December 6, 2021

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Should We Eliminate Gifted and Talented Programs?

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In “De Blasio to Phase Out N.Y.C. Gifted and Talented Program,” Eliza Shapiro writes:

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday unveiled a plan to overhaul gifted and talented education in New York City elementary schools, calling for sweeping changes to a highly selective program that has been widely criticized for exacerbating segregation in the nation’s largest school system.

Under Mr. de Blasio’s plan — released when he has just three months left in office — elementary school students who are currently enrolled in gifted classes would become the final cohort in the existing program.

The system would be replaced by a program that offers the possibility of accelerated learning to students in the later years of elementary school. And the test given to kindergarten students to screen for the gifted program, already suspended in part because the city’s advisory school board refused to renew it last year, would be permanently ended.

The article continues:

The mayor’s action attempts to address what the city has known for decades: Its gifted and talented program has contributed to racially segregated classrooms and schools for thousands of students citywide.

Though about 70 percent of the roughly 1 million public school students in New York are Black and Latino, about 75 percent of the roughly 16,000 students in gifted elementary school classes are white or Asian American. For years, rising kindergarten students have gained access to the program via a high-stakes exam that some families pay tutors to help their children prepare for.

The programs are considered a crucial stepping stone for students seeking to advance into competitive middle and high schools. Many parents, including Black and Latino parents, have sought out gifted classes as an alternative to the city’s struggling district schools, and have come to rely on them as a way to set their children up for future success.

But many other parents and experts say the system has worsened segregation and weakened instruction for children who are not in the gifted track.

Ms. Shapiro describes what the phaseout will look like and how the city will support students who might need “higher-level” teaching.

Under Mr. de Blasio’s plan, New York City will no longer admit rising kindergarten students into separate gifted classes or schools starting next fall. Instead, the city will train all its kindergarten teachers — roughly 4,000 educators — to accommodate students who need accelerated learning within their general education classrooms. The city does not yet have an estimate for how much the training will cost, though it is expected to be tens of millions of dollars.

And instead of the admissions exam, the city will evaluate all rising third graders, using past work and input from their teachers, to determine whether they need higher-level instruction in specific subject areas, for one or two periods a day.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Now that you’ve read the article, do you think gifted and talented programs should be eliminated? Why or why not?

  • If you believe that they should be eliminated, how should schools address the needs of students who require “higher-level” instruction? Do you think Mayor de Blasio’s plan to offer “accelerated learning” to students in the later years of elementary school is a good alternative?

  • Ms. Shapiro writes that the majority of public school students in New York are Black and Latino, while the majority of students in gifted elementary school classes are white or Asian American. How concerned should we be about the problem of racial segregation in schools? Is eliminating gifted and talented programs a necessary step in addressing it? If you believe gifted and talented programs should be maintained, how would you ensure that they would be open, accessible and equitable for all children?

  • Have you ever attended a gifted and talented program? If yes, how would you describe your experience?

  • Do you think some students should be considered gifted or talented? Or are all students gifted and talented in their own ways? In your view, should schools and classes ever be grouped or tracked by ability or achievement? Or should they always be a heterogenous mix of students? How do your own experiences in school inform your opinions on this subject?

  • How big a problem is racial segregation in your school and school system? What role do you think gifted and talented programs play, if any?

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