In push to enroll more poor and diverse students in gifted, one school makes slow progress

Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a sought-after school that accepts only gifted students from across the city, is slowly moving the needle on improving access for those from low-income families. That’s according to information released Thursday by the New York City education department.

As Chalkbeat recently wrote, the Brooklyn School of Inquiry is the only citywide gifted school to join the city’s Diversity in Admissions pilot program. Citywide schools are among the most difficult to get into since they only admit students with top scores on the gifted test. Like gifted programs across the city, they are also starkly segregated.

The admissions pilot, which now includes 21 schools from pre-K through 12th grade, allows principals to set aside a percentage of seats specifically for students who are poor, learning English or who meet other criteria.

In some cases, school leaders are seeking to preserve the diverse student body that already exists. In others, like at BSI, principals want to encourage integration. The school set aside 40 percent of its available kindergarten seats for low-income students.

“I think that was just what we needed,” principal Donna Taylor told Chalkbeat in November.

But, because siblings of current BSI students get priority in admissions, only a small number of seats are available to the wider public every year. That meant that only 20 slots were reserved for low-income students this year. Though the school has made admissions offers for each of those openings, it remains to be seen how many families will actually enroll.

At BSI last year, fewer than 10 percent of students were black or Hispanic, and the poverty rate was 23 percent.

Citywide, about 70 percent of students are black or Hispanic and 77 percent are poor. In gifted, about 73 percent of gifted students are white or Asian, and the poverty rate is about 43 percent.

The city has tried to address the disparity by opening gifted programs in districts that had gone years without and by changing the admissions criteria in new gifted classes.

The Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents have launched a taskforce to study segregation in both gifted and specialized high schools, which base admissions on a single test. They hope to come up with recommendations for enrolling a more representative mix of students.