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Gifted & talented ‘exodus’ - Fewer programs spark fears of families packing up

The existence of fewer gifted programs in local public schools has renewed fears of families leaving Brooklyn for the suburbs.

“Gifted and talented was a building block of a strong neighborhood in District 22. It kept parents in the district and in public schools,” explained Christopher Spinelli, president of the district’s Community Education Council (CEC).

Schools without gifted programs “will turn parents who might otherwise have come into the public school system to a private school. And in many cases, it’s going to force people to leave the neighborhood,” Spinelli said.

That concern is the result of reports that half as many children were admitted to gifted programs this fall compared to the year prior.

In District 22, which includes Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach and parts of Midwood, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay, “We have half the number of students than we did in prior years,” Spinelli said. “We ended up losing probably about 20 programs in the district. We went from about 28 programs to eight. It’s sad because this is something that we developed in District 22.”

In District 18, which includes East Flatbush and Canarsie, “There’s only one left. I’m totally disgusted with the whole process,” said James Dandridge, president of the district’s CEC.

“Gifted and talented programs are one of the good things that we have in our public schools. It’s one of those programs that allowed the kids that can excel faster to have a place,” said Yoketing Eng, president of District 21’s CEC.

Fewer gifted programs is the result of the city Department of Education’s (DOE) revamping of admissions procedures. This year marks the first time the DOE has used a uniform application process for all of the city’s gifted programs, which were previously run by individual districts. The DOE centralized the system to set one clear-cut standard for admission and to spread the programs around the city. Parents have long complained that the programs were concentrated in districts with large populations of white, middle-class students.

Dandridge argued that the new admission standard – scoring in the 90th percentile on a citywide exam – was nearly impossible for many students in low-income areas and struggling school districts.

“Maybe one percent of our population passed” the admissions exam, he said. “We have language barriers and the tests are not geared to children with language barriers. They’re starting off with a disadvantage.”

“We’ve been getting shafted from day one. This had an adverse effect on our district,” Dandridge continued.

Even though fewer students were accepted to gifted programs this year, the DOE defends the revamping – and the higher admission standards.

“We have taken critical steps to expand gifted and talented – including extensive outreach that has led to many, many more students being tested – but we won’t compromise standards and thereby dilute our programs,” schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement. “In the past, when gifted and talented programs were run by the districts, students scoring at the five percent or 10 percent level on a national scale were being admitted to gifted programs. This is unfair to the students and makes gifted programs a subterfuge for other agendas – since many of these students clearly can’t do gifted work.

“We will continue to perform outreach and run programs where we have the requisite number of students and look forward to expanding options throughout the city as we already have by opening the first gifted and talented programs in Staten Island and District 10 and as we will next year by adding citywide programs in Queens and Brooklyn.”

But parents argue that the new system is unsuccessful.

“It seems like it blew up but unfortunately, they aren’t going to admit that there may be something wrong with their testing,” Spinelli said.

With the revamping, Spinelli said, “They wanted to serve children in traditionally underserved neighborhoods and communities. It had the exact opposite effect. There are less African-American and Latino children in the program now than there were last year. The programs have become whiter and more Asian, which was totally against what they wanted to do. Those neighborhoods that did not have them before still don’t have them and a lot of the programs that we had ended up going to Manhattan.”

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