the regular classes. very different than the current Bloomberg-era segregation (by race, by class, even by ability).

    11. chuck d says:

      It’s just apartheid. Plain and simple. Go to a G&T testing site and see who shows up: whites and asians.

      Getting rid of these programs will force us to work together to solve the problems of every school and every child. Of course, you may not want to do that because you don’t want Kaitlyn and Milo to learn next to Taquan and Monisha.

      • Juan says:

        Whose fault is that? There is no cost to take the G&T. So why aren’t minority students taking it?

        I am a bleeding heart liberal and I hate to sound like a Republican but at some point minorities have to do for themselves. Education is not just handed to you. From birth you have to be educating your child. You have to continually be seeking out ways to enrich their lives.

        I have made countless sacrifices to give my children the best education possible. I am all for helping those who are less fortunate, but they should also be making equivalent sacrifices.

      • H says:

        If only white and Asian families show up it makes sense that they would make up the majority of students in a G&T program. But the programs are open to all families. Under Bloomberg, the DOE eliminated a few G&T programs in Brooklyn and the Bronx which had a deleterious impact on children of color having the opportunity to benefit from a better education. I think the answer is in increasing G&T seats. Teaching UP standards not DOWN. We could argue that a test given to a 4 year old who doesn’t even have to hold a pencil to bubble in an answer may not be the best way to measure them. But reality is in a system of 1 million, this debate of G&T is misguided. There are only about 5,000 G&T seats. The real issue is why the DOE cannot educate the vast majority of 1 million of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    12. tailfins says:

      I think many people are missing one of the other benefits of G&T: it gets parents to invest in schools.

      Schools are not just buildings and government. They shouldn’t be places where you drop your kids off and hope they come back educated. Schools need parents to be involved in order for them to succeed.

      From my understanding, there is not really any predictive ability of a test of a 4 year old. So, the notion of finding “gifted” kids through this test isn’t that real. However, finding parents who care enough to have their kids take the test – that is real. And those parents then put resources into the school to benefit their kids. That too is real.

      163 was an ok school not that long ago. The G&T program got a core group of parents to participate. It generated funding for the entire school. Now the school is above average in test scores. It’s a school people try to get into. It’s not an overnight change, but it happened. Now the same process is occurring at 165. The perception (and from what I can tell, results) of that school is changing as well.

    13. Jennifer Fox says:

      The SDAG is far off the mark, because they didn’t include ANY representatives of the G&T community in their group. My child is in the G&T program because of the rigorous core curriculum including Singapore Math. Not because of whatever “enrichment” opportunities the SDAG imagines would be an alternative to G&Ts.

    14. ST says:

      The sooner we can be free of Di Blasio and his team the better off we will all be.

    15. Maria BERENS says:

      This is the most anti education administration the city has ever had. Instead of increasing G&T programs and making them available in all schools so that low income neighborhoods where there are mostly black and hispanic children live can have access to a better education, the bigoted chancellor is proposing to ruin education for all. Parents should not let this happen. This hypocrite sent his own children to private schools, but yet, set on destroying semi-functional educational programs in New York City. American children lag behind their European counterparts in basic knowledge, and the bigoted chancellor’s proposal is only worsen the quality of education our children will get. This administration does not want to invest any money in the public school system to actually improve children’s learning, they just want to play with student bodies by reshuffling them to different schools and different programs hoping that in worst performing schools the scores will go up, because some of G&T kids will end up there. This is unconscionable and a travesty to education. The “racial diversity” claim is just a pretext to take an ax to the programs that are critical to our children.