(CNN)New York City will phase out its controversial gifted and talented student program after years of debate that the exclusive classes further segregated students.
City officials say the new policy will allow all rising kindergarteners to have access to accelerated learning, in what the Mayor says will provide an equitable model allowing children to "reach their full potential."
The program, named Brilliant NYC, will do away with the test given to 4-year-olds before they enter kindergarten to identify "gifted and talented" students, and instead implement an accelerated instructional model in Fall of 2022 that will serve all approximately 65,000 kindergartners, according to the Department of Education (DOE).
"The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "Brilliant NYC will deliver accelerated instruction for tens of thousands of children, as opposed to a select few," he said.
"Every New York City child deserves to reach their full potential, and this new, equitable model gives them that chance."
The current gifted and talented program admitted 2,500 students based on test scores, many who were predominantly Asian American and White, according to the DOE.
For years, students, advocates and some educators alleged the city's gifted and talented exam was polarizing and didn't ease the existing debates over the unequal and discriminatory treatment of Black and Latino students.
New York City public schools are some of the most segregated in the US, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project. In an updated analysis using 2018 data, a report released this year found that New York retains its place as the most segregated state for Black students, and second most segregated for Latino students, trailing only California.
The segregation is stark in New York City. In the city's public schools, 74.6% of Black and Latino students attend a school where fewer than 10% of the student body is White. Additionally, 34.3% of White students attend schools that are majority-White, according to the DOE.
Earlier this year, students and advocates filed a lawsuit against state and city defendants that "challenged the racial hierarchies in public education and asserting their right under the New York State Constitution to an education that identifies and dismantles racism."
What happens next
Admission to the program was based on a test score and availability of seats in the program, and not every child that scored high enough received an offer, the DOE explained. But that structure ends as every kindergartener will now have access to accelerated learning.
Students currently admitted to gifted and talented program will continue their elementary education in their current programming, the DOE said.
Under the new plan, students heading into third grade will be universally screened to evaluate whether they may benefit from tailored accelerated instruction, however will remain in mixed-level classrooms, according to the DOE.
Robin Kelleher, an elected parent leader in District 2, told the New York Times Friday that de Blasio's announcement felt like a "political stunt," and that the mayor would be leaving a pile of "bloody broken bone fragments" for the next mayor to clean up.
Eric Adams is the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York.
According to the Times, Adams has endorsed keeping the gifted and talented classes while increasing them in low-income neighborhoods.
That idea has been questioned by researchers, but it is popular with some parents, including Black and Latino families who want more gifted options, the Times reported.
During an appearance on Brian Lehrer's weekly ask the mayor show Friday, de Blasio defended the plan.
"We respect the parents who worked hard to get their kids ready for a test that I think was a mistake to begin with but it exists, he said. "And we don't want to take away from people who got something that's why we're phasing it out."
Adams' spokesperson Evan Thies told CNN that, Adams, "will assess the plan and reserves his right to implement policies based on the needs of students and parents, should he become mayor. Clearly the Department of Education must improve outcomes for children from lower-income areas."
Under the new plan, the accelerated instruction will include learning through projects centered on real world problems, including in part, robotics and coding to community organization and advocacy, per the DOE.
Officials plan to train all 4,000 kindergarten teachers in this accelerated learning instruction, hire new teachers already trained, and launch teams of experts across the boroughs to support its implementation. The DOE also plans to expand the schools with the accelerated program from 80 to 800.
The DOE said it plans to launch citywide forums in all 32 districts this October and November to gain community feedback, before rolling out the plan in December.
"As a lifelong educator, I know every child in New York City has talents that go far beyond what a single test can capture and the Brilliant NYC plan will uncover their strengths so they can succeed," Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter said.
Porter also appeared on Brian Lehrer's show to answer questions about the new plan.
"This moment is about making sure that you don't have to cross district lines, that you don't have to go outside your neighborhood, but that your neighborhood schools can actually provide the support the services the type of learning that your child needs.