In an era when demands for “equity” have inspired efforts to eliminate the SAT and defund charter schools, it’s no great surprise that gifted education has also been under attack.
This summer, after years of feints, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered New York City’s schools to abandon the gateway gifted test, implement “accelerated learning” for all students in grades K-2, and then kinda, sorta figure out how to screen kids for a mélange of subject-specific accelerated elementary coursework. On cue, the New York Times blamed gifted education for producing “racially segregated classrooms and schools” (the Times seemingly struggles with the meaning of “segregation,” given the 4,000 black and Latino students in the city’s gifted elementary programs).
Gifted education has been taking it on the chin for years. Certainly, the No Child Left Behind era was a tough one for gifted education, as school systems focused intently on boosting basic skills among struggling students. And de Blasio’s attack is hardly sui generis. On the opposite coast, the education chair of the NAACP’s Seattle chapter has complained in regards to that city’s gifted program, “We want the program just abolished. Period. [It] is fundamentally flawed, and it’s inherently racist.”
Thankfully, de Blasio’s newly elected successor, Eric Adams, promises to reverse course on gifted education in NYC, the fight spotlights a larger challenge—and opportunity. Of course, gifted programs should be inclusive and designed so as not to morph into impermeable upstairs-downstairs caste systems. At the same time, Nobel laureate David Card has concluded that “a separate classroom environment is more effective for” gifted learners—especially those who are disadvantaged. We must not shrug off the problems with gifted education, but we cannot afford to be taken in by gauzy promises and nebulous notions of “accelerated learning” for all.