City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democratic candidate for mayor, stepped away from her frequent position at the side of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to criticize his administration for a lack of diversity in the city's gifted and talented programs, and to propose dramatic changes, including a shift away from the test-based admissions standard.
Quinn took issue with the fact that the vast majority of students in G&T; programs come from middle to upper class neighborhoods in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.
"Those stats and this process, although well-intentioned, has been implemented in a way that has excluded, not included, the potential of our student body," she said at a press conference Tuesday.
Her proposal consists of creating 8,700 new seats over nine years, and allowing for students from disadvantaged homes to have a teacher recommend them rather than achieve the high test score that would make them eligible for a gifted program.
She also wants the Department of Education to time acceptance offers to G&T; programs so they come before the deadline for putting down deposits for private and parochial schools, an issue of concern for many families.
Quinn suggested that she would put legislative pressure on the D.O.E. and has already been exploring options with State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan's office, such as legislation that would mandate a certain number of gifted and talented seats offered per district or requiring that multiple measures go into the admissions process rather than test scores.
Earlier in the day, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city's efforts to expand the G&T; program.
"The gifted and talented program is one of the jewels in our educational crown. It used to be two schools; today there's eight," he said. "We've expanded the offerings but we've not reduced the standards and we have to make sure we continue to do that."
The admissions policy for G&T; programs changed in 2008 to make the process more equitable, according to the Education Department.
"Historically certain families gained unfair advantage – who you knew often determined whether you received a G&T; seat," said Devon Puglia, a Department spokesman, in a written statement. "That’s not the case today. We've developed an improved process that values transparency and equality of opportunity for all students."
While defending the D.O.E.'s current policy, Puglia also left the door ajar for change.
"As always, we have more work to do, and we're always open to new ways to improve," he said.
Quinn said she would urge the D.O.E. to adopt policy changes by September, in time for the start of the new school year and the next round of students applying for G&T; seats.
Quinn has been criticized by her fellow Democratic candidates for being too close to the Bloomberg administration. Her call for new gifted and talented policy comes just a week after she announced a new middle school initiative alongside Chancellor Dennis Walcott.