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MAP: See How Racial Segregation Persists at Gifted and Talented Programs

By  Amy Zimmer and Nigel Chiwaya | September 29, 2015 7:34am 

 Adina Berrios Brooks, with her two daughters. She sent her older daughter to a G&T program on the Upper West Side before moving from Harlem to New Rochelle where she felt schools were less stratified.
Adina Berrios Brooks, with her two daughters. She sent her older daughter to a G&T program on the Upper West Side before moving from Harlem to New Rochelle where she felt schools were less stratified.
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Adina Brooks

MANHATTAN — When Adina Berrios Brooks lived in Harlem, she sent her daughter to a gifted and talented program at the Upper West Side's P.S. 163.

Brooks, who is black and Hispanic, said she was torn between giving her daughter accelerated academics at the West 97th Street school's G&T program — where only 29 percent of the students were black and Hispanic — and having her daughter in the general education program — where 80 percent of students were black and Hispanic.

"Among my Latino and African-American friends — parents with graduate degrees — they all sent their kids to G&T or private school," said Brooks, an administrator at Columbia University. 

"There is sense if you have made it and are a person of color in New York City, you have to make sure [your kids] don't fly back."

Brooks initially preferred P.S. 163's G&T class over the segregation of many local schools, but moved to New Rochelle after her daughter finished first grade where she thought classrooms were more integrated.

Since the city's first gifted and talented program was created in the 1920s, the system has been seen by critics as an enclave that fast-tracks high-performing kids at the expense of the general population — particularly its black and Hispanic students.

Last school year, more than 70 percent of students in the city's Gifted and Talented programs were white or Asian, compared to a system that is roughly 30 percent white or Asian overall, according to a DNAinfo analysis of 2014 DOE data.

The entrance exam was changed in 2012 in hopes of improving student diversity but there has been little progress, critics say. In fact, the percentage of black and Hispanic students in G&T programs has dropped since then — from 27 percent to 22 percent, according to DOE data.

Use the map below to see the largest racial group in each of the city's Gifted & Talented programs, along with the group that is most overrepresented as compared to the school's general education program.

Allison Roda, who interviewed parents over the course of several years at a city school with a G&T program for her forthcoming book, "Inequality in Gifted and Talented Programs," said the end result is a clear delineation between students.

"There's a stigma for white parents [that the general education] was a lower status program. … It's all to get them on this right pathway to the best middle schools and best high schools, and it's all about standardized test scores," Roda said.  

"The black and Latino parents see the G&T program as a tool for segregation. They say, 'Why are you taking opportunities away from my children?'"

Roda noted that the difference between the two programs she studied was most apparent in terms of parent involvement, with the G&T parents more involved than other parents and able to donate more money than general ed parents, giving the appearance that the G&T program was better stocked than other rooms.

Prospect Heights mom Erica Hamilton felt the difference between the two programs firsthand after sending her daughter to Park Slope’s P.S. 282’s general education program while her son attended the G&T program at the same school.

Hamilton, who is black, saw a big chasm between the G&T program, which had a nearly 30 percent white student body, while the general education student body was more than 90 percent black and Hispanic.

In addition, the quality of the work her son came home with was "like night and day" ahead of her daughter, despite the fact that he is two years younger, Hamilton said.

The disparity was so "stunningly" wide she decided to move her daughter out of the public school system and put her into a private school to help her catch up.

"There are things she should have learned years ago — she's getting it now," said Hamilton, who works at an education nonprofit.

"Education means everything to us," she said, explaining how she thought G&T gives an "edge" in this school system. "It's like the last safe, best channel to guarantee education quality for your kid."

The Department of Education last year targeted more resources to reach areas with traditionally low rates of participation in G&T program, for instance by sending postcards to low-income families informing them of the exam and programs, officials said.

The DOE also provided G&T directories at every pre-K site across the city and saw the number of test takers increase in low-income areas in Upper Manhattan's District 6, East New York's District 23 and Bedford-Stuyvesant's District 16.

"It’s critical that every student gets a fair shot at these unique programs and we were encouraged that last year there was an increase in the number of test takers from traditionally low-income communities," DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield said.

Sorting elementary school students by performance on a standardized test creates a gulf that often divides along racial and socioeconomic lines and only widens as kids get older, many education experts say.

"Any time we narrow our definition of giftedness and intelligence and label kids accordingly, we create distinctions that have status and privilege tied to it," Teachers College Professor Amy Stuart Wells said.

And since these distinctions tend to be divided along race and class, it perpetuates a system where kids are divided by race and class, she said.

"Kids who don't score well on these tests have a lot of abilities and gifts, [but] once we create this structure, then you have parents and students who become so wedded to these distinctions and monikers that it drives the whole system," she said.

Wells doesn't fault parents for wanting to get their kids into gifted programs since many are "freaking out” about getting into top colleges.

"Parents are fighting for scarce resources," she said.