NYC Reboots Gifted and Talented Program With Major Expansion: What to Know

Former Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced a plan to eradicate the program in October, citing a history of disproportionately enrolling white and Asian students at a higher rate than Black and Latino students

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Fresh off a first 100 days in office that in some respects have unearthed a number of major challenges for Mayor Eric Adams -- from backlash over COVID mandate decisions to homelessness to increasing subway crime that climaxed this week with a mass shooting on a rush-hour train -- the Democrat is making another change.

Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks jointly announced Thursday a planned expansion to the at-times controversial Gifted and Talented program that will extend the offering citywide for the first time and add seats, especially for third-graders.

The effort to reinvigorate the longstanding program comes months after former Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to end it, citing a history of the program fueling systemic inequities by disproportionately enrolling white and Asian students compared with their Black and Latino counterparts and serving higher-income areas at higher rates.

According to the plan unveiled Thursday, the city will add 100 kindergarten seats and 1,000 third-grade seats, expanding both entry points to all districts for the first time and ensuring a more equitable screening process. It also will keep engaging parents and other stakeholders on the issue, saying those sessions informed the new plan.

Applications for both the kindergarten and third-grade programs open on May 31.

Adams had made his intentions for gifted and talented clear on the campaign trail, saying it wasn't right to eradicate the program without replacing it. Adams' plan is to implement an accelerated learning model that he says will expand and improve it -- with a focus on reaching more children, especially those in underserved communities.

"Expanding our Gifted and Talented program to all New York City districts is about giving every child, in every zip code, a fair chance and making sure no child is left behind," Adams said in a statement. "For the first time ever, there will be a Gifted and Talented program in every school district in this city. This is how we give every young person an opportunity to grow, to learn, to explore their talents and imagination."

The schools chancellor's vision for NYC public schools has 4 pillars, and includes changes to the controversial Gifted and Talented program. It also addresses the thousands of families who have pulled their children from public schools. NBC New York's Andrew Siff reports.

What Changes and How Will Your Family Benefit?

Historically, kindergarten has been the initial entry point for New York City Gifted and Talented programs. For the 2022-2023 school year, about 100 new kindergarten seats are being added to the Gifted and Talented portfolio — expanding the program to all 32 districts and bringing the total number of seats to 2,500.

To fill these seats, every current pre-K student will be evaluated by their current teacher for a potential nomination. Universal pre-K screening takes the initial burden off families and creates access for more children with a more diverse eligibility pool.

First implemented for the 2021-2022 school year, universal screening led to a more diverse pool of students receiving invitations to apply for Gifted and Talented programs. Students enrolled in non-DOE programs and those not yet enrolled in school will participate in an interview with DOE staff to confirm eligibility.   

Families of eligible, nominated children will receive an eligibility letter inviting them to apply before the process opens. The third-grade level also gets a huge infusion of support, with every district in the city set to provide an extra entry point, amounting to a baseline of one program in each district and the 1,000-seat total.

Determined by grades in the four core subject areas, the top 10% of second graders in each school will be invited to apply to a third-grade Gifted and Talented program. Families will be considered for placement at all of their application choices and offers will be made based on district and sibling priorities, as well as seat availability. Grade 3 programs will grow to grades 4 and 5 in subsequent years, officials said.

Child development research shows that identifying gifted behavior in later grades may provide a more accurate assessment of gifted ability, the city officials say.

"Today we move to end the era of scarcity — the era of making families fight amongst themselves for limited Gifted and Talented seats in far off schools," Banks said in a statement. "Through this expansion, we are providing more opportunities for accelerated learning to more families, while providing an equitable, fair process to identify the students who will excel with accelerated learning."

Why the Reboot? Controversial Backstory

New York City has the largest public school district in America, with more than 1 million students enrolled, and though the city is one of the most diverse in the country, its public education system has long been criticized as being among the most heavily segregated, particularly within the gifted and talented program.

About 75% of the program’s 16,000 students are white or of Asian descent, though Black and Latino students make up about two-thirds of students.

Banks had previously called on a need to improve the program, among other facets of the system, in an address earlier this year as he announced more than 120,000 families had left the school system in the past five years. The stunning number had floated around before but NYC Schools hadn’t confirmed it.

Although the decline started before the pandemic, the health crisis accelerated it. When it comes to the declining population of public schools, Banks said that the district has "broken the trust for our families. We gotta build that trust back.”

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