UWS Gifted and Talented Program to Stop Admitting New Students; Parents Question Public Notice

By Alex Israel

One of three Upper West Side schools with a district-level Gifted and Talented program has decided to shutter it.

PS 163, a pre-K through 5th grade elementary school at 163 West 97th Street, recently told parents it will no longer accept applications for its entering kindergarten students. The school is a part of NYC District 3, which covers the west side of Manhattan from 59th Street to 122nd Street.

At the start of this year, the Department of Education (DOE) announced a new process for participating in the city’s Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs that eliminates the kindergarten entrance exam in favor of a teacher referral or opt-in interview that feeds into a lottery system. The citywide change led by the Mayor is in effect for fall 2021, and is intended to help promote more diversity in these programs.

With the phase-out of the PS 163 program, only two schools with district-level G&T programs will give priority to District 3 students, according to the city’s directory: PS 165, a pre-K through 5th grade elementary school at 234 West 109th Street, and PS 166, a kindergarten through 5th grade elementary school at 132 West 89th Street. (The Anderson School, a kindergarten through 8th grade program at 100 West 77 Street, offers a citywide G&T program in District 3 that prioritizes applicants who live in northern Manhattan and the south Bronx.)

PS 163 announced the changes to its program in a letter to parents this spring. “Beginning September 2021 we will expand the Dual Language Program from one to two sections, and we will begin to phase out our kindergarten Gifted and Talented (G+T) program. The G+T Program will remain in grades 1-5 until the program will gradually sunset,” wrote Principal Donny Lopez in the letter, dated March 17, 2021. “This decision was made following extensive community engagement and is aligned with our school vision and commitment to advancing equity and accelerating learning for all students.”

But one concerned parent who reached out to the West Side Rag says the letter was the first time they heard about any changes to the G&T program—and it came after Lopez had already gotten approval to shut it down. “It seems that this change was done quietly and fast and no one is willing to answer any questions about it,” the parent told WSR over email. Lopez did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

In addition to narrowing the options for parents and students in a district already in “a desperate need for more G&T programs for many years,” the decision to shut the program down also disadvantages the city as it seeks to determine the success of its new application process, the parent argued. It will be “that much harder for any new students to make it into the program and … impossible to test the outcome of the Mayor’s decision,” they said.

Another parent later reiterated similar concerns to WSR. David Gorvitz, who has a child in third grade at PS 163, said he disagrees with the school’s decision to phase out the program. “This is a successful program by all measures,” he said, citing a range of positive outcomes he felt the G&T program contributed to, including successful summer reading challenges, District 3 science fair representation, and diversity within the student body. “It was odd for the school not to at least try out the DOE’s new admission criteria.” 

Beyond the letter, which went out only to PS 163 parents, “no notification was sent to other parents in the district,” the first parent added, “despite the fact they are all affected by this decision.” While the school has updated the G&T section of its website to include a line about the program’s closure (“Beginning with the incoming kindergarten class for the fall 2021, there will not be a G&T class,” it reads), WSR could not find evidence of a more formal public announcement. Community Education Council 3 (CEC3) President Kim Watkins confirmed to WSR that the council, which is responsible for promoting and supporting educational needs across District 3, was not consulted on the decision.

Both parents noted that, as a result of the school’s response to the pandemic, the G&T program for current students is not in particularly robust shape. “Notably, while the program is meant to continue for existing students until they graduate, it has been effectively suspended for the duration of blended learning,” Gorvitz said. In the fall, he led a group of parents in trying to work with the administration to keep the program afloat during reopening. In the context of these recent discussions, he was even more surprised parents were not consulted about the program shutdown. “I was very surprised that we (and the G&T family community at large) were not consulted or even alerted regarding this change,” he said.

When the parents asked District 3 Superintendent Christine Loughlin for additional context on the decision and the future, they say she did not take them up on a request to discuss it in a dedicated district-wide forum, despite an interest from other parents. The Superintendent hosts a monthly district-wide “Superintendent Café” where the community is invited for an open dialogue, and attends the monthly CEC3 meeting, both of which have occurred over Zoom during the pandemic. It is unclear if the topic was brought up at either of these public meetings in April.

“This change follows extensive engagement with parents, staff, district leaders and the wider school community, and we are always open to discuss any concerns and help address them,” Loughlin said to WSR in a statement. “This will not impact any current students and we look forward to expanding the school’s Dual Language kindergarten program so more students have access to this opportunity.”

In a private correspondence with the first parent, “the Superintendent’s only response was that she is familiar with the situation and that the decision to terminate the program was done at an SLT meeting,” the parent said, noting they could not find a reference of such a conversation in any meeting minutes. School Leadership Team meetings are accessible to the public by request only, and have also been hosted on Zoom throughout the pandemic. “Since it was not widely known that the phase-out of G&T was on the SLT agenda and the well-known distractions of the pandemic,” Gorvitz said, “I don’t think that can be fairly described as extensive engagement with families.”

The parents say Lopez has told them PS 163 will switch to a more inclusive enrichment program to replace G&T in the future. He created an ‘Enrichment Committee’ to collaborate on plans for this alternate program, to help “fill the void left by G&T,” according to Gorvitz. In the committee’s two meetings so far, the parents said they first discussed their ideas of what “enrichment” meant to them, and later presented suggestions for their ideal inclusive program. Lopez has yet to share feedback with the parents on these ideas, or provide his own.

In an ideal world, Gorvitz said pausing the shutdown of PS 163’s G&T program—and then ultimately expanding it—would be his preference. A majority of parents citywide support G&T, according to a recent NY1/IPSOS poll. When asked whether they believed the next mayor should eliminate the G&T program entirely in public schools, 56 percent of parents rejected the idea, compared to 29 percent of parents who were in favor. (That said, de Blasio’s current plan isn’t to “eliminate” it so much as to change admissions criteria.)

“The phase-out of the G&T program was announced in the middle of the pandemic, when attention was elsewhere, less than 9 months before a new mayor takes office,” Gorvitz said. “I think a very sensible solution would be to delay the start of the phase-out by one year … to give the new administration a chance to review the program and put its own imprimatur on its future.” he said, reiterating his hopes for the program to resume at full strength for existing students in September.

In the meantime, “We are hoping to see some great ideas from the school administration, as well as a receptiveness to parent community input,” Gorvitz said. “I wish they looked to other developed countries when it comes to education, like they do with healthcare and gun violence. In other developed countries, advanced educational opportunities tend to be cultivated, not eliminated.”

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 43 comments | permalink
    1. Carlos says:

      The goal should be to improve all Gen Ed programs so that G&T is not necessary. However, since this is not happening soon, G&T programs should not be eliminated. This was not a wise decision.

      G&T seats should be reserved for those students with high scores zoned for underperforming schools. Gen Ed programs at top schools in the zone are largely the same as G&T – many families zoned for these schools turn down G&T seats. Students zoned for those schools should not be permitted to take limited G&T seats.

      • Wijmlet says:

        I agree with Carlos’ first paragraph. I am a former “gifted” child and benefited greatly from studying at a special program through high school.

        I later became an English professor who helped, I hope, many less-than-gifted students as well as a few gifted ones.

    2. Leon says:

      The pandemic is not the right time to push through major changes. Many families are just trying to stay afloat and aren’t actively following what is happening.

      This is yet another example of negative change during the pandemic – first the elimination of middle school screens, now eliminating a G&T program. Let’s improve the programs that aren’t working rather than dismantling the ones that are.

      • sg says:

        You know what they say…never let a crisis/disruption go to waste. The DOE will not be satisfied until it dumbs everything down under the banner of equity or some other nonsense…to the detriment of all. What a shame.

    3. 163 G&T Parent/Teacher says:

      The program was very successful for white families in the district. Not so much for families of color. There is an achievement gap between white students and students of colorx which is widely known. White parents will argue that removing these programs will put their kids at a disadvantage and closes the gap by bringing the top down, but this is not the case. By keeping the classes segregated, and that’s what it is: segregation, it eliminates the ability to bring lower performing students up. It also provides a stigma. But well-to-do parents will argue for the status quo because they think it benefits them and, ignoring the fact that it truly doesnt, they dont care how anything benefits others. And to be clear, I am a white parent of a G&T student at 163 and am also an educator in a gifted program.

      • Peter says:

        Why wasn’t the program successful for students of color?

      • Leon says:

        How is this segregation? The test is available to everyone. Contrary to popular belief, few people spend money to prepare for it. I know many students of all backgrounds who got high scores with no formal preparation. There is nothing racist about the test. So what is the legal barrier preventing minority students from succeeding on the test?

        You are also equating minority to low-performing, which is offensive. My children go to public school with many high performing minority students, as well as some lower performing white students. Please stop the woke white guilt.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          reply to Leon:

          1) testing for G&T at age 4 is ridiculous, and you know it. You have admitted as much in the past. testing at that age is class-biased, which in NYC has a high correlation to race bias.

          2) “Screening” for middle schools results in race segregation in areas like District 3, and that too is well known. This has been highlighted not just by District 3’s elected CEC but also by many educators and principals in the “screened” schools, who wanted it to end.

          Haven’t we had enough of school segregation on the UWS, and throughout NYC? I have no opinion on this particular school closing its G&T program, as I don’t know all the facts. But policies like screening in almost all middle schools result in class/racial segregation, and these policies should end.

          • Gilligan says:

            Bruce,

            Charter schools, specifically Success Academy, have no segregation and no racial achievement gap. None. So can I assume that you are in full support of charters, and Success Academy in particular?

      • UWS Parent says:

        You are wrong to equate “achievement gap” with “segregation.” There is nothing wrong with grouping children based on academic ability. You may have issues with the now-scrapped G&T exam, but this is not how admission is going to work for the incoming kindergarten year. Who exactly does it serve to eliminate the 163 G&T program?

      • UWS resident says:

        So you think because Asians or whites just so happen to have tested in to G and T that it should be shut down? Punish those who actually worked their butts off to get into a good program because other minorities didn’t also get into it? lets shut down the NBA because more whites didn’t get in…. so messed up.

        • sg says:

          Excellent post, but you should know better than to question why racial participation parity only goes one way. If whites or Asians comprise the majority (G&T program), it’s been achieved through some nefarious reason instead of performance, but if black or brown, but most noticeably the former (NBA) it’s because of discrimination…never because of interest or efforts the individual.

      • Sam says:

        Let’s be specific here. Families of color is very specific here. It doesn’t include Asians. If you do your research, the number of Asian low income families outnumber any other races. Yet Asian students outperform and Asian families predominantly value a good education above many life necessities. Why are blacks and Latinos students underperforming? There is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. If there is more demand than supply for G&T schools, why not create more G&T schools?? Why not focus on fixing the poorly performing schools instead of attacking the ones that are flourishing?

      • Dave says:

        Nonsense. My kids went to G&T programs and there were black students, asian (which NYC has decided is neither a person of color nor a minority) and Hispanic students. The majority of kids who get in these programs have involved parents. It’s not a race issue and for the most part it’s not an economic issue. I’m a civil servant and can guarantee guarantee you I am among the lower income earners in my children’s school. I didn’t send them to prep classes, I didn’t have tutors because I couldn’t afford it. I sat down with my children and read to them daily, took them to free museums and worked on other educational “games” with them. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off. If you want to put more focus on lower economic areas we are may be parents either can’t spend time with their kids because of multiple jobs or choose not to spend time with their kids so be it. Pre k for all should help a lot with this. Add more local G&T classes. But don’t paint some broad ridiculous brush that G&T is somehow inherently racist. That’s insulting to parents like me that busted their backsides to get the best for their kids. Stuyvesant High School is it over 50% Asian because they aren’t advantage. On the contrary many of these kids are first generation American and some parents may not even speak English, but they work really hard and achieve. Stop disparaging hard work by flippantly calling it racism or privilege.

        • Dan says:

          Thank you Dave for speaking the truth. In all honestly, is not just NYC school system in general. If you look at the United States education in general, we are not even in the top 10 among all developed countries. As parents, we work extremely hard to provide our children an outlet to getting better education. This is true regardless of race or economic nature. I truly believe every children can succeed and can be challenged and our school curriculum should benchmark against the other countries that are in the top in their education. There is no reason for G&T programs if our education system is structured like the other countries. If other countries can do it, I don’t see any reason our children cannot make it.

      • NMH says:

        Thank you for your willingness to advocate for those of us who are often times overlooked by this system. Imagine preferring that education remain segregated, so that a small portion of children receive an advanced experience, while others suffer. There are private schools that provide this service. If it’s that important, pay for it.

        • Blitzen says:

          Seems odd to suggest that simply because faster learners have opportunities to be challenged the others are “suffering.” If they’re suffering, it’s because of the subpar quality of Gen. Ed. offered by the DOE. It’s also a strange position that advanced education should be exclusively the realm of expensive private schools. Must competitive colleges then draw exclusively from private schools? What about advanced learners from poor families? Should they simply fall off the face of the earth? Or do you not think such children exist? Strange as it is, I believe yours is exactly the position of NYC DOE.

      • UWS soon to be private school parents says:

        The G&T class our child was in at this school IS diverse. What this school is currently doing to its current G&T families is abhorrent and is the definition of educational neglect. The upper G&T grade students in this school have been all separated and crow barred into gen ed ICT classes, where they are at least 1-2 class levels ahead the current gen ed program. They are largely ignored and bored, and now hating school, because the principal has decided to run an experiment during a pandemic. Why is it that after five years at this school the students in the G&T classes, which are often packed 30 per classroom with only one teacher, are outperforming the gen ed classes, where there are less than 20 per classroom with one teacher + aides? This is not the fault of the kids who spent the past five years in this program. This is a failure of an educational system that has failed the gen ed kids. Punishing the G&T students for the incompetence of the DOE is a very misguided attempt at shifting blame. Why could they not let the current G&T students finish in peace and run their politics appealing agenda with the new classes?

    4. William Pearlman says:

      You vote for “progressive Democrats ” then your kids get screwed. It is what it is.

    5. Truth and Reason says:

      The fact that we even use a lottery system at all (regardless of how many spots) is uncivilized. Children are not ping pong balls waiting to see if some wanna-be weather girl pulls their number out of a machine. In the United States of America, a free and high quality public education should not be dependent on your number being drawn. If you qualify, you should get in. Period. NYC likes to think we’re better than the rest of the country, especially here on the Upper West Side. But you find the reddest state out there in the poorest, most rural areas of the country and THEY aren’t the ones determining children’s futures by pulling their names out of a hat.

    6. UWS Wes says:

      Does this mean that the K places will go to “regular” kids in the neighborhood? There’s not enough K places for the UWS already.

      • Juan says:

        These seats were already restricted to UWS kids, just potentially ones from different zones. Kids will now just be shifted around within the zone.

        As I understand it, there was a seat available for every kid in D3, just not always at their preferred school. A lot of people with kids have left the UWS in the past year so available seats should definitely not be a problem.

    7. Nick10025 says:

      These schools were not included on the G&T application process already, so not a change for those who were applying.

    8. Gerald Sider says:

      The fair response would be to make the whole school a G&T school. The alternative is to give all the students a second-rate education.

    9. Mea Ambrosio says:

      Sadly, The dissolvement of the G&T program in NYCDoE is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. First, this is a STATE LAW! Secondly, the issue is equity then all schools should offer a G&T program giving equity to ALL NYC students. However, asking to keep this program deems you a racist then NO ONE wants to stand up for our KIDS! Truly disappointed.

    10. Jim Cash says:

      Who in his right mind would deny a child reaching full potential? By punishing effort and sacrifice you will certainly not like the outcome when you add grudge to effort and sacrifice.

    11. Eileen G says:

      There is passing mention of expanding the school’s DLP program but no details. A DLP offers quite an academic challenge to the English-speakers who participate, plus de facto and purposeful cultural enrichment from being in a more diverse classroom. French and Spanish DLPs typically have target language speakers from all over the world. Choosing DLP over G&T could be a good choice for the school and not necessarily an academic or enrichment loss at all.

      • Beth says:

        I disagree. I understand that there are positive aspects to DLP, but it is not a fit for every family or every child. IME students with English-speaking parents have a hard time keeping up. Foreign language instruction is not recommended for children with speech delays. Practically every school in the surrounding area has DLP – 84, 75, 145, and 165. Why does this neighborhood need more DLP classrooms?

        Ultimately, the DOE’s goal is to close all G&Ts, and when I say all, I mean all of them. A DOE memo, which was leaked last summer, stated as much. Expanding DLP is part and parcel of that effort.

    12. John Lee says:

      How quickly we forget just how bad NYC public schools were in the ’60s,’70s and ’80s. Whites not only abandoned NYC schools for private schools of all types but also abandoned the city for the suburbs because of the rotten public schools. This created a complete lack of racial and economic diversity. In Manhattan just about the only school that whites sent their kids to was PS6. Even the vaunted Stuy and Bronx Sci were in decline. NYC Public schools were considered unsafe and unable to deliver an education. It was increasing tuitions and a return of middle-class whites and a growing immigrant Asian community that drove public school system improvement and actually improved the city. The involvement of parents in improving the schools is what drove the success of the GT programs.

      Unfortunately, no one will speak about the reality that certain groups do not value education in the same way. Asians are a minority and yet they succeed in the same system because they value education and have strong family structures that support the child. They also succeed despite being discriminated against for their success. You fix the problem of diversity in education by addressing issues like fatherless homes, culture etc. At some point, these issues must be part of the conversation if real change is ever going to take place.

      The school system apparently has never heard the expression, “a rising tide lifts all boats” but hey every other aspect of NYC is returning t the ’70s so why not the public schools.

    13. Chris says:

      That’s why we need private and Catholic school! G&T Education should be earned not entitled!!!

    14. Sarah says:

      Gifted and Talented programs have always been a ridiculous construct. The curriculum is not special in any way. It is simply the same curriculum, as everyone else’s, taught one year in advance. Want to get your kid into a specialized H.S.? Just make sure they learn algebra. I went from private school to public and learned nothing new in 5 & 6th grade. That is how far behind the Public School curriculum is. I got into Bronx Science with no prep because I was in G&T and my JHS taught algebra. Kids coming out of the HS testing were literally crying because they had never seen the math on the test before. So yes, the system is designed to segregate. G&T should be everyone’s curriculum. As someone who spent years performing psychological and intelligence testing, I can tell you there are very few people that are genuinely “gifted” and those few were usually on some other spectrum. This system was all designed to separate kids who don’t have involved parents. The kids that actually need help the most.

    15. West Side Lawyer says:

      The term “segregation” is a loaded misnomer, falsely implying that the intent behind Jim Crow schools in the 1960 south and the NYC public schools is somehow identical — when in fact, it couldn’t be more different.

      And exactly how is it that Chloe Zhao is routinely feted as the first “woman of color” to win the Best Director Oscar, yet Chinese and other Asian-American students don’t count as “students of color” for these “segregation” lamentations?

    16. UWS mom says:

      The NYC DOE has only 1% of its students in gifted and talented programs. ONE PERCENT. I have no idea how one can argue that the low performance of NYC schools is due to this small sliver of its population. When all the G&T students are gone, and when all of those families leave the NYC public school system and go into private or suburban schools, who will the DOE blame? The fault lies in an incompetent DOE which has failed its students for decades. Posturing over this program for political optics is not helping anyone.

    17. UWS G&T parent says:

      I am a former war refugee, who went through a gifted program in my country. The study and work habits learned through my education kept me out of poverty, saved me from homelessness, and allowed me to attain everything America has promised us. Our child is in one of the current G&T programs, and the elimination of this option will push us to a private school setting. This is sad, as we came to this school for its socioeconomic diversity and turned down every private school offer.

    18. UWS parent says:

      Leon writes “The [G&T] test is available to everyone.” This isn’t true. In theory it is, yes, and even “on paper.” But in practice this isn’t the case. When my child was 4 years old in a universal pre-K program in a NYC public school, I knew nothing about the G&T test, the process, etc. No information was given to the families. No letter sent home saying “You have a 4-yr-old – did you know he/she is eligible to take the G&T test? Here’s how…” Etc. I made multiple trips to the school office to ask about it – for a G&T admissions guide, a booklet on it – anything. They had nothing, each time. They even seemed confused by my asking about it and not sure where to direct me. Not everyone knows where to look online to find this info. Not everyone has easy access online. Not everyone knows this program *exists* when their child is 4 – you can’t Google something you don’t know exists. This was a largely Hispanic school that is also Title I. (My family is not Hispanic.) Trust me, no one was encouraging the 4-year-olds there to take this test. No one was even informing their families that they could. It shouldn’t be completely on families to actively seek out this info. Why doesn’t the city automatically test every single 4-yr-old who’s in a public school, and see the results they get? That would make it genuinely “available” to everyone.

      • Also UWS parent says:

        This is a ridiculous argument. G&T programming/testing has never been a secret, it is one of the options available and offered through the DOE website, along with K admission to your zoned school. If you just sign up to myschools (which is the DOE centralized system), you will be automatically receiving the emails about G&T, just by virtue of birth year. DOE also sent ton of material, including practice tests.
        The fact that some parents do not do basic homework and expect information be spoon-fed to them does not negate the fact that G&T has always been an option available to all.

    19. M says:

      The G&T classes were largely made up of kids who had taken G&T prep classes to help them pass the test. If they are truly gifted they shouldn’t have needed help to pass the test.

      • Another UWS Parent says:

        largely? How do you know? Because you read it somewhere? My children did not prep, and most of their friends did not either.

      • Boris says:

        Children can be both gifted and unable to test well. Prepping for tests doesn’t transform a non-gifted child into a gifted one.

    20. robert says:

      You all know that there is a NYC and NYS state law requiring teaching of the arts by certified teachers in that subject. Students are supposed to have 108 hours plus of this or 1 credit to graduate

    21. boysUWS says:

      G&T is meant to appease anybody that sends their kid to public school but wants the special label. A feeling of ” I could have sent my kid to private because they are so smart. But I support public schools as long as I have the G&T badge.” How can a kindergartener have an enriched curriculum?
      It is also for parents on the track of having kids prepped from pre school years. This is not about how gifted & talented a 5 year old because at that age, they are just playing.

    22. Vincent Mcgowan says:

      Decisions that brought us to the loss of these programs are driving the best and brightest out of our neighborhood.
      Our children are pawns in the Dept of Ed chess board.
      We should get back to a normal school day ASAP