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Eliminate gifted & talented programs? Then rethink how to give high-achieving kids what they deserve

2019-08-27

Eliminate gifted & talented programs? Then how to give high-achieving kids what they deserve (skynesher/Getty Images)

New York City’s School Diversity Advisory Group has called for the elimination of all Gifted & Talented programs. I have no problem with that.

I agree with Chancellor Richard Carranza when he says, “There is no body of knowledge that I know of that has pointed to the fact that you can give a test to a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old and determine if they’re gifted. Those tests — and it’s pretty clear — are more a measure of the privilege of a child’s home than true giftedness.”

But here is where the chancellor and I part company. I agree that the majority of the 4,000-plus New York City kids annually labeled “gifted” are simply the bright children of mostly college educated parents who have been read to (not to mention prepped, I’d never deny many have been prepped).

Except I don’t care how these children acquired their knowledge. I only care that they have it.

Carranza apparently believes the purpose of public school is to sit boys and girls of various races, ethnicities, religions and socio-economics status next to each other.

I venture that some learning should also take place amongst the sitting.

Which is where I get confused.

My (FWIW: African-American) daughter has struggled with math and writing mechanics since second grade. It did her no good to sit next to students who didn’t share her difficulties. Proximity to classmates who could calculate and write grammatically did not magically endow her with those skills. If anything, it made her tune out. It wasn’t until she was placed in Special Learning, where her issues could be dealt with in an environment that was moving at her speed, that she was able to progress and, eventually, catch up.

Conversely, one of my (FWIW: Also African-American) sons has been begging me to quit school since he was in third grade, claiming he was deathly bored and spinning his wheels studying principles he’d already mastered. It wasn’t until he was allowed to complete Algebra 2 Regents in eighth grade and take an AP science class in ninth, that (some) of the whining was muted.

I hope the chancellor and the mayor can explain to me how it benefits anyone for one child to sit in a physics class she doesn’t possess the math skills to understand, or another child to spend a year (or more) reviewing what they already know?

Yes, the kids in gifted or screened programs (including my own) aren’t immeasurably brilliant at everything, in every way. So, go ahead, get rid of that silly label. I wouldn’t mind.

But don’t get rid of the idea that different children develop at different rates in different subject areas. That they come into schools with different experiences and exposures. Isn’t that true diversity? Meeting each child where they are, instead of insisting they’re a homogeneous block?

And even the most talented teacher will struggle to effectively differentiate instruction when kids have vastly different prior knowledge.

You want more children of different races, ethnicities, religions and socio-economics status occupying the same building? Then why not go ahead and get rid of those pesky G&T programs which you believe are preventing that from happening? And, instead, allow all children to progress through all subjects at their own pace.

You charge that giftedness cannot be definitively tested for in a 4- or 5-year-old. You’re right. But would you argue the same for mastery?

Are you saying it’s impossible to test whether a kindergartner is reading chapter books? Whether a first grader can do multiplication and division?

That 5-year-old reading at a third grade level: Why not put her in a reading group of her peers, regardless of age or arbitrary grade designation? The same goes for the math kid, and the one who is fluent in Spanish. You’re right, they’re not necessarily gifted, they’re just privileged to have been exposed to these subjects earlier than others.

But so what? Don’t all kids deserve the privilege of being educated at the level appropriate to them?

If all children could be accommodated at all levels at all schools, you’d get your diversity. And maybe, as a byproduct, even some more learning, too.

Adams is author of, “Getting Into NYC Kindergarten” and “Getting Into NYC High School.”