In a complete reversal from what the previous administration wanted, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks announced last week that they would expand the gifted and talented programs in city public schools.
The mayor and chancellor said they will add 100 kindergarten seats and 1,000 third-grade seats, which, according to the city, would expand entry points to all districts. The city said that this would expand and update the admission process, and the program would serve all five boroughs.
Applications will be open to New Yorkers on May 31.
Banks said that, unlike the former mayor’s desires, New Yorkers wanted more of what was already there. He told the AmNews that parents around the five boroughs spoke to him and said they wanted more gifted and talented programs.
“So, the reason we did it was because we were hearing steadily from parents and families that this is something that they wanted, say whatever you want to say philosophically about it,” Banks said. “The parents were saying that they want it and there was no…cry from folks to say get rid of it and so we see this chancellorship and this administration, as being responsive to parents and channels.
“…I did not know until I got here that 120,000 families have left the DOE in the last five years. That’s important context, right?
“So many folks have voted with their feet to leave the system,” Banks continued. “And I did not want to be the guy that’s sitting here with my own philosophical beliefs about specialized schools or gifted and talented or whatever while I really should be in service to the families of the communities and what it is that they’re looking for.”
During last week’s announcement, Adams said that these actions were about securing city school children’s centers the right way.
“For the first time, there will be a gifted and talented program in every school district in New York City,” said Adams to reporters. “We are extremely pleased about this purchase over and over again, and I cannot tell you how important this day is. For far too long, we had districts in our city that did not have gifted and talented programs. We are giving every child in every zip code the chance that has been denied too often. I heard this over and over again on the campaign trail, and that denial ends today.”
This didn’t sit right with many. A spokesperson from the organization New York Appleseed, which pushes for equity of resources for public schools, said that they weren’t fond of the recent news.
“New York Appleseed, along with many other organizations that advocate for equitable learning opportunities for all NYC students, particularly our most marginalized students, is incredibly disappointed and dismayed by today’s announcement regarding G&T programming. We are appalled that the NYCDOE came to the conclusion of maintaining programming that separates and segregates our youngest children, often across racial and socioeconomic lines, despite numerous reports, community engagement sessions, and research that cited the detrimental effects G&T programs create for NYC students and the school system as a whole.”
New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams wasn’t quick to praise the move. He wasn’t ambivalent either. He spent most of his academic life in “gifted” classes but doesn’t want others to share that experience of isolation and shame.
“As someone who benefited from the gifted and talented program in its original construction, I know the value of accelerated and enriched education,” stated Williams. “Adding more seats, more access, more opportunity is an improvement that will extend these benefits to more students. At the same time, it is also an expansion of a program that is inherently inequitable. Even when I was enrolled, the gifted and talented program had deep inequities, which have only become more pronounced in the decades since.”
When asked for a response to the public advocate’s statement, Banks said “…they’re entitled to their own opinion. But this mayor and this chancellor spoke to folks. I used to be a part of gifted and talented myself. “…You have people who weigh in on all sides. of the issue. But I’ve been particularly paying attention to the folks who are currently parents in the system right now, and what they have been asking for, and that’s what I was responding to.”
New York State Comptroller Brad Lander echoed Williams’ sentiments.
“Segregating learning environments for elementary students, based on a teacher’s or test’s assessment of how smart they are, is not sound education policy,” stated Lander. We’ve seen repeatedly that stand-alone G&T programs lead to racial segregation. Elementary school students benefit from learning alongside peers with different backgrounds, abilities, and interests. Let’s be clear: that’s one of the core virtues of public education.”
The AmNews also reached out to the activist organization Teens Take Charge. In an email, the group reiterated its stance against anything that separates students, in their eyes, arbitrarily.
“…We’ve advocated in the past against the SHSAT exam as it was created with racist intent and has a racially discriminatory impact on the demographics of the students admitted to these schools,” part of the email read.
The last four years in City Hall produced a different song. Previous mayor Bill de Blasio and former schools chancellor Richard Carranza worked to rid public schools off the gifted and talented program and Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).
Banks talked to the AmNews about the SHSATs and what it means to the public school system. He said that the testing is not a sign of intelligence, and it won’t make a person’s college application look better because they went to one. He said the brouhaha over the exams and the schools connected to it (Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant) are the noise and not the signal.
“So somebody says that ‘what are the fights that you want to have,’ right?” said Banks. “And those are not fights we’re looking to have. We want to create newer opportunities and looking at a different set of criteria for stuff.”
To further emphasize the departure from the de Blasio administration, Adams met with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg this week to announce a program called Summer Boost NYC, whose goal is to give public and charter school students a chance to catch up academically due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Together with a group of partners, we’re committing $50 million to help charter schools create or expand summer school programs that will provide a coverage of an average of five weeks of additional instruction in math and English,” said Bloomberg at a Monday news conference. “All charter schools serving students in grades K through 12 are eligible to receive funding for the program, which will target students who are most in need of extra help. Schools can apply for funding starting today through the website, summerboostnyc.org.”
Adams followed Bloomberg’s announcement with three simple sentences.
“Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome back.”