Recently, New York City public schools — located in some of the most segregated school districts in the country — moved to phase out the gifted and talented program to replace it with an inclusive model known as Brilliant NYC. Under the previous program, which had room for only 2,500 students out of the 65,000 children who start kindergarten per year in NYC, students took a test at age four to determine eligibility and were put into separate classes based on ability. Under the new program, students will be offered accelerated instruction without being separated into different classrooms like before. The news was met both with praise and criticism from parents concerned that their children will not be challenged or that curricula will be “dumbed down.”

My elementary school had no gifted program, but I was pulled out of the classroom frequently to do reading exercises. In eighth grade, I joined the honors program, which allowed me to take accelerated courses in history, math, science and English, and in ninth grade, I started my first Advanced Placement (AP) class. By the end of high school, I had 32 college credits, and I graduated with an Advanced Regents diploma. I have no doubt that these opportunities benefited me in multiple ways but only because our honors program was the only option for kids who would be otherwise unchallenged by the mainstream curriculum. Had my school offered an integrated learning model with the opportunity for me to learn at my own pace alongside students with different learning abilities, I believe that I, and many other students, would have been better off than in the homogeneous honors classes. Like many other honors students, I was introverted and reserved. Since most of the students in my class had similar temperaments, there was no one who was outgoing enough to pull me out of my shell and engage in conversation with me, the quiet kid. In addition, I can count on one hand the number of Black students, including me, in my grade who were in honors classes. However, I did feel more at home in a community where students had similar interests.

Since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that gifted students do deserve to have a rigorous curriculum but that it doesn’t need to be at the cost of segregation. Since the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, white parents have been scrambling to figure out how to stop their children from going to school with “those children” — typically disabled and Black children — and they haven’t stopped since. Multiple strategies were used, including the state of Arkansas deploying the National Guard to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending school, states being opposed to “forced busing” and actually closing public schools. As a result of Brown v. Board of Education, there was a huge uptick in private schools across the country, especially in the South. They were known as “segregation academies,” and some still function as private schools to this day. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act required public schools to provide services for all disabled students. This was the beginning of the expansion of special education programs, and like racial integration, there was a huge backlash. By the mid ’80s, most schools had gifted programs.

The criteria for inclusion in a gifted program usually consist of test scores, GPAs, teacher recommendations or a combination of the three. GPAs and test scores are heavily affected by factors outside of children’s control, such as being in foster care, their parents’ ability to help them with homework, needing to maintain a job outside of school, having younger siblings that they need to care for, having food insecurity or not having a safe place to sleep. All of these factors contribute to students’ performance in school and are heavily correlated with race, income and immigration status. To base admission into gifted programs on GPAs and test scores is to both punish and reward children for circumstances entirely outside of their control.

If you still believe that inclusion in a gifted program is based on intelligence, dedication and hard work alone, consider the fact that almost 60 percent of students in gifted education are white, but only 50 percent of students in the overall public school system are white. Black students make up 15 percent of the overall student population, but only 9 percent of gifted students are Black. If opportunity does not impact a student’s ability to join a gifted program, then the only other logical explanation of this disparity is that Black children are not as smart or as hardworking as white children, and that is certainly not the case.

Even if there were a way to ensure that every single child who “deserves” to be in a gifted program were in that program, there are still significant drawbacks to the segregated model of accelerated learning as opposed to the inclusive model, where students are able to learn at their own pace, have opportunities for enrichment and are not separated based on their learning speed. For one, the inclusive model allows children to develop empathy toward children who have different opinions and life experiences than them, giving them a better understanding of their peers and of themselves and their place in the world. In addition, many of the resources that gifted children receive, such as field trips, workshops and other enrichment activities, can benefit all students, not just gifted ones. In the Bronx’s District 8, where the students are overwhelmingly low-income, enrichment is offered school-wide. The number of students who earned failing English marks dropped by 2,000 within two years of implementing this enrichment plan. The plan is based upon core principles of enthusiasm, engagement and enjoyment, with a focus on getting children to enjoy learning so that they work harder at it.

The continued existence of “gifted and talented” programs is the late 20th century and early 21st century equivalent of racial segregation. Since it’s no longer technically legal to prioritize resources for white students, by slapping the label of “gifted” onto their children, those in favor of maintaining the racial hierarchy have figured out how to create loopholes to prioritize privileged children. Though there are many reasons why children need to be sufficiently challenged in order to do well in school, the unnecessary separation of fast learners from their peers puts all children at a disadvantage.

Deana Ridenhour is a sophomore double-majoring in history and philosophy, politics and law.