Public schools across the country are eliminating gifted and talented programs, removing advanced courses, and overhauling admissions processes to achieve equity across racial categories.
Removing gifted and advanced courses is a no-cost way to cover up the racial achievement gap while ignoring its root causes, according to Harry Jackson, president of the Thomas Jefferson High School Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA).
“Gifted programs and advanced courses provide a mechanism for low-income households to achieve a stellar education for their children and serve as a ‘great equalizer’ to those families that opt for private education,” Jackson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “By eliminating gifted programs and advanced courses in the name of equity, they will create greater inequities,” he said.
Black students make up 15% of the student population and 10% of the gifted student population, while Hispanic students make up 27.6% of the student population and 20.8% of the gifted student population, according to a Fordham Institute study. Those student groups are 49% and 23% less likely to participate in Advanced Placement programs than their peers, respectively, according to the Fordham Institute.
Public interest in racial inequities increased following George Floyd’s death with pressure on public schools to resolve racial disparities coming from parents, activist groups, school board members and officials in the U.S. Department of Education.
Thomas Jefferson High School (TJ), the top-ranked public high school in the U.S., eliminated its competitive entrance exam in October 2020 following a Fairfax County School Board vote, and replaced it with a more subjective admission process which includes geographic quotas.
The Fairfax County School Board had been lobbied by the TJ Alumni Action Group, which was formed in light of the events surrounding Floyd’s death, and the release of TJ admissions statistics revealed fewer than ten black students had been admitted to the school’s class of 2024, Washington Post reported.
TJ’s incoming freshman class in 2021 included more white, Hispanic, and black students than in previous years, while Asian student representation fell by 19 points, the Associated Press reported.
New York City is eliminating its gifted and talented program following a March lawsuit which alleged the program – which was 75% white and Asian – exacerbated racial inequalities. The program will be replaced by a maximum of 2 hours per day of advanced courses for gifted students, to be determined by teacher evaluation of students’ capabilities (rather than a standardized test).
The California Department of Education is considering proposals to “de-track” math, meaning that students of all aptitudes would learn math at the same level in the same classes, and advanced math courses would not be offered. Students in the 11th grade could opt to take Algebra II and Pre-Calculus at the same time in order to take Calculus their senior year, according to the Washington Post.
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) proposed a plan in January to eliminate traditional mathematics courses in favor of an equity-focused framework which places students in homogenous grade-based courses regardless of aptitude until the 11th grade. “[T]his initiative will eliminate ALL math acceleration prior to 11th grade,” Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin said, according to Fox.
“That is not an exaggeration, nor does there appear to be any discretion in how local districts implement this,” he added.
A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the initiative is a framework for discussion regarding state math standards, which are set to be updated in 2023.
Philadelphia overhauled its magnet school admissions process in 2021 to give preference to “historically underrepresented zip codes.” Boston created a new admissions system for its magnet schools in which students are divided into eight groups based on the “socioeconomic conditions” of their neighborhoods. Top students from each groups are admitted.
“We already know … that more choices, not fewer, is an antidote to the achievement gaps plaguing the public [school] system,” Walter Blanks Jr, press secretary of the American Federation for Children told the DCNF. “When families are truly empowered with high-quality options, and educational opportunity is no longer tied to a child’s ZIP code and family income level, we have seen those gaps dissipate and even disappear.”
“In the name of equity, nobody can be special. Talented children will be bored and suffer, and our country will be worse off in the long run,” Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily told the DCNF.
While the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has been quiet about state and local changes to gifted programs and advanced courses, it has been vocal about its racial justice goals.
A public DOE document released in April made positive mentions of the controversial 1619 Project and quoted Ibram X. Kendi while proposing priorities for American History and Civics Education courses, including “[incorporating] anti-racist practices into teaching and learning.”
Kendi famously advocated for policies which produce equal outcomes across racial groups rather than equal opportunities. In his book, “How to Be an Antiracist,” he argues that all systems which produce unequal outcomes for different racial groups are inherently racist.
The Department of Education did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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