Bedford-Stuyvesant’s brightest elementary students are fleeing local schools and will continue to do so even after the district finally adds dedicated classes for them fall, because the new program won’t be on par with those in other nabes, say area parents.
The new gifted and talented program in District 16 will start three grades levels later, and use a different admissions criteria that parents say the city has still not really explained. Given the choice between the two, families will opt to send their pint-sized prodigies to the standard program in other districts for fear their kids will fall behind, said one local mom.
“If parents have a choice between a District 16 school for kindergarten and a gifted and talented kindergarten in another district, they’re more likely to choose the out-of-district program if they can get in,” said Rachel Beebe, who has a 4 and 6-year-old and is a member of local parent group the Bed-Stuy Parents Committee.
District 16 — which encompasses most of Bedford-Stuyvesant and a small part of Crown Heights — has long been one of the few districts in the city without a gifted and talented program. Eduction honchos in March finally announced they will launch one at PS 26 this coming school year, following demands from parents who have until now had to bus brainiac kids into other districts.
But the program still won’t be the same. It will begin in third grade instead of kindergarten — which is the norm across the city — and will admit kids based on criteria such as grades, attendance, and perceived curiosity and quickness to learn, instead of the standardized test other areas use.
When announcing the new program, schools czar Carmen Farina claimed that it is easier to identify clever kids in second grade than in pre-K, but local parents weren’t convinced, and argued that their blossoming scholars would continue to fall behind the rest of the city, putting them at a disadvantage when competing for seats in top middle schools.
The city will also introduce the so-called pilot program to three other districts in low-income areas across the city where students have historically received low marks on the gifted and talented entrance test — only 36 out of 256 Bedford-Stuyvesant students who took the test passed this year, according to Department of Education data.
But Beebe and other local parents say it has been difficult to get answers from the department about how it will actually assess the entrance criteria, and make sure teachers and administrators are fair and consistent in their evaluations so poor, black, and Latino kids aren’t subject to discrimination.
“It’s only a good idea if the other criteria are objective,” said Beebe. “If you rely on teacher’s recommendations, I feel like that’s going to enhance the problems that are already there.”
The district’s community education council — a panel of local parents tasked with advising the department on local school issues — sent a letter a month ago asking for an explanation, and expressing its disappointment that the program won’t be available to kindergarten through second graders.
But it still hasn’t received a response, and its leader is worried the radio silence could be a sign the city is ignoring Bedford-Stuyvesant kids once again.
“Our chief concern is DOE hasn’t responded to our letter,” said NeQuan McLean, who is the president of Community Education Council 16. “They pushed us and we write a letter of support and we still haven’t heard back from them.”