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City desegregation plan for gifted students causes stir, though details remain fuzzy


A new proposal to scrap a fast track for gifted elementary-schoolers and shake up school admission policies is stirring strong reactions — even as final details remain hazy.

The proposal from a city-appointed diversity group, released Monday, includes eliminating the city’s Gifted and Talented program and moving toward a system of specialized “magnet” programs that don’t screen students by test scores — a move some critics say would eliminate one of the few consistently challenging options for academic high-performers.

But the city’s gifted track is deeply segregated, with black and Latino students comprising only 18% of the program despite making up more than 60% of kindergartners. Proponents of the new plan say the gifted track, which requires students to take an entrance exam at age four, doesn’t truly select for academic ability, and further concentrates educational advantages in the hands of families with resources.

“We’re not taking away,” said Maya Wiley, the chair of the School Diversity Advisory Group that made the recommendations. “We’re expanding and adding based on what works.”

But big questions remain about what a system without the current gifted track would look like, and how much of the plan — which also suggests eliminating the use of grades and test scores as admissions requirements at city middle schools — Mayor de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will adopt.

Report authors suggested the city open “magnet" programs with specialties like arts or humanities education to provide academic enrichment. They cited Washington, D.C., which eliminated the “gifted and talented” designation for young kids and admits older students to specialized magnet schools through a lottery, as a model.

Authors of the city report didn’t specify how many magnet programs should open or how students would enroll, except to say admissions shouldn’t be “selective.” They said such details are better left for a process that includes more community input.

But the plan’s critics worry the proposal would remove a tested high-performing school option without providing a clear alternative.

“Gifted and talented programs represent reasonably good schools” in a city where fewer than half of students scored proficient on the most recent round of state tests, said Yiatin Chu, an elementary school parent in Manhattan’s District 1.

“How is it helping anyone ... to just get rid of everything?”

Gifted programs wouldn’t be immediately eliminated under the new plan, but would stop enrolling new students.

City leaders have long called for reforms to the advanced track to increase the share of black and Latino students. Borough presidents Eric Adams of Brooklyn and Ruben Diaz Jr. of the Bronx suggested requiring all kindergartners to take the entrance exam or opt out, an approach other cities have used successfully.

Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for “revamping” the gifted track, but not eliminating it outright.

Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has two kids in a gifted program, advocated looking at a “range of solutions," including ensuring universal child care to put kids on more equal footing entering grade school.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, who spoke briefly at a press conference unveiling the proposal on Tuesday, said he will review the report as soon as possible. Even the most immediate recommendations in the report are set to be implemented within three years — by which time de Blasio will be out of office.