Parents seem to have a lot of problems with the gifted and talented programs at area schools: information not easily available, no programs for middle schoolers in the Bronx, long commutes outside of the borough.
Those were just some of the concerns parents shared during the first public hearing of the Gifted & Talented Task Force organized by borough presidents Ruben Diaz Jr. of the Bronx and Eric Adams of Brooklyn earlier this month at the Bronx High School of Science.
To test or not to test
Diaz floated a trial balloon about making student testing mandatory as a way to pressure the education department to provide information about gifted and talented programs.
“You’re better off just promoting the programs than forcing children to test in,” Damian McShane, a parent at Anderson School, a middle school on the Upper West Side, told The Press. “But promoting them requires effort to make sure that parents are aware of the opportunities rather than simply forcing kids to test.”
Steven Francisco, a Riverdale-based task force member, cited an experiment in Miami where such testing not only boosted popularity, but brought in minority students.
“It found a massive increase in the diversity — racial/ethnic and economic — of identified students,” Francisco said in an email to The Press.
“There is never going to a perfect system — the very idea of ‘gifted’ is imperfect — but universal screening is one way to remove some of the inequity of the system.”
Francisco added that parents could be given the opportunity to opt out of required testing.
As long as the program remains a “pseudo secret club or a teacher recommendation-driven system” all parents will not have access to such programs, he said.
Marvin Shelton, president of the Community Education Council for District 10, said many struggle finding information on gifted programs.
“They are like top secret, and you really had to dig around,” he said. “One thing I would recommend is the expansion of every (universal pre-kindergarten), for every UPK that is getting city money has to advertise gifted and talented programs and testing.”
School District 10, Shelton said, serves approximately 35,000 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Yet, only two schools in the Bronx’s District 10 offer such gifted programs: Milton Fein School P.S. 7 and Spuyten Duyvil P.S. 24.
Each school has one class per academic grade, serving students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Shelton’s son participated in a gifted program but had to travel to Manhattan’s Lower East side to take part in a middle school program.
McShane and his wife paid a private bus service to take their son to The Anderson School. The cost? Up to $4,000 each year.
Many families in the borough are not able to shoulder such costs, meaning they can’t enroll, McShane said.
“These programs aren’t widely promoted in other areas of the Bronx. And, even if parents are aware of them, they struggle,” he added. “They can’t get their kids to them even if they get in.”
But the education department believes information is getting out.
For the first time starting this fall, the department mailed postcards to parents in its universal pre-kindergarten programs, a spokesman said, and piloted a program in shelters that allowed families to submit testing requests.
Additionally, the education department launched a new program, “It’s Elementary,” a school admissions event where parents could attend presentations and inquire about pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and gifted programs taking place in all 32 school districts.
“We’re committed to providing high-quality instruction at all schools, and gifted programs — now in every district across the city — are one option for students and families,” the spokesman said.
The department, however, declined to address the absence of middle school programs in the Bronx.
Special high schools
Although most of the recent meeting focused on gifted education programs, the task force also plans to look into ways to boost minority enrollment at its eight specialized public high schools.
Bronx Science and the High School of American Studies at Lehman College are the only ones in the borough.
Data released earlier this year by the education department revealed that 3.8 percent of enrollment offers for specialized high schools went to black students and 6.5 percent to Latinos. This figure is down slightly from results released in 2016.
Of the data, Diaz said in a statement the numbers illustrate “just how deep the chasm is between different communities in our public education system, and provides us with new evidence that the city is not doing enough to nurture and support gifted education in every neighborhood.”
During the task force’s public hearing, Diaz announced a surprising statistic: 87 percent of offers to specialized high schools went to students from middle schools with gifted programs.
“When you have an entire borough without a single gifted and talented middle school program, and 87 percent of offers to the best schools come from G&T middle schools, you have created a system that is separate and unequal for the children of the Bronx,” Francisco said.
The task force, which consists of government officials, community leaders and parents, will release its report later this year, according to Diaz’s website.