New York Times Falsely Labels NYC Gifted Classes ‘Racially Segregated’

The New York Times Building in New York, June 29, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh)

In reporting on New York City mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to end its provision of special classes for gifted and talented kindergarten students, the New York Times has characterized the outgoing program as “racially segregated.”

De Blasio’s decision should be counted as one of his “most dramatic actions to combat segregation in city schools,” per the Times.

While it is true that a significant majority of the students enrolled in the program at the elementary school level are either white (36 percent) or Asian American (43 percent), it is, as a matter of record, not segregated by race. Parents of children of all races are welcome to nominate their kids for the program, and children of all races are presently benefitting from it.

Thus while there are notable disparities in the racial composition of the city’s program for accelerated students, to describe its admission standards as explicitly determined by race is misleading, especially considering the dark and real history of segregation in America.

City education reporter Eliza Shapiro, however, draws no distinction between the lamentable inequality of results present in the soon-to-be disposed of program and the traditional understanding of what it means for citizens to be systemically divided by race. Variations of the word “segregation” are used six times in the story, as well as in the sub-headline.

Democratic nominee for mayor Eric Adams, who is expected to easily prevail in November’s general election, had expressed his desire to keep the current system in place while expanding opportunities for African-Americans and Hispanics — the two largest racial groups among students in the city — in an effort to expand opportunity across the board.

The new plan put forward by de Blasio will do away with the admissions exam and use a more holistic approach to evaluate students before they begin third grade. Moreover, those students who are eventually determined to require elevated instruction will be separated for shorter periods of time, rather than into entirely different classrooms or schools.

Andy Smarick, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told National Review that scrapping the old system would harm the very students it’s meant to level the playing field for.

“If you have personal wealth and you can choose a different type of program, you’re going to do everything you can to make sure that your students are getting the services they need and this is the kind of program that’s great in the public school system because it’s what a lot of low-income families deserve, but they don’t have the money to afford it,” he explained.

In other words, while there are major disparities in the system to be addressed, the existence of the system itself is a major boon to black and Hispanic families. Smarick suggested that what is needed is an expansion of what’s been proven to work, not the redesign proposed by de Blasio.

According to Smarick, “expanding the program so there are more seat available” and  “going above and beyond to make sure that the system is identifying all of the students that could benefit from this kind of advanced programming,” would be solutions that addressed root causes of the disparity, rather than back-end results.

“Selection bias,” is more likely to be the cause of the observed differences than racial animus, he says.

The new program was designed without input from parents, but the mayor’s office plans to gather feedback on it over the next two months, according to the Times.

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