- While New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s latest efforts to better integrate specialized high schools by eliminating entrance exams seem stalled in the state legislature, New York Sen. Tony Avella is proposing an alternate bill that would expand gifted and talented programs in elementary and middle schools, allowing for more students to prepare for those exams, Chalkbeat reports.
- In New York City, 70% of students in public schools are black or Hispanic, but those populations represent only 10% of the specialized high schools and only 22% of students in gifted programs, which are now only offered in elementary grades and have their own entrance exams.
- Proponents of the legislation say it would restore a reliable pathway to specialized high schools, especially in some low-income areas where gifted programs have fallen by the wayside, but opponents say that expansion won't help since gifted programs are already segregated, and that the bill still includes the disputed high school entrance exams that require preparation low-income students can’t afford.
The controversy in New York City about the need to integrate the city’s specialized schools reflects a larger debate about the way gifted students and programs should be treated in public schools. Research conducted at Purdue University suggests that clustering high-achieving students in one class benefits all students because it allows students in other classes to grow academically and increases the chances that under-represented populations may be identified as gifted. However, other educators feel that separating gifted students does more harm than good, and that school-wide enrichment models are the answer. Research shows there are a wide range of policies in dealing with — or ignoring — the needs of gifted students.
There are also issues related to inclusion in gifted programs, especially as the very definition of giftedness can vary. Students with disabilities are less represented, for instance. A 2014 document released by the Office of Civil Rights revealed that only 1% of students who receive IDEA services are in gifted and talented education programs, compared to 7% of general education students. Racial disparities persist, as well. The Council for Exceptional Children states, “Caucasian and Asian students make-up nearly three-fourths of students enrolled in gifted and talented programs, despite the fact that African-American and Hispanic students are 44% of the student population.”
The solutions to this problem are harder to come by. Economic issues in lower-income districts limit access to gifted programs in some areas, which accounts for some of the disparity. However, a study conducted by Vanderbilt University found that black students are assigned to gifted programs at “disproportionately low rates when compared to white and Asian students — even after controlling for factors that may contribute to an achievement gap such as gender, socioeconomic status, health, and age.”
Moreover, the study found that “black students with black teachers are three times more likely to be assigned to gifted programs than black students with non-black teachers,” suggesting the increased need for black teachers. While the issue remains complex, some public schools are working to change the dynamics. And some parents are seeking other options for their gifted students.