New York revives gifted and talented program with major expansion

Last year, protesters gathered at City Hall to condemn then Mayor Bill de Blasio's handling of the Gifted and Talented public school program in New York City.

(CNN)New York City is expanding its controversial gifted and talented student program.

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor David C. Banks announced the expansion of the program.
Last year, former Mayor Bill de Blasio had announced a plan to phase out the program , citing a history of disproportionately enrolling White and Asian students at a higher rate than Black and Latino students.
      But city officials have re-branded the program as "accelerated learning."
        "Through this expansion, we are providing more opportunities for accelerated learning to more families, while providing an equitable, fair process to identify the students who will excel with accelerated learning," Banks said in a statement.
          The DOE is adding 100 kindergarten seats and 1,000 third-grade seats, expanding both entry points to all districts.
          Adams and Banks say that through this expansion and updates to the admission process, the city's gifted and talented program will serve every community citywide for the first time.
          "Expanding our Gifted and Talented program to all New York City districts is about giving every child, in every zip code, a fair chance and making sure no child is left behind," Adams said in a statement.
          The mayor said the changes to the program will remove inequities in the admission process.

          The controversy

          For years, students, advocates and some educators alleged the city's gifted and talented exam was polarizing and didn't ease the existing debates over the unequal and discriminatory treatment of Black and Latino students.
          New York City public schools are some of the most segregated in the US, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project. In an updated analysis using 2018 data, a report released this year found that New York retains its place as the most segregated state for Black students, and second most segregated for Latino students, trailing only California.
          The segregation is stark in New York City. In the city's public schools, 74.6% of Black and Latino students attend a school where fewer than 10% of the student body is White. Additionally, 34.3% of White students attend schools that are majority-White, according to the DOE.
          Last year, students and advocates filed a lawsuit against state and city defendants that "challenged the racial hierarchies in public education and asserting their right under the New York State Constitution to an education that identifies and dismantles racism."

          What happens next

          Officials say that the expansion is the result of the DOE meeting with parents, advocacy groups and other community stakeholders to establish priorities for this year's admissions.
          What resulted was a decision to expand the number of seats in the program; create a more equitable screening process; and expand the third-grade entry point in every district.
          Historically, kindergarten has been the initial entry point for the city's gifted and talented programs. For the 2022-23 school year, approximately 100 new kindergarten seats are being added to the Gifted and Talented portfolio -- expanding the program to all 32 districts and bringing the total number of seats to 2,500.
          Every current pre-K student will be evaluated by their current teacher for a potential nomination, according to the city officials.
          "Universal pre-K screening takes the initial burden off families and creates access for more children with a more diverse eligibility pool. First implemented for the 2021-2022 school year, universal screening led to a more diverse pool of students receiving invitation to apply for Gifted and Talented programs. Students enrolled in non-DOE programs and those not yet enrolled in school will participate in an interview with DOE staff to confirm eligibility."
          Every district in the city will provide an additional third-grade Gifted and Talented entry point, amounting to a baseline of one program in every district and a total of 1,000 seats.
          Families of eligible, nominated children will receive an eligibility letter inviting them to apply before the application opens.
            The application process opens May 31.
            "All students, regardless of race, income, or the neighborhood they live in, deserve equal opportunity to accelerated academic learning and challenges," said New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.