As city studies gifted and talented programs, Carranza says not to expect changes this school year

A week after an influential advisory group recommended eliminating gifted and talented programs in their current form, New York City Chancellor Richard Carranza calmed growing concerns by emphasizing that there would be no changes this year.  

In an appearance Tuesday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Carranza offered his most substantive public comments since the report’s release. He signaled that the city education department would take a close look at what’s being taught in gifted and talented classes and at the best ways to identify gifted children. He also reassured parents that their children’s programs won’t close this year. 

“What I’m reading from the recommendations is that we have to do better, we have to serve gifted students in a better way, in a way that makes sense, in a way that doesn’t exclude students,” Carranza said. “And I think that’s something that we can all get behind.”

Most of the city’s gifted and talented programs are offered to kindergarten students who pass a single test when they’re 4 years old. The programs largely enroll white and Asian students, even though black and Hispanic students together make up about 70% of city students. 

The mayorally appointed School Diversity Advisory Group — established two years ago to encourage integration in city schools — released a second report last week with ideas to spur integration in elementary, middle, and high schools. But perhaps the group’s most controversial recommendation is to phase out gifted programs as they currently exist. (The group urges the city to replace the programs with other options, such as schoolwide enrichment programs, that target all students’ interests and strengths.) 

That suggestion ignited immediate opposition from the teachers union and some parents, and politicians, who argued that gifted and talented programs should instead be expanded to reach more students.

While saying there’s a lot of research on what could work as a replacement, Carranza signaled some support for the “schoolwide enrichment” model, saying it “really closely tracks” as a way to improve schools. But he also noted the necessity to establish more consistency in curriculum for gifted and talented students, something he said he hasn’t seen in his visits to these programs. 

“I have to tell you, as I’ve gone around the city, you can’t point to a specific pedagogy or specific curriculum — it’s just faster and more,” Carranza said. “That can’t be what gifted and talented is in the biggest school system in the nation.”

For now, parents with children in gifted programs shouldn’t fret: Carranza said there would be no changes to the program this year as the department looks at research and “best practices from around the country and around the world.” He also said there would be a “public conversation” about any future changes but didn’t elaborate. (A mayoral spokeswoman also did not elaborate but said the city “will have more to say soon.”)

And he said whatever path the city takes, the education department would continue to cater to children who are truly academically gifted — he offered the example of “a 5-year-old that is, you know, doing algebra.”

“What we’re trying to really be focused on is, how do you truly identify the intellectually gifted child and how do you parse out the effects of economic privilege from true giftedness?” Carranza said. “And then how do you plan for that, how do you serve those students, and how do parents know what to expect?”