Cookies

This Website use Cookies OK

Read more Opinion News

Protect gifted and talented education: Bronx’s borough president on what it offers his neighbors and what it meant to him

2019-08-30

File - Protect gifted and talented education: Bronx’s borough president on what it offers his neighbors and what it meant to him (monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In their efforts to address the very real issue of school segregation, the de Blasio administration appears to be seriously considering an advisory panel’s recommendation to end gifted and talented education in our public schools. This is a short-sighted idea and would have dramatically negative effects on every community that relies on public schools as their on-ramp to college and the workforce.

The path toward true equity is providing quality education to every student at every grade. The de Blasio administration should expand, not eliminate, accelerated learning opportunities for our children.

Just days before the advisory panel’s report became public, Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza held a press conference to pat themselves on the back for small gains in state test scores, even though those same tests clearly illustrate the real scandal facing our city’s public elementary and middle schools: Fewer than half of our students read and do math at grade level.

The concept of academic rigor in our public schools stands at the precipice. Some critics will argue that all students should be given a high-level education in our public schools, and that separate gifted classes should not be necessary. That may be correct in theory, but the aforementioned test scores — which show that just 47.4% of the city’s third-through-eighth grade public school students met proficiency standards in English and 45.6% met proficiency standards in math last year — make it crystal clear how that works in practice.

There are over 1 million children in New York City public schools; eliminating G&T programs, which serve only 16,000 youngsters, will not make a dent in solving the pervasive segregation problem. Eliminating opportunity from these few students does not help the rest.

In fact, expanding gifted and talented programs to enroll more black and Latino students is a far better way forward.

I know exactly how important these programs can be, having been a student in one during elementary school at PS 31 in the South Bronx. At a time when so many had given up on the Bronx, the teachers and administrators of my school never gave up on me. They nurtured my curiosity, and provided me with additional, more challenging schoolwork to keep me motivated.

I would not be where I am today without the jump-start provided to me by that gifted and talented program.

Yet because of changes made years ago, District 7, where my PS 31 once stood, does not currently have a single program for kids like me. We are losing so many talented boys and girls of color who enter public schools motivated and ready but over time lose the spark in their eyes because they need to be pushed to greater heights of excellence.

Instead of seeking to shutter gifted programs, de Blasio and Carranza should be working to expand these offerings and see that every student is tested before kindergarten, and then retested in the earliest grades. If more black and Latino students take the test, more will undoubtedly qualify for these programs, and the Department of Education will be forced to develop gifted programs in communities they have typically ignored.

There is a direct correlation between the lack of gifted and talented programs in minority communities and the ongoing scandal of black and Latino admissions to the city’s eight specialized public high schools.

How will destroying accelerated learning programs across the city help more black and Latino students get accepted into Stuyvesant or Bronx Science? It will only cement our tale of two public school systems.

The myriad issues that face our city’s public schools are not going to be solved by demanding less rigor or giving up on seeking excellence in our students. Mayor de Blasio needs to stand up for our children, reject these recommendations and expand accelerated learning options to every community, at every grade level.

A chief responsibility of any elected official is to ensure that city services and programs are working equitably to the benefit of everyone. That equity cannot be achieved by eliminating opportunity.

Diaz is Bronx borough president.