Opinion

Gifted and Talented programs helped me, de Blasio taking away hope

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Mediocrity has been the hallmark of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s nearly eight-year tenure at City Hall and he is leaving that mark on the city’s public school system. With 85 days left in office, he announced that he is phasing out the city’s Gifted and Talented program.

My brothers and I are products of the public school system’s gifted and talented programs (ludicrously termed “intellectually gifted children” back then) and I’m a Bronx Science graduate. An older cousin attended Stuyvesant in the 1970s when it opened up to greater minority student participation. His son is both a graduate of Bronx Science and Carnegie-Mellon. We all grew up in the South Bronx.

Accelerated learning programs with like-minded and equally abled classmates provided the academic stimulus, challenge and competition that made us better students.

So, when it comes to these programs as ladders for kids who’d otherwise be bored in ordinary classrooms, I’m a ferocious advocate.

Since de Blasio couldn’t kill the entrance exam-only specialized high schools (hypocritical since First Son Dante is a Brooklyn Tech grad), he’s eliminating the system of feeder-schools.

De Blasio said the program had been only for a select few people and was not as inclusive.
Robert Miller

Since coming into City Hall, the mayor has waged an all-out war on excellence. From targeting the elite public high schools for elimination to blocking the expansion of successful charter schools to now scuttling Gifted & Talented programs citywide, he has been on the warpath.

He chose to burn down the one attractive academic program keeping many families in the city’s public schools. Private, parochial and charter schools — as well as programs like Prep for Prep and A Better Chance, which recruit the brightest minority kids to attend elite private schools — will be the beneficiaries of his myopia.

My ex-Assembly colleague Jeffrey Dinowitz pegged it right in telling me that all children deserve to have their specific needs addressed. “Eliminating gifted and talented programs will mean that many children will be left out in the cold.”

De Blasio dropped his bombshell announcement without holding any serious discussions with stakeholder parent groups, elected officials or alumni of the city’s G&T programs. With this action, he nuked programs popular with immigrant families who see quality educational experiences as the key to future success.

Bronx High School of Science
Author Michael Benjamin and family members are products of NYC schools like Bronx Science (above).
Robert Miller

Did G&T need reform? Yes. But he threw the baby out with the bath water.
Testing 4-year-old toddlers for placement in accelerated learning classes was always the wrong way to go. It was too easy for wealthier families to game and it led to demographic as well as residential distortions.

The replacement program branded Brilliant NYC (what’s up with de Blasio adding “NYC” to every harebrained scheme) promises to offer accelerated learning to students age 8 and up. Instead of being in separate classrooms, the kids supposedly will be offered advanced work tailored to their interests while being mainstreamed.

Brilliant NYC doesn’t even pretend to offer advanced instruction — because that wouldn’t be egalitarian. The new approach promises to go beyond the traditionally challenging subjects such as math and science to include coding, robotics and community advocacy.

Jeffrey Dinowitz had spoken out about getting rid of the gifted program in NYC.
Jeffrey Dinowitz had spoken out about getting rid of the gifted program in NYC.
William Farrington

So, if your little Jamaal doesn’t read, write or do math well, don’t worry, he excels at activism. He just got his teacher canceled for giving him a B.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around how accelerated math will be taught while the majority of the class still trying to get a handle on basic concepts.

Sadly, this 11th hour move isn’t aimed at improving the quality of public education for those in low-performing community school districts. Like Thrive NYC, Brilliant NYC seems to be the exact opposite of what its lofty moniker suggests.

Once again, the champion of mediocrity is targeting low-hanging fruit and failing to address an intractable systemic problem: low achievement in predominantly black and Hispanic public schools.

I think the real intention here is simple: Dumb everything down. Keep every kid stuck in the mud. And with the jettisoning of academic metrics, like standardized tests, who’ll be the wiser.

A boy walks into Brooklyn's PS 245, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in New York.
Democrat Eric Adams and Republican Curtis Sliwa said they did not want to get rid of the G&T program.
Mark Lennihan/AP

The next administration will arrive on January 1 having to stanch a mass exodus from a shrinking public school system descending into greater mediocrity.

Black, Hispanic, and Asian families, like the one I grew up in, deserve better. A rigorous quality public education is the path to a better tomorrow for our children.

I pray that whoever follows in de Blasio’s wake will fix and replace our broken school system.

Michael Benjamin is a former member of the state Assembly and part of The Post’s editorial board.

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About the author

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Kathy Lewis

Kathy Lewis is an all-around geek who loves learning new stuff every day. With a background in computer science and a passion for writing, she loves writing for almost all the sections of Editorials99.

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