Leaked NYC schools video shows implicit bias a key concern as gifted and talented program expands

Leaked NYC schools video shows implicit bias a key concern as gifted and talented program expands

A leaked training video for New York City public school teachers highlights the city’s concern about implicit bias affecting the selection of gifted and talented students who are as young as 4.

The new training video was widely distributed among teachers and staff and comes ahead of the Jan. 20 deadline for parents to apply to the program, which has been dogged by years of criticism that it is a tool of segregation in city schools. The training video reflects new guidance from the Adams administration, which announced reforms of the gifted and talented program in April.

The video details the checklist pre-K teachers and community groups will be asked to fill out when nominating candidates for the coveted program.

But much of the video is dedicated to encouraging teachers to think critically about the types of kids they would perceive to have characteristics such as curiosity, initiative, social perceptiveness and self-direction.

“​​What does it mean to really see children, their assets and abilities?” the narrator asks. “What might get in the way of really seeing the whole child?”

A slide from the PowerPoint training video on the gifted and talented program.

Department of Education

The video emphasizes that talents can come in diverse forms, crossing all “cultures, races and socioeconomic strata,” noting that “there’s long been concern that high-ability students from underserved populations” are underrepresented in gifted programs.

Gothamist obtained the video from a parent frustrated with the new guidelines. The Department of Education confirmed it was distributed among all pre-K teachers at public schools and community groups who are evaluating young children for gifted and talented programs.

The gifted and talented program offers accelerated learning for high-performing students. Policymakers have hoped it would retain families who might be looking to send their children outside the public school system.

Beginning in 2007, the city rolled out a new way to identify 4-year-old candidates for the program: Standardized tests. But the program quickly faced controversy for admitting more white children than in previous years, a trend that persisted well into the next decade. In 2019-2020, only 6% of gifted and talented kindergartners were Black, while only 8% were Hispanic.

Much of the gifted and talented training video is dedicated to avoiding implicit bias in the nomination process of 4-year-old students..

Department of Education

During the pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio swapped out the test for teacher recommendations. In his final months in office, de Blasio announced plans to end the program, citing the lack of diversity.

But Adams reversed course, vowing instead to expand the gifted and talented program while continuing to rely on assessments from teachers.

Jean Hahn, a parent of a former gifted and talented student and a critic of Adams’ admissions changes, said the training video – which she posted to YouTube last week – underscores how subjective and confusing the metrics for evaluating students has become.

“What child isn’t curious?” she said. “You’re not actually defining what it is to be a gifted child. To me it seems that they’re not serious about the program.”

She said the video seems more like an implicit bias training than a primer on selective admissions. “This video shows why we need to go back to objective metrics,” she said.

Hahn said she was among a group of parents who received the video anonymously from an educator.

Nyah Berg, executive director of New York Appleseed, appreciated the attention to implicit bias, but said the program remains fundamentally broken.

“It does not and really cannot address the root of the problem – that G&T programming in New York City separates and segregates our youngest students based on subjective labeling of ‘giftedness,’” Berg said.

“Over time I think we will see that the changes in admission methods and expansion of programming are going to have a minute impact on increasing access to G&T programming for NYC’s most marginalized students,” she added.

Teachers are reminded in the video that the goal is to view students holistically and make enrichment opportunities more reflective of the overall school system, where more than 40% of students are Hispanic and nearly 25% are Black.

“We are specifically continuing to work toward more fair and equitable ways to identify children from diverse cultural backgrounds to increase opportunity and access to G&T programs,” said Nicole Brownstein, an education department spokesperson, in a statement.

The Adams administration said it has also tried to make the program more accessible. Applying for the program involves less paperwork than prior years: Families are now asked to indicate on their child’s kindergarten applications if they would like the child to be considered for the gifted and talented program, instead of filling out a separate application. Teachers then “nominate” children who “demonstrate readiness for accelerated learning,” according to the education department.

As in previous years, there is likely to be far more interest in the program than slots available.

Students from private or parochial schools, or who are not yet in school, can list the gifted and talented program on their applications and then the education department will contact applicants for interviews, the video said.

Students with siblings already in the program will be prioritized for admissions. Officials will also prioritize placing students in programs near their homes, according to guidance from the education department.

Families can expect to be notified about whether students have been admitted to the program in early April.

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