An Educator’s Perspective: Expecting teachers to fill in the gaps is not a substitute for gifted and talented classes. Free tutoring might be a better plan


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MAyor Bill de Blasio’s decision to end the New York Talent Program offers education advocates, policymakers, and – like de Blasio’s time-limited – his successor the opportunity to rebuild the New York talent program. in a way that better serves working New Yorkers, and provides an opportunity for the kids who need it most.

Even defenders of the current system will admit its myriad flaws. The word “gifted” implies that even before kindergarten some students have innate genius and others do not. This in itself seems dubious, but not as dubious as the idea that a single test given at age 4 could identify these children – or that 75% of them would be white and Asian. In the 2018-19 school year, half of the city’s gifted programs did not enroll any black students.

These numbers reflect the fact that, as in any system, families with resources and privileges can take advantage of them. Parents who could afford private lessons, had more time to spend with their 4-year-olds, and could find preparation materials might give their children a better chance. This, more than an innate ability, is the “gift” of these children.

But these children were not the only beneficiaries of G&T. For many working and low-income parents, including Asian families, who have the highest poverty rates in the city, G&T is a way for their children to make the American Dream come true. Many families with extremely limited resources refer them to G&T readiness, investing – literally – in their children.

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Many more families in poor and working-class neighborhoods were unable, for various reasons, to access G&T programs. But they, too, want better for their children – witness the influx of students into charter schools. Fortunately, there is a way to deliver accelerated education to those who want it and cannot afford to pay for academic enrichment outside of the school day: tutoring.

What has been mistakenly called “gifted” is in fact, in almost all cases, “time devoted to the task”. Charter schools learned long ago that the best way to improve student outcomes is to lengthen the school day, lengthen the school year, and ensure that as little time as possible is wasted. While tutoring has primarily been discussed as a way to catch up with students against pandemic-induced learning loss, it can also be used to achieve the same goal.

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Between the $ 5 million saved by eliminating the G&T test and a small fraction of the

$ 6.9 billion in federal stimulus funding city schools receive, with every Kindergarten to Grade 2 child attending a Title I school could benefit from two hours per week of optional, free enrichment tutoring. Current undergraduate and graduate students, substitute teachers and others could provide the service, creating a pipeline of educators to fuel the system. Most children already have school-provided computers since the pandemic; devices could be distributed to those who do not. With a sufficiently large pool of guardians, each family would be able to select the hours that work best, so that parents can also be involved.

This would be a much better use of resources than the alternative proposed by de Blasio: to train already overworked teachers in accelerated teaching. Differentiating between teaching – teaching students who are at different levels at the same time – is an incredibly difficult skill that takes years to master. The idea that it can be successfully implemented for 4,000 teachers next year is a strain on credulity.

Many working families see G&T as a ladder out of a system in crisis. Parents know that many schools are not working for their children and they demand better. They deserve to have the accelerated learning they want for their children. It can be targeted, efficient and effective. Hopefully, on January 1, New York City has a mayor ready to roll up his sleeves and do this work on behalf of children.

Arthur Samuels is co-founder and co-executive director of MESA charter school in Brooklyn.

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