New York City is addressing segregation claims in its public school system with measures that critics say are long overdue. On Tuesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, announced an end to the city’s “Gifted and Talented” program that began in 1973 and served as a catalyst for a racial divide between white and Black and Latino students.
“Only 25 percent of students in gifted and talented classes are Black and Latino, so that tells you what we’re dealing with here, and that is what we call systemic racism,” said Integrate communications director Seba Uchida Chávez.
What began as a series of questions from Black and Latino families asking why their neighborhood schools lacked the same resources, after-school programs and opportunities that majority-white schools in the public school system were getting by 2017 turned into a citywide campaign led by school integration advocates to make schools more diverse and reflective of their communities.
The push for more diversity began with addressing its root cause: New York City’s public school Gifted and Talent program, which involved a standardized test administered to kindergarteners to determine their aptitude.
The program only had 2,500 slots so only the top-scoring students received a spot and Chavez says most students who did not score high enough were Black and Latino largely because they lacked access to resources and tutors leaving them with poorer performing schools as their only option.
“Schools that are disproportionately white and Asian get more resources, get more attention from the city and the state, and really abandon Black and Latino students, and this continues onto their neighborhoods and their communities,” said Chavez.
An investigation by The City and The Mark-Up found that Black and Latino students are admitted at much lower rates to New York City’s top-performing schools compared to white and Asian students.
“The previous approach was too dependent on a single standardized test. It was not only exclusive and exclusionary because it only reached 2,500 kids out of 65,000. Unfortunately, along with that went very serious racial segregation,” said Bill de Blasio.
The new plan replacing the Gifted and Talented program is called Brilliant NYC and will begin in the fall of 2022. It will gauge a student’s ability with a more holistic approach which will include overall coursework performance, attendance, and teacher evaluations.
Students who are deemed gifted will still learn at an accelerated rate, but they will not be separated from their class to do their advanced coursework. Advocates believe this method gives more Black and Latino students a chance to access gifted classes as opposed to basing their academic futures on a single test.
The elimination of the Gifted and Talented program is part of a larger effort to diversify the New York City Public Schools system which the New York City Department of Education explains, “Given that black and Hispanic children make up 70% of our students citywide, we consider a school racially representative if black and Hispanic students combined make up at least 50% of the student population but no more than 90% of the student population. 30.7% of our schools are racially representative today.”
Integration advocates are cautiously optimistic despite the new plan set to begin next year. The New York mayoral race could upend progress made if the incoming mayor decides not to follow through with Brilliant NYC.
“That’s a big concern for us,” said Chavez, as she and other advocates plan to pressure mayoral candidates to keep the school integration plan in place when one of them assumes office next January.
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