Expand, don’t eliminate Gifted & Talented programs for public schools: Queens lawmakers

Bob Holden August 15, 2017
City Council Member Bob Holden

Over a dozen members of the City Council signed a joint letter last week in agreement against the elimination of the Gifted and Talented programs in public schools, which was a recommendation from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Board.

“The core concern of the group is ensuring that high achieving students have access to rigorous and challenging curricula,” said the lawmakers. “Given the effectiveness of the model, the group would like to see G&T expanded to more schools and believes that more on-ramps can be created for the program, like exams at the third and seventh-grade levels.”

Some of the Queens Council Members who have signed on to the letter included Robert Holden (D-Middle Village), Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills).

The outcry by the council members, education advocates and leaders led to a rally Wednesday outside City Hall, which was led by Councilman Robert Cornegy (D-Brooklyn) and also attended by Holden (D-Middle Village), Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens and Koo (D-Flushing).

“As an educator for 40 years I taught a class of 40 students and there were five students in that class that were gifted and talented,” said Holden. “They would ask for more work, so I would stay extra hours with those students.”

To eliminate the program would leave all children behind, according to Holden.

“We must raise the bar,” said Holden. “The school system has been failing and it needs more initiatives. The Gifted & Talented program is that initiative.”

The G&T program must be “expanded” to every school in every school district pleaded Holden.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) agrees that the bar must be raised and not lowered.

“I don’t think we can afford to lose our high-achieving students and parents want to see schools that are pushing their children as far as possible,” said Comrie. “I don’t understand the logic behind that and I haven’t heard the alternative to ensure that we have high performing schools.”

A cohort of parents will possibly take their kids out of the public system with the removal of the program, according to Comrie.

“If the public school system is dumbed-downed we are going to lose those parents that want to have their children participate in public schools,” said Comrie. “We have to some type of program that will award students that have the aptitude and the ability to be exceptional students.”

Comrie has suggested revitalizing the whole school curricula to reflect the digital age in order to hold on to the attention of students of the 21st century.

“Most children by the time they get to first grade have exceptional computer skills and know-how to manipulate the Internet their phones and games, but are being taught blackboard style,” said Comrie. “It’s not holding their attention and parents are tired of seeing their kids being frustrated because of a lack of creative education.”

One of the reasons the advisory board wants to eliminate the program is because of the lack of black and Latino students in the G&T programs, but Comrie does not believe that is the solution to helping those pupils close the gap with their white and Asian peers.

“We have to do better in assessing and testing children and we have to create a program where excellence is rewarded and not looked at as an abnormality,” said Comrie.

Comrie also suggested that in order for black and Latino students to compete, schools with their demographic must get more funding.

“You can’t expect a school to do better if they are getting the same funding they were getting last year if they have a gap in resources and achievement,” said Comrie. “You have to give them extra resources beyond the population per student and we can do a lot to change the allocation of different schools.”

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) also believes the program should be expanded.

“Gifted and talented programs provide students with rigorous and challenging curriculums that help them reach their full potential in the classroom,” said Meng. “We should not do away with them. Instead, we should be expanding G&T seats in all areas of the city and improve the testing process, so that children in every community can benefit from all that these important programs have to offer.”