David R. Jones (137830)
David R. Jones Credit: Contributed

The Adams administration recently fulfilled a campaign promise to maintain the city’s Gifted & Talented programs (G&T). According to the Mayor’s announcement, 1,000 new seats will be added to third grade G&T for the 2022-23 school year and an additional 100 seats will be added to kindergarten G&T as well. 

This policy change ameliorates some concerns about the inaccessibility of G&T programs as it would establish the much-coveted programs in every district of the city; thereby, incorporating more students of color into the program than the previous iteration. 

For me, the mayor’s expansion of G&T brought to mind Brown v. Board of Education (1954). With that historic ruling, which ended de jure segregation, G&T programs became a loophole for White parents to avoid integration. Though schools were being forced to integrate across the nation, classrooms and special programs were not; so, White parents could avoid integration by enrolling their children in advanced placement courses that were closed off to children of color.

Unfortunately, not much changed in the following decades. As recently as 2018, reporting on G&T found that enrollment tightly correlated with poverty rates, with higher poverty areas having lower enrollment rates than lower poverty areas. Since there is a close relationship between economic standing and racial identification in the United States, it should come as no surprise that students of color have been heavily underrepresented in gifted programs. 

This is likely why the federal government has moved away from exclusive G&T program models. The most recent notice inviting applications for the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program encourages recipients to use the grant for accelerated learning for all students, placing particular emphasis on students deemed at-risk and low-income. 

The previous NYC Administration also developed plans to bring accelerated instruction to every student in the public school system. Known as the Brilliant NYC Blueprint, this accelerated learning policy would have begun this fall and would have been accessible to every student, in line with the current federal vision for accelerated learning.

The renewed push for G&T suggests that the Adams Administration believes such programs are at least effective at raising achievement for participants. However, recognized education scholars and researchers suggest the opposite. Two notable scholars on the subject concluded that research on G&T found no effect for gifted program enrollment on achievement except for one study that found a positive effect on math scores but not on reading scores. A 2021 study in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal found that gifted programs across the United States provided little to no academic boost.

As such, prioritizing a selective program that serves such a small number of the students in NYC and provides little academic benefit, sends the wrong message to the vast majority of students who will not benefit from these programs. Here are four pressing issues that the Adams Administration should prioritize to support public school students and families, as well as promote a more equitable education system:

Universal SYEP – To the Mayor’s credit, one of his first actions on the job was to expand Summer Youth Employment (SYEP) by 100,000 seats. A great way to build on this victory would be re-tooling SYEP to be “universal” and more aligned with students’ career goals, as well as increasing future enrollment efforts to include undocumented students. 

Spend Federal Dollars Equitably – A recent Comptroller report found that our school system has not taken full advantage of the $7 billion in pandemic relief provided from the federal government, and worse yet, the monies that were spent were not spent equitably – there was no correlation between dollars spent and low-income enrollment. 

Improve Recovery Services – These services are meant to provide students with extra academic experiences to undo the academic harm of the pandemic. Yet, only 35 percent of families are expected to take advantage of such programs by the end of the year. Given the great variance in accessibility to and administration of such services from school to school, these recovery services are in dire need of reevaluation and redesign. 

Enhance How Students Experience School – We need to get students excited about coming to school again while removing barriers to educational opportunity. This means taking on capital projects like renovating dilapidated school buildings, expanding socio-emotional supports by reducing the student to social worker ratio, and implementing restorative justice practices instead of policing. The Administration should also improve service coordination between city agencies and our schools. For example, students living in shelters shouldn’t have to travel to a different borough to get an education or receive services that would benefit their wellbeing. 

Our city faces massive challenges to ensure students get back on track as we emerge from the pandemic. While well-intentioned, G&T expansion should not be prioritized over long-term investments that serve the vast majority of students, and will pay dividends not only for students today, but for future generations, the city’s economy and its recovering workforce. There is no time to waste. 

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.

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