Aug. 2, 2018 By Christian Murray
State Sen. Tony Avella and Councilmember Bob Holden held a press conference at City Hall Tuesday to announce the introduction of legislation that would expand the gifted and talented programs at city schools.
The legislation would require that at least one class per grade at every elementary and junior high school be set aside for top performing students. Avella has introduced a bill in the State Senate, while Holden has introduced a resolution in the Council.
Avella and Holden believe the legislation would help improve low-income student performance, and put them in a better position to do well when they take the controversial Specialized High School Admissions Test, which determines who gets into the city’s eight elite high schools.
The legislation comes at a time when the SHSAT is in the spotlight, as Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his intention to do away with the test to improve diversity and increase the percentage of minority students in the specialized schools.
Currently, Asian-American and white children are excelling at the test and dominate the student body at these schools. Black and Hispanic children, who account for 68 percent of high school students, make up just 9 percent of the students at these schools, according to city statistics.
The mayor’s plan would instead reserve seats for top performers at each middle school, with an aim of increasing the percentage of minority students at these schools to about 45 percent.
De Blasio’s plan, however, has already received substantial push-back, with the State Assembly speaker announcing that a vote wouldn’t be taken on the legislation until next year.
In addition, Asian-American community have argued that they are being unfairly punished for their success.
Both Avella and Holden believe that the test should remain, but that the city should increase what’s offered to children in lower-income areas.
“We must expand our city’s successful gifted and talented programs to be available in every school to give students the opportunity to achieve academic excellence,” Avella said. “We must not pit one group of people against another but rather expand education opportunities for all.”
The bill is also being introduced in the State Assembly by Assembly Member William Colton, who represents the Bensonhurst/Dyker Heights district in Brooklyn.
Colton, who was at the press conference, said the expansion of the gifted and talented program would provide more opportunities for a wider range of students.
“A real cause of the serious lack of diversity in NYC schools is the failure of the DOE to offer gifted and talented classes in lower grades in under served school districts to challenge and enrich their brightest students. Students who study hard in gifted and talented programs and do well on the SHSAT should not be penalized for the failure of the DOE to provide such programs to other districts.”
Holden said that he has introduced a resolution in the city council calling on the NYC Department of Education to create more gifted and talented programs. “If we truly care about a progressive education system for our children, then lawmakers need to pass these bills now.”