Op-Ed: There is no doubt that the Gifted and Talented program can help students succeed

Toby Ann Stavisky (Courtesy of Stavisky’s office)

Recently, Mayor Eric Adams and Schools Chancellor David Banks announced that New York City will expand its Gifted and Talented Program, which will offer accelerated instruction to eligible elementary school students. Under the new plan, an additional 100 incoming Kindergarten children will be admitted to the Gifted and Talented program and about 1,000 additional students will enter as third graders. This is a very encouraging development and a welcome reversal of former mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the program entirely.

This change is significant because there are many studies that prove the Gifted and Talented program works. It was the admission process that needed to be adjusted so that all qualified students, regardless of where they live, had the opportunity to take advantage of the enriched programs.

As a former high school teacher and chairwoman of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, I believe every child in every school across our city needs to have the same opportunity to help them reach their full potential. That must start at an early age. Unfortunately, our admissions process for the Gifted and Talented program has not been as effective as it could have been.

While the Department of Education (DOE) began a screening process, it depended on a parent’s decision to “opt in.” I believe all children should be screened for Gifted and Talented classes. That is why I introduced legislation to screen all children by the third grade unless the parent decides to “opt out.” These programs will challenge young children so it is important to identify capable students at an early age. 

As an example of the inequity, several years ago Manhattan’s District 3 had more than 1,500 students who applied for the Gifted and Talented program and 700 qualified. In a stark contrast, in East New York, Brooklyn 525 students applied and 87 qualified. This demonstrated that parents may not be aware these programs exist. 

The universal screening process is not without precedent. Studies showed that in 2015, Broward County, Flor., instituted universal screenings for their Gifted and Talented programs and quickly saw eye opening results. Research showed that the percentage of Black students receiving gifted programs increased by 80%, and Hispanic students by 130%. That is a staggering increase in the number of accelerated programs for learners who without screenings would have never been placed into the program. 

There is no doubt that there are qualified children in every community, neighborhood and school in our city. There is also no doubt that the Gifted and Talented program, with its irrefutable record of success, can help these boys and girls succeed. I hope this is just a first step.

I urge the mayor’s office and the DOE to take a comprehensive look at our admissions process, as well as the proximity of these programs to our at-risk communities. By addressing these concerns we can begin to rectify inequities, offer more opportunities for young students and build the foundation for a stronger New York City. Another issue concerns the specialized high schools which I would love to see expanded. The current Gifted and Talented students provide great recruitment possibilities. 

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky represents the 16th Senate District in Queens, covering the neighborhoods of Flushing, Forest Hills, Elmhurst, Murray Hill, Bayside and Woodside.

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