The End of Gifted Programs?

New York City may overhaul its elementary admissions to the selective track.,

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This is the Education Briefing, a weekly update on the most important news in U.S. education. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

Today: New York City has taken steps toward ending parts of its gifted and talented program. And we look at one community ripped apart by attempts to reckon with racism.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan to overhaul gifted and talented programs in New York City.Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

The end of gifted and talented?

In his final three months as mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to overhaul gifted and talented education in public elementary schools. The current crop of enrolled students would be the program’s final cohort.

The highly selective program has long been criticized for feeding racial segregation in the nation’s largest school system.

Although about 70 percent of the city’s roughly one million public school students are Black and Latino, about 75 percent of the roughly 16,000 students in gifted elementary school classes are white or Asian American.

To enroll, kindergarten students used to take a screening test. Parents often paid tutors to prepare their kids, but the city’s advisory board refused to renew the exam last year.

De Blasio’s plan would permanently end the kindergarten tests. “The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over,” he said in a statement.

Instead, de Blasio proposed retraining teachers to accommodate kindergarten students who need accelerated learning, which could cost tens of millions of dollars.

In lieu of a gifted and talented track, the city would also evaluate all rising third graders, using teacher feedback, to determine whether they need higher-level instruction in specific subject areas.

Some families and elected officials — often in wealthy and predominantly white neighborhoods — strongly support keeping aspects of the current gifted system. So does Eric Adams, the likely next mayor.

Gifted and talented classes are a crucial step toward enrolling in competitive middle and high schools. And many parents, including Black and Latino ones, have sought out the programs as a way to set their children up for success.

In other N.Y.C. news: The city is giving every public school kindergartner $100 in a college savings account. By the time the kids graduate, they could have about $3,000. That may not be enough for books, never mind tuition, but researchers have suggested that even small sums can significantly increase a child’s likelihood of pursuing higher education.

Nationally: In a push for racial equity, Philadelphia is overhauling its magnet schools admissions processes. In July, Boston overhauled its admissions policies for the city’s exclusive exam schools, opening the way for more Black and Latino students. And earlier this year, California proposed “de-tracking” math classes, another effort to help underrepresented students.

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Andrea Kane left Queen Anne’s County public schools in June.Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

Black superintendents struggle

In June 2020, after the death of George Floyd, a superintendent wrote a letter to her district, just like hundreds of other school leaders across the country.

“When I say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ it is not meant to disparage any other race,” Andrea Kane wrote to parents of 7,700 students in Queen Anne’s County, Md. “It is an acknowledgment of the disparate brutality and overt racism that is only experienced by Black people in America, including me.”

Kane, the district’s first Black superintendent, knew the movement was divisive.

But she felt she would have been negligent had she not addressed the images her students saw on television and on social media. And over nearly three years on the job, she had collected evidence of systemic and overt racism, and worked to build racial equity.

Initially, messages of gratitude filled her inbox.

People had been suffering for years,” Tory Brown, a Black Queen Anne’s County native, who is an instructional assistant in the school system, told my colleague Erica Green. “We just never had anyone to speak up.”

Then, Kane said, “everything just imploded.”

In the past year, parents and elected officials have fought over “critical race theory,” an academic framework that views racism as ingrained in law and other modern institutions.

For the roughly 2 percent of superintendents who are Black, the debates have felt personal and poignant. And for those in majority-white, conservative communities, like Queen Anne’s County, the debate can be incendiary.

After Kane’s email, parents quickly organized against her.

“Our children will not be indoctrinated by anyone’s political opinion in the school and our children must NEVER feel that their white skin color make them guilty of slavery or racism!” read one post in a Facebook group of parents calling themselves the “Kent Island Patriots.”

Community members picked sides. When teachers came to Kane’s defense, weeks of online harassment followed.

“When I look at what’s happening across the country,” Gina Crook, a fifth-grade teacher, told Erica. “I think: ‘We wrote the script.'”

Kane suffered, too. She lost sleep, kept looking over her shoulder. In late 2020, candidates backed by the Patriots took control of the five-member school board. This spring, after a series of tense board meetings, Kane announced she would leave the district.

“I knew there was a long game,” Kane told Erica, “one I didn’t want to play and could not win.”

Virus news

Reopening

The school year is off to a relatively positive start: A vast majority of students have been learning in classrooms full time.

Parents are sneaking carbon dioxide monitors into classrooms to check ventilation.

More students in Washington, D.C., will be able to participate in virtual learning.

Some districts are redirecting federal pandemic aid, which had few spending parameters, toward new football fields, weight rooms and outdoor running tracks.

Almost one-third of third graders in North Carolina did not meet standards to fully advance to the next grade, a steep decline since before the pandemic.

Vaccines

Last week, Pfizer asked the F.D.A. to authorize its Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Expect a ruling as early as Halloween.

In a raffle, Washington, D.C., will award eight vaccinated teenagers a $25,000 scholarship to college, an incentive to receive a shot.

Masks

Florida authorized sanctions on eight districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis and imposed mask mandates. The districts could face cutbacks equal to their school board members’ salaries.

And a good read: A study found that over 120,000 American children have lost a parent or caregiver to Covid. This Times story from May follows two teenagers who are navigating life as orphans.

What else we’re reading

College

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill canceled Tuesday classes to give students a “wellness day” after reports of a suicide and an attempted suicide in residence halls over the weekend.

California passed laws that will make it easier for students enrolled in community colleges to transfer to four-year state universities.

Enrollment at state universities in Pennsylvania dropped to the lowest level in decades.

Two parents were convicted on Friday in the first Varsity Blues college admissions trial. Dozens of parents, and others, have already pleaded guilty.

And the rest …

Texas is one step closer to limiting transgender students from playing on sports teams that correspond to their gender identity.

The contentious Virginia governor’s race hinges on school policy.

California will make ethnic studies a requirement for high school students, starting in 2029.

California‘s public schools and universities will have to provide free menstrual products starting next school year.

A high school student in Louisiana faces a felony charge after repeatedly punching a teacher. A TikTok challenge may have inspired the attack.

A good read: My colleague Jason DeParle reported on the exorbitant costs of child care from Greensboro, N.C.

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A good book is a good thing.Credit…Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

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