Rich Lowry: The war on gifted and talented programs

All children have worth and dignity, but don’t all belong in the same classroom.

(Mark Lennihan | AP photo) In this Feb. 26, 2020, photo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, with Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, listens to a reporter's question in New York.

Gifted students have to check their privilege and get over themselves.

It doesn’t matter whether they are minorities. It doesn’t matter whether they were brought to the United States as children. It doesn’t matter how poor their families may be. It doesn’t matter if they have inspiring personal stories. It doesn’t matter how hard they work.

No, the very fact that they are getting accommodated in classrooms and programs that don’t necessarily represent the demographic makeup of school districts at large means that they need to be brought down a notch.

If there were any doubt that “equity” is now the most destructive concept in American life, the war on gifted and talented programs all around the country, from California (on the verge of eliminating tracking in math through the 10th grade), to Seattle (which eliminated its honors program for middle school students), to suburban Philadelphia (where a district is curtailing tracking for middle school and high school students), removes all doubt.

New York City has been a major battleground for the anti-gifted agenda that runs under the banner of desegregation, as if the offense of the George Wallaces of the world is no longer blocking the schoolhouse door but teaching exceptionally talented students at an accelerated pace.

Mayor Bill de Blasio just moved to significantly crimp the city’s gifted programs, disproportionately utilized by white and Asian American kids, in a sop to racialist bean-counters. As The New York Times notes, the mayor has been “criticized for not taking forceful action to fulfill his promise of tackling inequality in public schools.”

Not that he hasn’t tried. Earlier in his administration, he appointed a panel that recommended eliminating almost all the city’s selective programs, alleging that they are “proxies for separating students who can and should have opportunities to learn together.”

He attempted to ax the exclusive admissions exam for the city’s top high schools, which the left hates for having the “wrong” demographics. The school’s chancellor at the time, Richard Carranza, slammed “the narrative that any one ethnic group owns admission to these schools,” i.e., in his perverted view, Asian American kids were unfairly achieving beyond their numbers.

Outraged parents defeated the plan. De Blasio then eliminated some admissions requirements at the city’s selective middle and high schools. Now, he’s re-engineering the city’s approach to gifted students more broadly.

De Blasio wants to end an exam to identify gifted kids among rising kindergartners. Instead, he would spend tens of millions of dollars to train all the city’s kindergarten teachers to fulfill the needs of gifted students in their classrooms. A new admissions process would use classwork and the evaluation of teachers to find students among rising third graders who need accelerated instruction and give it to students a period or two a day.

New York City’s kindergarten test is open to legitimate criticism. By all means, school districts should take steps to ensure they are identifying gifted students from all sorts of backgrounds.

But ending dedicated classes for the gifted and insisting on classrooms with students of widely varying degrees of preparedness and ability isn’t doing teachers, or anyone else, any favors.

The equality that matters is equality of opportunity toward the end of maximizing everyone’s achievement, whether that means accelerating one student’s instruction such that he or she is ready to go to college at age 16 or going at the pace appropriate to a kid who will have trouble earning a high school diploma.

All these kids are of equal worth and dignity. That doesn’t mean, though, that they should be in the same classroom taught the same materials on the same timetable.

Anyone who knows anything about how the world works realizes that all of us have different aptitudes. That some kids are going to learn faster than others isn’t a scandal, it’s a function of a phenomenon that progressives are supposed to value — diversity.

Rich Lowry Courtesy photo

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Twitter, @RichLowry