NYC to Cancel Accelerated Learning Program for Gifted Kids

October 9, 2021 Updated: October 10, 2021

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced plans to cancel the “Gifted and Talented” accelerated learning program for schoolchildren, drawing praise from those who called the program discriminatory and condemnation from those who say the proposal would harm hardworking students.

Starting next fall, New York City will stop testing kindergartners for entry into the gifted and talented program, which was the subject of a lawsuit (pdf) that claimed the screening was “racially discriminatory” and fueled racial segregation in the school system.

“The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over,” de Blasio said in an Oct. 8 statement. “Every New York City child deserves to reach their full potential, and this new, equitable model gives them that chance.”

The gifted program, which faced criticism for enrolling low numbers of black and Latino students, will instead be replaced with a new framework called Brilliant NYC that will leave students identified for accelerated instruction in mixed classrooms but provide them with “extra attention,” de Blasio said during an appearance on WNYC on Oct. 8 with schools Chancellor Meisha Porter.

“The kids who have those special abilities for accelerated learning will be getting a lot of attention, a lot of opportunity to do it, but they’ll be learning with all the other kids,” de Blasio said, adding that Brilliant NYC program would “reach tens of thousands of more kids with accelerated learning.”

Porter said that, under the new program, teachers would be provided with additional training to identify special abilities learners and provide them with “targeted individualized instruction.”

A parent calling into the WNYC program praised the move, saying the gifted program created a “two-tiered world that I think needs to go.”

Charleen Ang, a mother of a student enrolled in the gifted program on the Upper West Side, admonished de Blasio’s decision.

“It is abominable that de Blasio is, in his final months in office, dismantling one of the few successful education programs in New York City, adversely impacting a swath of children,” she told the New York Post.

De Blasio’s nearly eight-year tenure as mayor ends in less than three months. Democratic candidate Eric Adams, who is widely expected to replace de Blasio, has proposed a different framework, with Chalkbeat reporting that he plans to keep the admissions test and expand the number of gifted classrooms across the city.

Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, who has vowed to fight to preserve the gifted and talented programs, criticized de Blasio’s decision to phase out the current arrangement, citing a range of benefits and arguing it “should not be diluted, nor should it be discontinued.”

The gifted program faced criticism for enrolling low numbers of black and Latino students. According to Chalkbeat, a news organization that specializes in public education coverage, more than 70 percent of spots in the gifted program go to Asian American and white students, who make up less than a third of New York City’s student population.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro framed de Blasio’s move as pushing “mandatory mediocrity” in a bid to force equality of outcome.

“Pursuing ‘equity’ as the chief goal of policy means, in practical terms, pursuing equality of outcome through mandatory mediocrity,” Shapiro wrote in a tweet.

Some Democrats also took aim at de Blasio’s decision, with state Sen. John Liu, who chairs a panel on New York City schools, taking to Twitter to express his displeasure.

“Gifted and talented programs have been an integral option for generations of schoolkids,” Liu wrote in a tweet. “@BilldeBlasio promised intensive public engagement about it but now wants total elimination.”

Asked on the WNYC program about his message for parents who might choose to leave the New York City public school system or the city entirely if the gifted program is done away with, de Blasio said, “I bet you a lot of parents are now going to look at this plan and say, this is a reason to stay.”

The gifted program would be phased out, with kids entering it between now and next year allowed to continue in it until completion, he said.

Porter said that parents still have an opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal, which may still be tweaked, calling it a “blueprint for the plan that we intend to implement” and “our vision for New York City.”

Heather Higgins, chair of the Independent Women’s Network, said in a tweet: “Bill de Blasio’s latest plan to harm hardworking students and parents—ending NYC’s accelerated Gifted & Talented program—is only viewed as a good idea by the stupid, the jealous, and the vindictive.”

Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'