Should District 3 Create a New Gifted & Talented Program in Harlem? Officials See More Drawbacks Than Benefits

Photo by Allan Foster.

By Marie Holmes

The city’s plan to add another 1,000 seats to third grade Gifted and Talented (G&T) school programs, announced by Mayor Eric Adams last month, met stiff resistance from some Upper West Side parents and school officials at a recent meeting of the Community Education Council for District 3 (CEC3). The purpose of the meeting was to gather public feedback.

Under the city’s proposal, District 3 would get one new G&T program, starting in the 2022-23 school year, in Harlem. District 3 covers the West Side of Manhattan from 59th Street to 122nd Street.

But the clear message from parents, principals and teachers at the April 28 education council meeting was: don’t do it.

Speakers noted low enrollment numbers in a number of District 3 schools, saying another G&T program could siphon students away and lower the funding a school receives. New York City provides 51% of school funding; NY State provides 34%; and the Federal government and other sources provide 15%, according to the Department of Education (DOT).

Marcia Hendricks, principal of The STEM Institute of Manhattan, a pre-K-5th grade school at 240 W 113th Street, said enrollment at her school had declined to the point that a second-grade class currently has only four students.

Hendricks and others also argued that expanding gifted and talented programs – rather than doing away with them, as Adams’s predecessor, Bill de Blasio, had sought to do — would increase inequality within the city’s school system.

“I appreciate the brilliance in all of my students,” Hendricks said.

District 3 is currently home to one citywide (refers to higher admission requirements) G&T program, the Anderson School, a K-8 school at 100 W 77th street: as well as four district-wide G&T programs: PS 165, a pre-K-5 school at 234 W 109th Street; PS 166, a K-5 school at 132 W 89th Street; PS 191, a K-5 school at 300 W 61st Street, whose G&T program begins in the 3rd grade; and PS 163, a pre-K-5 school at 163 W 97th Street.

The program at PS 163 is currently being phased out, in the face of criticism that it effectively segregated students by race. Jennifer Burns-Rotich, a kindergarten teacher at the school, told the council meeting that by eliminating the separate G&T class, students are able to “mix with each other [and] learn from each other.”

Steve Hernon, principal of PS 191 — the only district school right now with a G&T class starting in grade three — was blunt. “It does not work,” he said. “It does not help the school in an enrollment manner.” Other challenges, Hernon added, were “segregated classes,” and “constraints on what we can do for students and teachers.”

A Community Education Council is an advisory body of parents, “responsible for…reviewing and evaluating their district’s educational programs; approving zoning lines; and holding public hearings on certain matters,” according to DOT. It consists of 11 members:  nine parents of students in the district, who are elected by the full parent body; two community residents and/or local business leaders appointed by the Borough President; and a non-voting high school senior who lives in the district and is appointed by the Community Superintendent.

Kent Hansan, a high school math teacher, parent of a student in a Harlem school, and a member of the education council, suggested a possible compromise: using a “pull-out” system that would keep gifted and talented students in regular classes with other students but give them additional, outside instruction. It’s a model commonly used for special education or teaching English as a second language.

Though Hansan’s proposal drew approving comments from others at the council meeting, Superintendent Christine Loughlin noted that funding for a “pull-out” class – rather than a formal gifted and talented program – likely would not be available.

Applications to G&T programs are open from May 31-June 13. Families can find more information on the DOE website.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 41 comments | permalink
    1. charles says:

      Because of political correctness, integration is of greater importance than excellence in learning. In a classroom with students of mixed abilities, the bright student is bored to tears. The teacher has to dilute her lessons to meet the needs of the average student. When scholarly excellence is superseded by social engineering learning will mediocre.

      • Susan T. says:

        Well said.

      • longtime eductor says:

        Charles, how many decades has it been since you’ve been in a classroom?

        The more difficult truth is that the vast majority of students selected for gifted and talented programs are neither.

        • longer time educated says:

          I totally agree with you! Even calling these “gifted and talented” is cringeworthy. In High School my class was SP for “special progress” which jokingly was called SP for stupid people by the other classes. My daughter was at Anderson in the late 1990’s – thankfully the school was very small and she had no clue about different classes – until maybe 4th grade…
          Very happy and sad to see grown ups think they and/or their children are special – rarely comment but this was fascinating!

    2. Steven Barall says:

      So turn the STEM Institute of Manhattan into a GT school and keep the students in the building. It’s fantastic that so many of their students are getting onto GT programs. That’s not a problem.

      So it seems that there are a lot of really smart kids out there who put in the work and want to succeed but the Department of Education is just not equipped to handle them. We need new much smarter and committed administrators and new and better teachers. Stop blaming all the problems with the school system on the students. It’s going to take another ten years to fix all the problems created by diBelasio and Carranza.

    3. david says:

      If you wish to guarantee mediocrity in education have mixed ability classes. In current times social engineering is more important than learning and educational achievement.

    4. Harlem Parent says:

      There needs to be a new city-wide G&T program in District 3’s catchment area, as far north as possible in Harlem proper, not another district program. City-wide schools are the crown-jewels of the G&T program, and have the best chance of eliminating segregation within a single school while providing choice for parents and kids who live in Harlem. There could be tiered preference that prioritizes kids living in Harlem. Drawing from across the city, this would also mitigate enrollment concerns.

      As it stands, there is a single district G&T program in what most would consider Harlem (not Morningside Heights) in District 5. Whether this is housed formally in District 5 or 3 is immaterial, but this should have at least been part of the discussion if it was not.

    5. Elise says:

      The reason the (Democrat party) officials are against it is because they are owned by the Teachers union, which doesn’t want competition with their failed monopoly.

      • UFT4ME says:

        Re: “Teachers union, which doesn’t want competition with their failed monopoly.”
        Hmmm…”failed monopoly” sounds like something a certain former president would say, calling people “losers” and the NYT “a failed newspaper”.
        Besides, WHAT monopoly?? The UFT recently held its election, in which members had the opportunity to replace the current leadership. Guess what? The members approved of the current leadership.
        Of course, such facts have no influence on anti-union people.

      • UWS Dad says:

        I am a long time UFT member. I used to be against charter schools, as our union is. But a few years ago I realized that I should be happy for the parents who get their children into charter schools. They obviously just want what’s best for their own kids. Some will be benefit greatly.

    6. Peter says:

      “It doesn’t work” – meaning, you actually have outcome data showing that G&T students do worse??

      Given the rhetorical nature of my question and the transparent weakness of their other arguments (“enrollment” – read: they’ll take my funding, I might lose my job; “segregation” – really, tell me about the poor Asian kids in G&T?), I join the others in admonishing the lasting legacy of DeBlasio-era slide into educational mediocrity.

    7. D. Ed says:

      It doesn’t work?
      Then how come so many parents want to have their kids in G&T classes? More than 500 students in D3 were eligible for G&T seats but less than a 100 got an offer. Why? because there are not enough seats. Open as many G&T needed to meet demand. Otherwise you’ll see more and more parents moving to charter or moving to the burbs to find high quality education!

    8. Jen says:

      When people are advocating lower standards in the name of equity, do they realize that very soon they are going to have bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad professionals overall.

      • LK says:

        They don’t care. Their agenda is ‘how to score points now at all costs’ – what will happen tomorrow is of no interest to them. That’s what Deblasio’s administration was all about – achieve quick political gains by taking things away from others. Education is a long-term investment, which runs contrary to short-term political interests.

        • Jen says:

          Well-said. Yes, everything is to get votes tomorrow, long-term outcome is not something politicians are interested in.

          We are also to blame though. We vote for those politicians.

    9. Jen says:

      My child attends the school with G&T. Most students at G&T are Asian. He is not. Are we supposed to cry segregation? Absolutely not. These kids are working hard and have bright future, very well deserved. As well it benefits the society in general to have more bright and educated people.

    10. Klarina says:

      So wait, to arrest enrollment’s downward trends, principals reject new G&T and even dismantle existing programs? Good news for Success Academy…

    11. Joe says:

      Rather than dumbing down America to be fair and equitable and inclusive, bring slower people up.

    12. Su says:

      Having a G&T program start in 3rd grade at PS 191 instead of earlier grades may be one reason it’s not helping that school with enrollment. Who wants to transfer their kid in 3rd grade, after establishing friends and school community, to a G&T program toward which its own principal is against? What about PS 163, which many families fled once the principal unilaterally eliminated G&T? How about an objective look at these G&T programs with numbers and facts instead of simply relying on emotion?

    13. ASH Jensen says:

      This article paints a skewed picture of the situation. Many families have left the DOE schools (and will continue to do so) due to the lack of accelerated and gifted programming in the public programs available.

      Historically, there have been thousands of children who scored 90th+ percentile but didn’t get seats in G&T programs; there simply weren’t (aren’t) enough seats (and certainly not enough in all neighborhoods across our diverse city).

      Many children are not able to progress at their natural pace due to the lack of G&T availability. Let’s not hold these kids back!

      Create/expand G&T in every borough!

    14. Em says:

      Unlike the article’s message, these D3 schools aren’t losing kids to G&T, there aren’t enough G&T seats. They are losing the seats to charter schools, in their own backyard, as there is a proliferation of charter, but no growth in G&T seats.

    15. 72RSD says:

      “‘I appreciate the brilliance in all of my students,’ Hendricks said.”

      In a prior paragraph this school official mentions that there are only four students in her second grade class.

      I don’t think this is what people mean when they talk about the benefits of small class sizes. It sounds like public schools are failing to be a rigorous option for smart kids, and parents are withdrawing from a failing system.

      The credibility gap between so-called educators and parents is growing ever wider. Eliminating merit and excellence is not the answer. If that means more G&T, so be it.

    16. Carlos says:

      A solution to the problem is to limit G&T seats to those who really need them. The average class at 9, 87 and 199 is being taught at close to a G&T level. I know many families from these schools who have turned down G&T placements. Don’t let these kids take G&T seats.

      I also find it ironic that we are discussing elementary school G&T, yet we have basically eliminated all forms of G&T and tracking at the D3 middle schools. The quest for “equity” at middle schools has dumbed down these schools. And by the time kids get to 6th grade, there really is a very wide variety of skill levels where differentiated classes truly are critical.

      • Beth says:

        That’s not what I’m hearing from some families at 9, 87, and 199. There’s interest in tracking/G&T there, too.

        • Carlos says:

          I’m a parent at one of these schools who turned down G&T. I have heard no requests for tracking from anyone. Most of the top schools have some amount of assistant teachers (funded by parents) who help with differentiated learning.

          I’m not sure who your sources are but they sound like the type of people who will never be happy and think their little snowflakes are perfect. Which is exactly why I didn’t send my child to G&T.

          Despite allegedly being so brilliant and having had the “advantages” of G&T, the former G&T kids do not stand out at all at the D3 middle schools.

          • LK says:

            Carlos, while I also turned down district G&T in favor of one of the schools above, I don’t think your statement, “Don’t let these kids take G&T seats” is appropriate. You and I are not in a position to dictate to other parents. If they think that their kids are better off there ( and the kids qualify ) – you have to respect it. I know that we agree that choice in education is important…

    17. J says:

      This article inadvertently exposes the ugly truth behind the fight against G&T: “another G&T program could siphon (sic!) students away and lower the funding (sic!) a school receives”. School officials know perfectly well how strong the demand for quality education is in the city and that G&T programs attract families. They are not fighting for better educational options for our kids, they are fighting for the funds their own school would receive for each enrolled student.

      • J says:

        School officials lament their current low enrollment without realizing that it is the scarcity of rigorous academic offering, such as G&T program, that drives parents away from the zoned schools to charter schools, private schools or out of the city entirely. Between 2016 and 2020 public schools lost 9% of students, while charter schools increased their enrollment by 33%. They would have increased even more if not for the state cap.

    18. JS says:

      G&T “does not help the school in an enrollment manner?” PS 163 that announced the end of its G&T program last year, lost 20% of students this year. PS 166 kept its G&T program and it lost less than 3% at the same time.

    19. A says:

      Equity is a noble cause, but it should not mean everybody should get the same, it means everybody should have the same chance. G&T is not for everybody, the same way as music schools or sports training are not for everybody. We should be fighting for the universal screening and for G&T class in every school, so that kids who need more rigorous academic curriculum and are able to handle more homework would have their chance.

      • Opportunity vs outcome says:

        Right. Equality of outcome is often confused with equality of opportunity. They are not the same. The US ideal is founded on equality of opportunity, which ideal has gradually been met better over time, not on an artificially induced equality of outcome. What would the NBA or NFL look like if we imposed equality of outcome with artificial percentages based on race or any other metric irrelevant to playing that sport?

        • G & T for jocks says:

          Perhaps we should have a gifted and talented program for athletes that we assess at age 5. Those kids can go to schools with the proper fields, coaches, and resources. Why should we bring them down by having them compete in regular public schools with sub-par student-athletes? Diversity is great, but my g & T little athlete shouldn’t have to play with scrubs. After 6 years (k-5) of athletic nurturing, we could talk about how deserving those young athletes are and how the other kids/families should find ways to improve their lot.

          • Beth says:

            You joke, but in Europe they identify kids at a young age and put them in sports academies.

          • straw men make weak arguments says:

            Re G&T 4 jocks – Great idea. But a straw man: the issue here is opportunity vs outcome re existing programs not whether other programs are needed to pose the same conundrum.

    20. old westsider says:

      That’s right. Just continue to put ideology before education.
      Keep dumbing down, so students who are very smart will be
      put in classes where, as one teacher said, “mix with each other
      [and] learn from each other.” Students don’t learn to write well from other students.They don’t learn math from other students.

      If some kids are much smarter than others,
      don’t they merit the chance to do work that is more advanced
      than others. Some college basketball players make the pros.
      Others do not. Why? Because some players are more talented
      than others. Some students are more talented than others.
      And it has nothing to do with race.

    21. D3 Teacher says:

      As a teacher in a mixed ability school for 20 years, I understand how complicated this is for everyone. I have seen many times how much better struggling students do in mixed ability classes– they make incredible progress when grouped with students who push them forward, and they usually continue to struggle when in homogenous groupings. On the other hand, the high performing students who do well in mixed ability settings are usually highly empathetic and thrive around people who are different from them. It’s not right for everyone.

      If the city chooses to expand “gifted” programs, that has to go hand in hand with BIG, EXPENSIVE changes for the rest of the students of the city. For starters, students who are performing below grade level should be in classes with no more than 18 students. Every one of their classrooms should have two teachers. Teachers who teach in those classrooms should receive extra pay to incentivize sending our best teachers to our highest need children. If people want to isolate high performing students in their own schools or programs, then I urge them to be just as passionate about exciting changes in other classrooms.

      Please, please, please listen to educators and don’t be so quick to dismiss their expertise.

      • 72RSD says:

        Thank you for this perspective.

        However, extra pay alone is not an incentive when the teacher’s union fights tooth-and-nail against efforts to measure the results of teaching.

        We spend more per pupil than any other country in the nation. The City budget alone is the same as the state of Florida.

        By most measures we’re not getting value for the money. I don’t think you’re the problem. But I *do* think you should be untethered from the industrial labor model that has somehow become standard in unionized teaching environments. You should be making $200K/year base with performance incentives measured with both objective and subjective metrics.

      • Beth says:

        We do think about other children and to assume that we don’t isn’t fair. We are aware the DOE does not provide the services underperforming students require. Our issue is that they position taking away G&T as an “improvement” for all students, when we know they truly have no intention of helping underperforming students. We object to losing G&T, a program many families value, for nothing. Yes, my take is cynical, but it’s the truth.

      • Calling a spade a spade says:

        Re D3 teacher – you sound thought fun but you’re missing an important issue – the union. if teachers hadn’t taken a slick union boondoggle of pay check for a year or two for doing no or remote work (unlike the rest of the blue collar work force) thereby failing their underperforming students – underperforming students would be in less of a hole. All the private schools managed to be open in the same
        period and often in very constrained spaces. So if you really want to help underperforming kids why don’t you start a movement to reject the teachers union? That’s the shackle here. Not just private schools.Even the charters schools do much better – the teachers union own charters school failed miserably because the teachers union has awful policies. It protects often poor teachers and poor policies that fail students. It’s not just about more $. It’s about the union. So, physician, heal thyself.

    22. Joyce Rudko says:

      As a retired teacher I greatly applaud Eric Adams. Children who are gifted or have special learning problems just don’t fare well in regular classrooms. The teacher puts all his or her energy on the average student. They are not able to address special needs.

    23. Anthony says:

      it should be increased. the sad fact is that many kids in these failing schools aren’t going to benefit by having the better students in the class. it’s the better students who will be dragged down. creating sepeate classes where the students are good students makes it more likely that they’ll suceed.