Remember “No Child Left Behind?” If “equity” advocates have their way, today’s educational slogan will soon become “No Child Gets Ahead.”
This week, outgoing New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that the city’s public schools will no longer offer gifted and talented programs for its students. They will be “replaced by a program that offers accelerated learning to all students in the later years of elementary school.” In other words: Everyone is gifted and talented now!
DeBlasio and his fellow equity advocates spared no thought for those who might be harmed by the elimination of such programs. Rather, they make a different claim, one that shifts the focus from the students who need these more challenging programs to the students who don’t qualify to get into them. The equity narrative insists that the existence of racial disparities in these programs is evidence of discrimination and justifies their elimination.
The Times didn’t even try to be subtle about pushing this narrative. The subheading of its story described gifted and talented programs as “racially segregated” (The paper later altered this to say that the programs were “a glaring symbol of segregation”). The Times used a deliberately loaded and misleading term to suggest to readers that these schools intentionally prevent black students from applying or are somehow refusing to educate non-white students at the same level as white students. If equity advocates want to start calling organizations or programs that fail to achieve perfect racial balance “racially segregated,” then the National Football League is also a racially segregated organization, as is the National Basketball Association, because their players don’t reflect the demographics of the nation.
In fact, equity advocates are eager to make this a black and white story, because the reality is more complicated—and undermines their narrative. These programs are already dominated by a minority student population, just not the “right” minority, according to equity ideologues. According to Chalkbeat, “at 43%, the greatest share of students in gifted classes are Asian.”
These programs could be reinstated under a new mayor, of course, but the attack on their existence is yet another data point in the ongoing war against excellence and competition. Equity advocates have launched numerous challenges to admissions-only public high schools in San Francisco, New York, and the Washington, D.C. area, and there is an entire equity-driven movement to replace traditional grading with “grading for equity.”
Equity advocates are picking and choosing the programs and policies they want eliminated, supposedly in the name of fairness, with little regard for the needs of high-achieving students, but what is the limiting principle? If all differences are intolerable inequities, all measures of difference will have to be eliminated.
Equity advocates like to claim that they are challenging “systemic” inequalities. In fact, as has become clear with this most recent abolition of gifted and talented programs, they want to challenge systemic problems by taking the easy way out and simply blowing up the system.
There are numerous reforms that could be introduced to New York’s gifted and talented screening system, such as offering more points of entry to gifted classes throughout K-6th grade or doing more to identify gifted and talented children among underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups. Those kids are out there; they deserve more challenging educational opportunities. They won’t get them from DeBlasio’s new plan.
The claim that equity advocates are making, that teachers can simply “differentiate” among the more and less gifted within the same classroom and teach effectively to all of them, is not supported by the evidence. Johns Hopkins University Education professor Jonathan Plucker, a critic of some aspects of New York’s gifted and talented system, told the Times, “The hope that children could all be equally well accommodated in one classroom by training teachers to differentiate between students was not supported by research.”
As well, it is far easier to punish high-performing Asian and white students than it is to tackle the thornier problems that lead to lower rates of admission by black and Hispanic students. Many of these problems are cultural and economic (students from low-income families fare worse on the screening tests) for which there is no easy fix.
At least equity advocates can bask in the glow of their own sanctimony: “All our children have gifts. All our worthy,” tweeted NYT journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, about the news. “This is GOOD and what many folks have been fighting for.” But their “equity” victory comes at the expense of their fellow students in the school system—including other minority children. They are fighting for an ideologically satisfying quick fix that will do nothing to help solve the problems of underperforming students.
The truly equitable thing to do would be to redouble efforts to support these underperforming students well before they have the option to be sorted into gifted and talented programs. Eliminating gifted programs does nothing to help those still-struggling students. They will continue to struggle. The only difference now is that so, too, will the gifted kids (or at least the ones whose parents can’t afford to send them to private school), who will be stuck learning at the level of their underperforming peers. DeBlasio and his equity minions just sent all these children a clear message: Your future opportunities must be sacrificed on the altar of equity.