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NYC BOE Says That They Will Establish Programs For the Gifted and Talented
Schools to Add More Programs for the Gifted
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, NY TIMES, February 17, 2005
Acting on Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's election-year promise to expand gifted and talented programs in the New York public schools, city education officials said yesterday that they would develop a standardized admissions test for such programs to be administered to 4- and 5-year-olds beginning in the spring of 2006.
Echoing comments by Mr. Bloomberg in his State of the City speech last month, the officials said that all existing gifted and talented programs would remain in place, and that programs would be created in districts that do not have them.
Officials also said they hoped to strengthen training for teachers of gifted children.
"Supporting existing programs, opening new programs including those in previously underserved areas while maintaining high quality," Deputy Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a speech last night at Hunter College. "That's the commitment of the mayor and the chancellor to the children of New York City."
By allowing a hodgepodge of gifted programs to continue operating around the city, the Bloomberg administration is avoiding the possibility of angering parents in an election year.
On several occasions in the last two years, rumors that the city would eliminate some gifted programs had drawn outcries from parent and community groups, prompting Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and other officials to reiterate their support for the programs.
About 44,000 of the city's 775,000 children in kindergarten through eighth grade currently attend programs that individual schools have designated as gifted and talented, officials said. The school system has never had a uniform definition of such programs, and even now officials are not certain how many such programs exist.
But officials said they believed that at least four of the city's 32 community school districts - District 4 in Harlem, Districts 7 and 12 in the Bronx, and District 31 on Staten Island - did not have any gifted programs. Officials said they planned to create programs in those areas, perhaps by September.
Gifted and talented programs are particularly popular with middle-class parents, whose support Mr. Bloomberg hopes to win as he campaigns for re-election. But gifted programs have also been controversial, particularly in some predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods, where parents think that not enough programs exist.
The biggest change that Ms. Fariña announced yesterday was the plan to develop a uniform admissions test.
The test will move away from IQ tests like the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales exam, which is used by a number of the city's gifted programs. Such tests have been the subject of lawsuits charging that they discriminate against minority students.
But while Ms. Fariña said the city hoped to develop "an assessment that measures the fullest range of verbal, nonverbal and spatial skills," she offered no details and said the city would ask a panel of national experts to help develop parameters that could be given to test-publishing companies. The companies would then bid for a contract to develop the test.
Some critics of the school system said yesterday that parents had not been sufficiently consulted about the changes to gifted programs.
"No educational policy works without parent involvement," said State Senator Carl Kruger, a Brooklyn Democrat. "There has been no parent involvement in the drafting of this proposal."
Ms. Fariña, the school system's top instructional official, spoke about the changes at a ceremony to open the Hunter College Center for Gifted Studies and Education, an institute that will be involved in training teachers for the gifted and talented programs. New York State now requires teachers to be specially licensed to teach gifted children.
In her speech, Ms. Fariña expressed a deep personal commitment to gifted education, recalling anecdotes about students and class projects over her 22 years as a teacher.
She also said that as the city moved forward it would focus on two models of gifted education. One uses self-contained classes, in which gifted students are grouped together for all subject areas and work at an accelerated pace.
The second model, called schoolwide enrichment, offers students opportunities for accelerated study or extracurricular activities tailored to specific subject areas in which students have shown extraordinary ability. In this model, a small group of students might meet for instruction in Latin or astronomy but would attend regular classes for the standard school curriculum.
"For too long, we have been teaching children what they already know," Ms. Fariña said in her speech. "Many of our most capable students are bored in the classroom."
She added: "The budding medical researcher and the one-day great American playwright need to build on their common learning in different ways. The next Picasso needs to pursue different paths while receiving the same rigorous core education."
Ms. Fariña said that once the new admissions test was in place for kindergarten and first grade, officials would work to develop standard criteria for admission to gifted programs by older students. These criteria would include traditional measures, including grades and scores on annual standardized reading and math tests.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the city teachers' union, said that the lack of details provided by the Education Department made it difficult to assess the plan. "Many questions remain unanswered," Ms. Weingarten said in a statement responding to an advance copy of Ms. Fariña's speech.
She added, "The biggest question is this: Given the department's general lack of transparency and accountability, along with its failure to consult with teachers and parents, it is hard to tell whether the speech addresses the real educational need many of us have raised, or a political need."