Schools debate: Are gifted and talented students better than racist and elitist schools?

As parents complain that gifted and talented programs are contributing to racial inequalities in America's education system, communities across the United States are rethinking how they approach gifted and talented schools.

Schools debate: Are gifted and talented students better than racist and elitist schools?

The mayor of New York City announced a plan to eliminate gifted and talented elementary schools in the largest school district in the country. If it goes ahead, it would be one of the most important developments in a push that stretches from Boston to Seattle that has ignited passions over race, inequality, and access to a decent educational system.

The creation of gifted and talented school programs raised concerns that they could lead to a new educational caste system in American public schools. Many of these exclusive programs are the result of efforts to curb "white flight" from American public schools. They were created to provide high-quality educational programs that could compete against private or parochial schools.

Parents and school boards are increasingly wrestling with tough questions about equity as they try to balance the needs of advanced learners with those of other students. This is the dilemma that drives the debate about whether gifted and talented programs should be expanded or eliminated altogether.

Marcia Gentry, a professor in education and director of the Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute, at Purdue University, said, "I get that burn-it down and tear it down mentality. But what can we replace it with?"

Gentry was the co-author of a two-year-old study that used federal data in order to catalog stark racial differences in gifted and talented programs.

The study noted that 3.3 million gifted and talented students were identified by U.S. schools, but that an additional 3 million should have been included. Her study found that the additional students who were not included in those lists were predominantly Black, Latino, and Indigenous students.

According to the latest federal data, 8.1% of White children attending public schools in the country are considered gifted. This is compared to 4.5% for Black students.

Programs for gifted and talented students aim to offer alternatives to students who feel intellectually restricted by the instruction provided to them by their peers. They are being criticized by those who want to end them because it penalizes high achievers, and reduces a valuable opportunity for advancement, especially for low-income families that do not have access to enrichment programs.

A Seattle schools superintendent quit her job in May to eliminate the Highly Capable Cohort program. It is the district's gifted-and-talented program. According to a recent analysis by Seattle public schools, only 0.9% of Black students were identified as gifted compared to 12.6% for its white students.

The school board approved changes to eliminate eligibility testing. All grade school students will automatically be eligible for advanced instruction. The selection committee will not only consider grades but also testimonials from family members, teachers, and community members.

Critics like Rita Green (education chair, Seattle Chapter of NAACP) aren't satisfied with the changes. She called for more effort to create environments that foster intellectual development in all 50,000 district schoolchildren.

"We want to see the program canceled. "Personally. Green stated that the Highly Capable Cohort program was fundamentally flawed and inherently racist.

Although debates over admission criteria to elite schools and advanced courses predate the current national discussion on racial inequality, they have intensified after George Floyd's death.

The Boston school committee voted to increase eligibility for its exam schools this summer and to guarantee places to students from low-income and disadvantaged areas.

While Latino students make up 42% of Boston’s 53,000 students, they are nearly twice as many as whites. However, they are greatly underrepresented in advanced classes. According to the district, less than 20% of fourth-graders who were invited to advanced work classes were Latinos, while 43% were white.

Ivan EspinozaMadrigal is the executive director at Boston's Lawyers for Civil Rights. He said that many children are overlooked due to language and cultural barriers. He said that teachers who nominate students to the program are subject to unconscious bias.

In February, Lowell High School, San Francisco's prestigious school, abandoned admissions tests in favor of a lottery system. Parents in Fairfax County, Virginia lost a legal battle to overturn their school district's decision not to allow testing for admission to a campus that caters to science and technology high achievers.

Talented and gifted programs rely on tests to determine eligibility. Some families spend thousands of dollars on tutoring and expensive programs to increase scores and increase their chances of getting a spot.

In other cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, there has been a lot of controversy over admissions to advanced education programs. The debate has been heated in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio declared last month that he would start to end the elementary school program, calling it "exclusively exclusionary".

Rose Zhu is one of the parents who called for the city to expand and not eliminate the program. To protest de Blasio’s proposal, she joined hundreds of parents outside the Department of Education building in the city. She brought her 21-month old daughter with her. Zhu hopes Zhu will be able to follow in the footsteps of her two older siblings and join the gifted and talented program.

She said, "I live in Queens and the traditional schools in our district aren't really great." "So, the G andT program is the best school that I can put them into."

Eric Adams, a fellow Democrat, is De Blasio's likely replacement. He has stated that he doesn't support the elimination of the program which would make him out of touch with some Black constituents. Adams is himself an African American.

Zakiyah Ansari (director of the Alliance for Quality Education in New York City), is one such constituent and wants Adams to fulfill de Blasio’s promise.

Ansari stated that every child is gifted and talented. "We need to be as mad about removing one program that has an impact on a few people as we are about those who are more upset about Black and Brown children who don't have access to high-quality education."

Gentry, however, is the Director of the Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute. He agreed that it was time to "revolutionize the problem that has been longstanding in terms of equity in access to gifted and talent instruction."

She encouraged parents and school officials to work together to find a compromise.

She said, "I worry that it is too easy to quit doing it." "I am aware of the inequalities. There is a big difference between overhauling and eliminating.

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