New York’s Equitable Education Misses the Mark

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Academically advanced students in New York are under attack. In April, equity advocates in New York City renewed efforts to fulfill the wishes of a 2019 Report that suggested New York City schools phase out “gifted and talented” education programming that provides an accelerated curriculum for high performing students with concerns that gifted and talented programs create de facto segregation in schools.  

Undoubtedly, the intentions of these equity advocates to lessen racial inequalities in the New York City public school system are good, but they have misdiagnosed the situation. The racial disparity problem is not the fault of the advanced learning curriculum within the gifted and talented programs but rather the admittance protocols that decide who can participate in them. 

The accelerated learning programs admittance protocols in New York City have traditionally had problems identifying gifted students resulting in representations of white and Asian students at around 70 percent — much higher than the average racial makeup of a New York Public School. However, instead of phasing out accelerated curriculum, equity advocates should propose solutions that better identify which children are “gifted and talented” by changing the admittance approaches historically based on a student’s performance on a single standardized test. Candidates in the current race for New York City’s Mayor who are opposed to cutting gifted and talented programming have already offered such solutions.  

Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang told Chalkbeat that though he would keep the SHSAT (the current standardized test that is the sole admission criteria for specialized high schools), he would also “advocate expanding the admissions criteria at selective high schools to include interviews, recommendations, grades, and written work.” These changes could offer a better chance at admittance to students without access to test preparation as well as to students with unique gifts — the kind that don’t show up on a standardized test. 

Still, equity advocates want to remove this programming entirely, negatively affecting the near 40 percent of high-performing students of lower socioeconomic status. In short, it would actually further the system’s inequalities — the exact opposite of what educational equity advocates have in mind for New York City students. If the city cuts gifted education programming, wealthier families with gifted students will probably just leave the public school system to find a more suitable and challenging environment for their children. We’ve seen it before. Those left behind will be the 40 percent of talented children who need a challenge but whose families cannot afford private schooling. 

The School Diversity Advisory Group, the same group that produced the 2019 study, acknowledged these consequences, saying if middle-class children did leave to attend private schools or public schools in the suburbs, it would “become even more difficult to create high-quality integrated schools.” That begs the question; why risk bringing such difficulty on New York’s public schools in the first place? But, even if no students chose to switch school districts or attend a private school after gifted programming was cut, there would still be disparities in education equity. Wealthier students would still have more access to supplemental education, like enrolling in private after-school tutoring or other learning programs. Cutting gifted programs wouldn’t equalize a thing. In fact, all it would do is kneecap top students from low-income backgrounds by taking away their only chance at thriving in a stimulating learning environment. 

Equity advocates should propose equitable changes to the admittance process instead of being hasty by eliminating gifted and talented education programs altogether. Accelerated learning programs provide opportunities for the highest performing students no matter their background. Advocates earnest about fostering equity in education should encourage reform to accelerated learning programs admissions standards instead of ending them. The future is bright for New York City students, so let us hope the system’s problems can be diagnosed correctly from now on.

Cooper Conway
Cooper Conway is a contributor at Young Voices and a Boise State University Honors College student, where he studies political science.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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