During his tenure as mayor, Mayor de Blasio has struggled with K-12 education policy. Because his views appear to be primarily driven by a confident, often bellicose progressive ideology, he has staked out unnecessarily strident positions that then tend to work out poorly in practice.
For instance, he seems unable to abide the idea that civil society — instead of just a government monopoly — has a positive role to play in the provision of public education. So he has publicly expressed hostility  toward charter schools and their advocates and sought to undermine  Success Academies, even though charters generally, and Success specifically, have done wonders for the city.
Similarly, a great deal of evidence accumulated  nationally showing large-scale  “turnaround” efforts aimed at persistently underperforming schools are unable  to produce the results needed. But the mayor was unwilling to believe that a muscular government approach backed by a gigantic influx of public funds wouldn’t work. So he launched  his $800 million “Renewal” turnaround project, which, unsurprisingly, failed  to do what it promised.
De Blasio’s short-lived presidential bid demonstrated that even Democratic primary voters want more than overheated progressive rhetoric. A degree of prudence is desirable when dealing with complex matters and competing interests. As he returns  to lead the city full-time with more than two years left in his term and only a third  of city residents rating him favorably, the mayor has a chance — and an incentive — to hit reset. The current debate  over gifted education offers that opportunity.
A panel appointed by de Blasio’s administration recently suggested dismantling the city’s approach to providing educational offerings to high-achieving kids. The group was right to identify problems with the district’s current system, which serves a student population unreflective of the city’s demographics and identifies children for separate classrooms and schools when they are 4 years old using only a single test. Such flaws raise important questions about how students are identified as gifted and whether disadvantaged children are adequately prepared in their early schooling for later rigorous work. But, consistent with de Blasio’s style, a number of the recommendations and at least one panel member’s language went entirely too far.
The panel wants to stop the creation of new gifted programs, phase out existing gifted programs, eliminate middle-school entrance criteria (such as the use of students’ grades, test scores and behavior) and fundamentally alter high school admissions practices. A member of the group called  the current system “a modern-day-eugenics project.” Such language can vilify parents who simply want to do right by their high-achieving kids. And the recommendations would unwind policies that — though certainly imperfect — have contributed to New York City’s place among leaders in public-education options.
This city’s now-thriving charter school sector developed gradually over time and has given families the power of educational choice. But even before that, the city recognized that students achieving at the highest levels also deserve special offerings. Two scholars found  in 2012 that there were only 165 selective-admissions public secondary schools nationwide, but New York City has, for generations, supported several such specialized high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. Thanks to schools like these, as well as programs in primary schools, the city’s gifted kids have access to targeted services inside the public system.
Because we take seriously the idea of the American Dream, many of the highest-profile and most valuable public-education reforms dating back more than a century have sought to equalize opportunity for historically underserved groups. The development of “common schools,” desegregation, school finance lawsuits, gap-closing efforts like the No Child Left Behind Act, expanded opportunities for girls, vouchers for kids assigned to failing schools, services for English-language learners and students with disabilities — these initiatives any many more have tried to level the playing field.
But we should appreciate that equality in education doesn’t mean generating uniform results; it means enabling every child to reach his or her fullest potential, including gifted students. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam dedicates little attention to this issue. The federal government’s lone program in this area received just $12 million in 2019, while the Title I program for low-income students received nearly $16 billion. State-level policies also do surprisingly little. A 2018 study by scholars at Johns Hopkins University and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation assessed  state efforts to support academically talented students and awarded only 14 states a grade higher than C.
De Blasio has not yet endorsed the panel’s recommendations. He has the chance to stake out a balanced, judicious position and grow the city’s reputation as a national leader in offerings for high-achieving students. He should thank the panel for spotlighting the imbalances in program enrollment and make clear that equality of opportunity demands that all kids, regardless of background, have fair access to special services. But equal opportunity also means helping all kids fulfill their potential, and that requires rejecting calls to dismantle offerings designed to help high-achieving kids accomplish even more.
Image credit: Kevin Case 
- “hostility”: https://nypost.com/2019/07/08/de-blasio-shouts-that-he-hates-charter-schools-at-campaign-event/
- “undermine”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/will-de-blasio-choke-charters-1386806765
- “accumulated”: https://www.educationnext.org/the-turnaround-fallacy/
- “large-scale”: https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20174013/pdf/20174013.pdf
- “unable”: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/obama-administration-spent-billions-to-fix-failing-schools-and-it-didnt-work/2017/01/19/6d24ac1a-de6d-11e6-ad42-f3375f271c9c_story.html
- “launched”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/de-blasio-reveals-plan-for-failing-schools-1415032676
- “failed”: https://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/de-blasio-renewal-schools-fiasco-proves-bloomberg
- “returns”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/his-white-house-run-over-mayor-de-blasio-has-big-plans-at-home-11569449538
- “third”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-yorkers-equally-dim-on-trump-de-blasio-poll-shows-11568712602?mod=article_inline
- “debate”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/mayors-diversity-panel-recommends-scrapping-gifted-programs-at-new-york-city-schools-11566863093
- “called”: https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-what-the-gifted-education-fight-is-really-about-20190920-vry2cqgpyvhw7or4jft3qa2eqm-story.html#nt=instory-link
- “found”: https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691156675/exam-schools
- “ assessed”: https://www.jkcf.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/FINAL_2018_JKCF_-_Equal_Talents_Unequal_Opportunities_-_Web_version.pdf
- “Kevin Case”: https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kevin+case