Sunnyside parents weigh in on proposal to end gifted and talented programs

Children swing at the Thomas P. Noonan Jr. Playground near P.S. 150 in Sunnyside on Wednesday, the day before the new school year began.  Eagle  photo by Amanda Glodowski.

Children swing at the Thomas P. Noonan Jr. Playground near P.S. 150 in Sunnyside on Wednesday, the day before the new school year began. Eagle photo by Amanda Glodowski.

By Amanda Glodowski

Special to the Eagle

As public school resumed across the city, some Sunnyside parents said they were keeping an open mind about a transformative proposal to end gifted and talented programs citywide  — despite vocal backlash from opponents of the plan. Others said the proposal would eliminate an educational track that challenges and uplifts students. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s School Diversity Advisory Group released a 40-page report on Aug. 24 calling for the elimination of gifted and talented programs and school screening in the city. The result of the report, commissioned to address racial disparities in city schools, prompted strong opposition from many parents and local leaders

“We should be increasing opportunity for our students, not taking it away,” said Councilmember Paul Vallone at a rally on the steps of City Hall Wednesday.

But parents at the Thomas P. Noonan Jr. Playground in Sunnyside said the proposal could help solve the public school system’s deep segregation. Only about 25 percent of gifted and talented students are black or Latino, though black and Latino students make up more than 75 percent of the public school population. Students are placed in the gifted and talented track after taking an exam at 4 years old.

“There’s something flawed with testing four-year-olds, and that test determining their entire future,” said Jordan Smith, 35, as her 3-year-old son played in the playground sprinklers. “I think that for the biggest, but most segregated school system in the country, this is only a small step.”

Smith said she will not be testing her son for the programs, if they are still around when he starts kindergarten. 

“These programs are ridiculously unbalanced and it’s important for us not to contribute to that,” said Smith.

The Advisory Group focused on screening as the biggest flaw in gifted and talented program, which the report describes as “unfair, unjust, and not necessarily research-based.” 

“As a result, these programs segregate students by race, class, abilities and language and perpetuate stereotypes about student potential and achievement,” the report continues.

Racial and income disparities evident in screen-based elementary school programs widen over time. This year, for example, only seven black students were admitted to Stuyvesant High School, the most selective public high school in New York City.

Irene Rozentsvyg’s daughter graduated from P.S. 150’s gifted and talented program, the only school in Sunnyside that offers the option. 

“It’s a perceived band-aid on a bigger issue. It’s not a real band-aid,” said Rozentsveyg, as she pushed her two grandsons on the swings. “These are programs that elevate children out of boredom and give kids a chance. There should be more of them, not less.”

Alex Hajjar, 26, is an English teacher at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn and said he sees both sides of the argument. 

“Obviously racial segregation is a major issue in these programs, and there’s always a push to get non-Asian students of color in them,” Hajjar said. “But I don’t know if the solution is to eliminate the program or funnel students who can’t handle more advanced material into them.”

“Teachers are trained to cater to their lowest performing students, and even when you take extra care of advanced students, they ultimately do suffer from a watered-down curriculum,” he added. “The programs need revision, rather than elimination.”