Adams: More Gifted & Talented Classes Would Help School Diversity in New York City, Not Harm It. Here’s Why

(Allison Shelley for EDUimages)

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In August 2019, New York City’s School Diversity Advisory Group called for elimination of the city’s gifted and talented programs in grades 1 to 5, to be replaced by an Enrichment for All model. That vote got a mention in a May 2021 Journal of Educational Evaluation and Public Policy paper titled, “Do Students in Gifted Programs Perform Better? Linking Gifted Program Participation to Achievement and Nonachievement Outcomes.”

As with all such studies, it gives both proponents and opponents of gifted education something to support their views.

Authors Christopher Redding of the University of Florida and Jason A. Grissom of Vanderbilt University write:

Rigorous studies of gifted programs in single-school districts demonstrate that participation can (emphasis theirs) have positive effects on student achievement.

They also write:

Two separate studies of 148 students in gifted programs have (shown) improved nonacademic self-concept but not academic self-concept (emphasis mine).

Two issues raised in this paper are of particular significance to New York City. The first is the effect of G&T programs on low-income and minority students, and the second is the education delivery model.

The advisory group’s primary reason for advocating to abolish G&T is to increase school diversity. Currently, while the NYC public school system is 40.6 percent Hispanic, 25.5 percent Black, 16.2 percent Asian and 15.1 percent white, 75 percent of students accepted into G&T are white and Asian.

Redding and Grissom report that, nationwide:

Gifted programs have faced longstanding criticisms of elitism and that they represent hoarding of opportunities for already advantaged students, criticisms that often are grounded in patterns of underrepresentation in access to gifted programs for marginalized students. … For children whose families already have access to high levels of cultural, social and economic capital, gifted programs are often characterized as an “accumulation of advantage.” In contrast, for high-ability students without that same access — particularly low-income students and students of color — gifted programs may help compensate for what may otherwise be regular classroom setting with lower expectations of weak academic rigor…. Enrollment in a self-contained accelerated class exposed Black and Hispanic students to higher teacher expectations than they would experience in a traditional classroom setting. (No evidence was found that white students scored higher when enrolled in gifted classes; benefits were concentrated among Black and Hispanic students.)

Based on the above, it would seem that rather than getting rid of G&T programs for all students, it would make better sense to broadly expand them, so that more Black and Hispanic students could benefit.

The advisory group claims that is exactly what it is trying to do. As of this writing, the majority of NYC G&T programs are “enriched,” meaning that individual classroom teachers have the freedom to enhance standard public school curriculum as they fit, be it with hands-on projects, field trips, additional readings, etc. By implementing “Enrichment for All,” they would be making a G&T experience available to every student. Right?

Not exactly.

The study authors’ language is very clear. They speak of a “self-contained accelerated class” as benefiting Black and Hispanic students. The majority of NYC G&T programs are “enriched.” Only five, citywide programs are actually accelerated, in that students learn the standard public school curriculum a year in advance.

We are told the reason it is so difficult to gauge the actual value of a G&T program is that:

The relatively small estimates of the typical gifted program may reflect the fact that the “treatment” many students receive is not sufficiently intensive…. As national evidence shows that a majority of elementary school gifted programs include four hours or less gifted education services a week, the educational dose of gifted programs may be too slight to yield positive effects.

This suggests that “enrichment” wouldn’t be enough, even if it were offered to all students. (It should be. All students deserve all sorts of enrichments to their education.) But it still wouldn’t serve the needs of the high-ability population, especially among poor and minority students, because “gifted researchers contend that acceleration is an effective and cost-effective way to supplement the learning needs of exceptionally talented students.” Acceleration, not enrichment.

The authors speculate:

It could be that resource constraints in the schools Black and Low-SES [Socio-Economic Status] students attend result in limited frequency or duration of gifted services…. We hope that this finding (that enrollment in a self-contained accelerated class benefits Black and Hispanic students) might lead practitioners in gifted education to take a close look at their offering to assess whether they are adequate for serving the needs of high-ability students from historically marginalized student populations…. Proponents of gifted education may well conclude that what our results suggest is that investment in gifted services needs to be increased, not decreased, so that gifted students are afforded higher-quality, more challenging opportunities by teachers trained in gifted education over more of their school day.

I am not a proponent of gifted education. I am a proponent of every child receiving the education they need when they need it.

As I wrote at the start: Proponents and opponents of gifted education can find something to support their views in the study. (For instance, the Hechinger Report titled its analysis “Gifted programs provide little to no academic boost.”) We all see what we want to see. We all cherry-pick what we want to cherry-pick.

But what I saw (and cherry-picked) was in direct opposition to everything NYC is proposing.

They say we should get rid of G&T in the name of diversity and offer all students the same enrichment opportunities.

I say we should expand G&T in the name of diversity and give those students who could benefit the most from it, especially low-income and minority kids, access to an accelerated curriculum.

If, as the study suggests,

Resource constraints in the schools Black and Low-SES students attend result in limited frequency or duration of gifted services while enrollment in a self-contained accelerated class exposed Black and Hispanic students to higher teacher expectations than they would experience in a traditional classroom setting, (and) benefits were concentrated among Black and Hispanic students, 

Wouldn’t it be racist not to?

Alina Adams is a New York Times best-selling romance and mystery writer, the author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten and Getting Into NYC High School, a blogger at New York School Talk and mother of three. She believes you can’t have true school choice until all parents know all their school choices — and how to get them. Visit her website, www.NYCSchoolSecrets.com.

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