New York Announces Changes in Gifted Program, Adding 1,000 Seats to Third Grade

April 17, 2022

More students will have the opportunity to sign up for New York City’s gifted programs, officials said Thursday.

But despite major changes promised by former mayor Bill de Bellasio, in the face of a complete separation of gifted programs, the new administration has decided to largely adhere to the status quo.

For the 2022-23 school year, the Department of Education plans to add 1,000 new seats across the city for gifted programs to be launched in third grade.

The municipality will also add 100 seats in “gifted and talented” classes in the kindergarten.

Admission to the kindergarten will continue to be based on the kindergarten teachers’ recommendations – a change that began during the epidemic – instead of admission based on an early childhood test only. Education ministry officials said the change led to a more diverse group of incoming kindergarten teachers this year, but did not respond to many requests for demographic information.

In third grade, the top 10% of students in each school – based on grades in four core areas – will be invited to apply. Currently, third grade programs rely on recommendations from teachers and other factors.

“Through this expansion, we are providing more opportunities for accelerated learning to more families, while providing a fair and equitable process for identifying students who will excel at accelerated learning,” Chancellor David Banks said in a statement.

Still, the program will continue to enroll a tiny portion of the city’s students. Every year, more than 60,000 kindergarten teachers enroll in public schools. With the expansion, only about 2,500 of them – 4.2% – will be served in gifted classes.

Officials did not provide information on how many students are currently enrolled in gifted programs starting in third grade and have not clarified how many schools will receive gifted programs for third graders.

De Bellasio called for ending the current model, which separates students into separate classes or even entire schools. In the gifted classes, few black and Latin students study, as well as those who come from low-income families, people with disabilities, learn English as a new language or live in temporary housing.

De Bellasio’s program, called Brilliant NYC, offered to offer “accelerated” learning to any student starting kindergarten and then filtering out students for a third-grade-specific acceleration.

But the outgoing mayor has left it to the current administration to implement the controversial reforms, which many have criticized as actually ending gifted programs. Even before he officially took office, Mayor Eric Adams made it clear that he would take a different approach.

While next year’s plans may not look much different, further changes may be on the horizon. Banks said the administration would launch its own round of public involvement regarding the future of gifted programs.

New York City is an exception for opening gifted kindergarten programs. Most other districts do not start with such proposals until later, when assessments may be a more accurate measure of students’ ability. The expansion of the city in the third grade seems to take this into account.

But parents and supporters of the integration are likely to remain skeptical about the municipality’s approach.

NeQuan McLean, a parent leader in Brooklyn’s District 16, has fought in the past to have a gifted program for his neighborhood. In 2016, the city finally launched one starting in third grade. But McLean and other parent leaders quickly changed their minds after seeing this in practice.

He said it caused a “split in the school” and that few parents were eventually enrolled because it would require a transfer of schools.

“It was just really a disaster that was of no benefit to anyone,” Maclean said in an interview before the city announced its plans for this year. “It did not work.”

Alison Roda, a professor at Molly College who advised the previous administration on how to change its current plans, noted that most of the country’s gifted classes – regardless of which class they start with – are separated. Expanding the current model in third grade is not expected to make the classrooms more representative, she said in an interview before the city announcement.

“It’s just based on competition, and the ‘we-face-them’ mentality, and winners and losers,” she said. “We criticized this program as serving only a small percentage of students. And we criticized them for segregation. We criticized them for the benefit the students received throughout, not just fundamentally but beyond, and I think they need to address all of those.”

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a non-profit news organization that deals with public education. Sign up for their newsletter here.

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