NEW YORK CITY — To increase diversity in the city's gifted and talented programs, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called Tuesday to expand the number of seats and change requirements for admissions.
The mayoral hopeful wants the Department of Education to add seats to existing G&T programs across the city and double the number of elite citywide schools, from five to 10, for the highest scoring students — adding, overall, some 8,700 new seats over nine years.
She also hopes to increase the number of students taking the tests in underrepresented districts by 800 to 1,200 children each year through outreach by creating partnerships with religious institutions, preschools and other local groups. But in some cases — at schools with low demand — she called for admissions to be based on a teacher's recommendation instead of exam scores.
"There are gifted, talented and promising children in all neighborhoods in all five boroughs," Quinn said in a statement, "and the city needs to do a better job of identifying these children and providing the resources to accommodate them."
Quinn's office has not identified specific sites for the proposed new gifted programs.
The DOE made changes to this year’s G&T exam in hopes of making it more difficult to prepare for and to help boost the chances of children from poorer families to score the coveted seats.
But this year saw a big dip in the numbers of test takers, especially in school districts with high concentrations of low-income students.
In the South Bronx's District 7 and District 9, Brownsville’s District 23 and Bushwick’s District 32 — which are generally considered to have the highest concentrations of low-income students — only 386 prospective kindergartners took the G&T exam this year, down from 479 last year, according to DOE data.
Meanwhile in Manhattan’s District 2, which stretches from tony TriBeCa to the ritzy Upper East Side and typically has the highest number of qualifying students, the number of test takers for kindergarten slots remained virtually unchanged: 1,785 this year compared to 1,784 last year, according to DOE data
Quinn unveiled one additional proposal Tuesday, aimed at parents debating between G&T or sending their kids to private or parochial schools: speeding up the notification process for gifted programs. This year's results were announced April 6, while many non-refundable deposits for private schools were due Feb. 15.
Quinn's plan calls for the citywide schools, which only accept students scoring in the 97th percentile and above, to add two programs in The Bronx and one on Staten Island, which presently have no citywide gifted programs. Quinn would also add one citywide school each to Queens and Brooklyn, which currently have one apiece. This would add 2,700 new seats for the highest scoring kids.
It would cost roughly $312,000 per new school, Quinn said.
"It is a travesty that so many children are not receiving an education that is appropriate to their needs," said Kathleen Slocum, a Washington Heights parent of a 6-year-old who attends East Harlem’s TAG Young Scholars, one of the five elite citywide G&T schools.
"Entire communities are being passed over and not given the chance to have the incredible education that citywide G&T schools provide," said Slocum, who voiced support for Quinn's proposal.
Slocum is a member of Parents’ Alliance for Citywide Education, a coalition of families attending the five citywide G&T programs, which has been circulating a petition calling for more citywide gifted programs "to address the lack of racial diversity in the existing programs by removing logistical barriers for qualifying children from minority neighborhoods."
Several parents at TAG, which prides itself on its diversity and has many students coming from other boroughs, had difficulty finding information about G&T programs, Slocum also noted.
"We do think it would help more of the outreach to outer boroughs," she said. "I don't think it's a matter of parents of not want to send their children to these programs, it's a lack of information in many cases."
DOE spokeswoman Erin Hughes said the department did extensive outreach in low-income areas and this year created 4,000 full-day pre-K seats in "neighborhoods that need them most."
She also said the G&T process has come a long way from the days when "who you knew" would determine if a kid got a seat.
“This administration has shifted the gifted and talented admissions process from one dependent on personal relationships to one rooted in basic fairness," Hughes said, adding, "As always, we have more work to do, and we're always open to new ways to improve."