School Diversity Advisory Group Recommends Eliminating Gifted & Talented and Screened Programs from Schools

Not a Smart Move? Mike Reilly Weighs In…

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The School Diversity Advisory Group appointed by Mayor de Blasio recently issued several recommendations to promote diversity in New York City Public Schools. The NYC Public School system is the largest district in the country and is known as one of the most segregated school districts.

The City’s school system, which has an estimated 1.1 million students enrolled in Kindergarten through 12th grade is considered one school district under the State Education Department. NYC DOE is unique in that it aligns the system into 32 local geographical Community School Districts throughout the five boroughs. In addition, it has a separate district for students with special needs and another for students who need additional support based on behavior.

The elementary, middle and high schools in each district have zoning lines that determine student enrollment based on where the students reside. This enrollment system therefore will reflect the race, ethnicity and other characteristics of the families that live within the area. When analyzing and reflecting on this data we must also consider other factors that may impact the makeup of the local zoned school. Private or Charter schools, for example, are one aspect that may impact the makeup of a local community or middle school.

Some families choose to have their children test for the gifted and talented program. The gifted and talented program classes are in select community schools. The placement in this program is based on the student’s performance on the test. The Advisory Group has recommended phasing out the Gifted and Talented programs. Although I appreciate the intent of the Advisory Group’s recommendation, I believe the recommendation to scrap it is misguided.

Gifted and Talented programs provide opportunities for students who excel academically. This challenge encourages students to strive and realize their full potential. The Advisory Group recommends replacing these programs with enrichment in all schools. While I agree enrichment should be in all schools, it should not be at the expense of eliminating the Gifted and Talented program.

Here in Staten Island we have had a Gifted and Talented program in several of our schools. As the largest geographic district, and the only one that encompasses an entire borough, there has always been an obstacle for families considering Gifted and Talented. Often, the location of the programs creates a challenge based on the distance. It is worth noting that NYC DOE does not provide yellow school bus service to students who attend gifted and talented programs outside their zoned schools.
While I was a member of Community Education Council 31 there were several requests over the years to bring more gifted and talented programs to the Island. These requests were often raised by families on the North Shore. Although we were successful in securing a Middle School Scholars Program in four middle schools across the borough, the interest in testing for an elementary level Gifted and Talented did not support adding additional seats.

Another diversity issue that has been highlighted involves the Specialized High School Admission Process, which is also test based. The Advisory Group did not issue a recommendation regarding Specialized High Schools.

In addition, the Advisory Group recommended eliminating “Screened’ middle and high school programs. Screened programs provide opportunities for students to attend schools outside their traditional zoned school. The Screened programs utilize multiple measures to rank students for possible enrollment, the selection measures include; report card grades, state test scores, absences and lateness. These factors provide a composite score ranking. The Group recommended that student absences and lateness not be considered in student placement into programs.

This recommendation has the potential of counteracting the intent of expanding diversity in our schools. An example would be if a student resides outside the New Dorp High School district but wishes to attend the Math and Science Institute, their opportunity to attend would be significantly reduced because the seats would be reserved for zoned students, depriving students outside the New Dorp zone from gaining admission.

Eliminating the focus on attendance and lateness will remove self-accountability and devalue the importance of being present and on time. Two important factors that foster the real intent of College and Career Readiness.

It is my belief that the NYC Department of Education should focus on increasing resources and opportunities in community schools that have historically had a lower representation in Gifted & Talented, Screened Programs and Specialized High Schools.

All views expressed are that of the author and do not necessariily represent the opinions of Staten Island Parent. Go to siparent.com/contact-us to send us your thoughts and questions.

By Michael Reilly, NYS Assemblyman, former District 31 Community Education Council President and former NYPD Lieutenant.