Davis Group Seeks to Preserve GATE and Clarify Misconceptions About Program

gateDebate over the GATE program remains contentious, and on Thursday night a number of defenders of the program spoke at public comment.

Eric Hays, a local resident with two children in the school district, spoke during public comment  to the school board about what he perceived to be a misperception about the GATE program in Davis.

“I heard a number of false statements about the Davis GATE program,” he began, arguing that these views are not necessarily held by board members, but are stated in local public forums and their repetition prevents a reasonable discussion of the issue.

“There is this false idea that the level of GATE identification in Davis is impossibly high,” he said.  “An idea that is often extended into an implication that such a high level is an indication that the identification process or perhaps the whole program has become corrupted.”

“The truth is that based on California Department of Education data, several districts in California GATE-identify at a higher rate than Davis,” Mr. Hays continued, “Significantly, districts that serve cities with UC campuses GATE-identify at rates similar to Davis.”

He cited districts in San Diego, Santa Cruz, and Goleta as GATE-identifying a larger percentage of their students than Davis does.  Others serve much larger populations so that the UC effect is less pronounced but still apparent in the data.

It is not just towns with UC’s, he argued, and he noted cities in the Silicon Valley that also identify a larger proportion of their students as GATE students than Davis does.

“Another misconception is that self-contained high achiever programs are unheard of at the elementary school level,” he continued, “yet there are self-contained high achiever programs, some even begin earlier than fourth grade, up and down the state and across the nation.”

“There is a rich trove of peer reviewed research about the benefits of self-contained GATE programs to all students in the district,” he said, “some of which is being gathered at a community website called DavisExcel.org.”

“There has been a movement to redefine GATE as a program for twice exceptional students or what I call real outliers, but that is no way articulated in the sections of state code 52.200-52.212 that define GATE programs, nor is it in the district’s GATE master plan,” Mr. Hays said.  “GATE provides an alternative learning paradigm much as Davis’ other choices – neighborhood program, Montessori, Spanish-immersion, and just as those programs serve students with extraordinary needs, so does Davis’ GATE program.”

“While I believe the GATE program can be improved through careful consideration, we will never have careful consideration so long as this level of misinformation persists,” he concluded.

Hemant Bhargava spoke as well, disputing the notion that some critics have expressed that GATE classrooms serve as much as 30 percent of students.  He believes the number is closer to 20 percent.

He said, “I don’t find that surprising, since Davis is one of the most educated towns in the country.”

In his letter to the editor, he wrote, “Several recent articles and letters in this newspaper have criticized our town’s GATE program because it covers nearly 30 percent of our children. One letter writer argued, ‘a self-contained GATE program at 30 percent of the population is, by definition, statistically impossible.’ “

He would argue, “Generally, GATE identification means that you are somewhere in the top 2 to 6 percentile of a ‘large’ population – that is, statewide or nationwide group. Davis is a highly educated town, with one of the highest percentages of residents with advanced graduate degrees. It surprises me not in the least that 30 percent of our children test into the top 2-6 percentile of their nationwide or statewide age group.”

The group DavisExcel, located at DavisExcel.org, sent the Vanguard material on their group.

“DavisExcel is a community-based group committed to preserving academic excellence and choice in Davis public schools,” the group explains in a flier.

The DJUSD’s Mission Statement is to develop “the knowledge, skills, abilities, and values needed for all students to reach their full potential.”

The district seeks “an appropriately challenging academic course of study that promotes the highest possible academic achievement.”

They argue, “In Davis, we have a variety of programs to help the District achieve these goals, from Spanish Immersion, to Da Vinci, to Montessori and Fairfield.  We recognize that one size does not fit all children.”

“The Davis GATE program currently serves the needs of children who require an alternative instructional model – and remains oversubscribed year after year. This program is currently serving more than 1700 students,” the group explains.  “DavisExcel has shown that GATE helps all Davis schoolchildren reach their full potential.  We believe the current GATE program should not be dismantled or dramatically altered without first demonstrating that an alternative model is affordable, viable, and equally successful in meeting student needs.”

“Members of the community, DJUSD, and the Board of Education have many questions about the GATE program. We are concerned about many of the same issues and have invested considerable time in evaluating the best available evidence,” they write.

They conclude: “We intend to continue our research and to work with other parents and the school administration in an open and collaborative review process.  We are eager to partner with the District to ensure that GATE or an equally successful program remains as one of the several outstanding educational choices available in our community.”

The group invites the public to an event on Tuesday March 26, 2013, at 7 pm at the Pioneer Elementary School Multipurpose Room.  Dr. Barbara Branch, the incoming Executive Director of California Association for the Gifted, with over 35 years of experience as a former teacher and principal, will be speaking on a topic called “You Can’t Fit A Square Peg Into a Round Hole: Helping High Potential Children Flourish.”

The event is sponsored by Davis Excel, the New Star Chinese School and Vanar Sena Pathshala.  It is free and open to the public.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. wdf1

    Link to DavisExcel ([url]http://davisexcel.org/[/url]).

    Where this discussion seems to create tension is on different perceptions and philosophies for what grade school education is. In exploring the “Myth Busters” section of the website above, I get the impression that the philosophy being embraced is that grade school education is about improving on the traditional academic skills and talents that one already excels at. And that these skills and talents are measurable with a standardized test.

    This seems to run against a philosophy that there are a number of non-cognitive skills that are worth developing in a grade school setting — the ability to work with and have compassion for students of various backgrounds and abilities, teamwork, leadership, social skills development, “plays well with others”.

    If it is appropriate to have self-contained GATE classes, is it also appropriate to have other kinds of self-contained classes? For instance, self-contained ELL classes? self-contained special-ed classes? self-contained low SES classes? self-contained Latino classes? What are the limits on this kind of approach and why? I acknowledge that there might be absurd limits, but where exactly should that boundary be?

    There is a sense that self-contained is a euphemism for segregated, which is, of course, an emotionally loaded concept in American education. Should “self-contained” be understood as “segregation”? Is that a safe concept in American education?

    How common is it to have self-contained GATE programs in California? Is it the norm? How common are non-self-contained GATE programs?

    Disclaimer: I am personally more ambivalent about what is the appropriate policy about GATE than my comments and questions suggest. But I think the pro-GATE advocates have avoided addressing what most concerns some skeptics.

  2. wdf1

    [i]”GATE provides an alternative learning paradigm much as Davis’ other choices – neighborhood program, Montessori, Spanish-immersion, and just as those programs serve students with extraordinary needs, so does Davis’ GATE program.”[/i]

    A problem with comparing GATE to Montessori and SI is that any parent can enroll his/her child into Montessori or SI. Not any parent can enroll his/her child into GATE — the child has to pass a test first. So GATE doesn’t seem like a true choice if one’s child doesn’t pass the test.

  3. Mr.Toad

    “Hemant Bhargava spoke as well, disputing the notion that some critics have expressed that GATE classrooms serve as much as 30 percent of students. He believes the number is closer to 20 percent.”

    if you look at 1700 students in gate and 8500 total enrollment its 20%. But if you look at only 4400 in elementary that 1700 could be much higher. These numbers need closer examination.

  4. Robin W

    Let’s be honest. The active anti-GATE forces see academic success as a zero-sum game. Instead of focusing on improving the education provided in the non-GATE classrooms where their children are studying, their focus is on decimating the self-contained classroom program their kids are not a part of.

    These anti-GATE folks are not trying to shut down GATE-self-contained classes in order to fulfill the school district’s mission statement of developing “the knowledge, skills, abilities, and values needed for all students to reach their full potential” or the district’s objective of seeking “an appropriately challenging academic course of study that promotes the highest possible academic achievement.”

    To the contrary, they want to impede gifted kids receiving “an appropriately challenging academic course of study” in order to impede gifted kids from reaching their “highest possible academic achievement.”

    And they are succeeding. Admitting students to GATE self-contained classes through the lottery system recently adopted by the School Board (in a 3-2 vote) is a major step towards dismantling the entire GATE program. Instead of GATE self-contained classes being filled by the kids whose learning needs are most likely to differ from the learning needs of kids in the non-GATE classes (i.e., the kids who fall in the 98 and 99 percentiles), the GATE self-contained classes will be filled with a mix of the kids who most need to be there and those who are less likely to need that environment. Then we will hear that the GATE self-contained classes don’t need to exist because so many of the kids in those classes don’t need that environment.

    As for the kids at the 98th and 99th percentile who don’t have the opportunity to be placed in the GATE self-contained classes because they are not selected by the lottery, the district will wholly fail to provide them with “an appropriately challenging” environment. Those whose families can afford it will be sent to the more challenging private schools in Sacramento. Those whose families can’t afford private school will either tune out in school or be behavior problems.

    So who suffers with this new system? Highly gifted poor children (reinforcing one of the types of achievement gaps in Davis).

    Who else suffers? The Davis school district and Davis property owners as many of the brightest go to private school, the district’s test scores drop without the participation of these brightest students, and Davis is no longer viewed as having such a great school system.

    Who else suffers? Everyone, as we lose potentially brilliant scientists and innovators who tuned out in school because they lost the opportunity to have an appropriate educational environment on the altar of Davis political correctness.

    Thank heavens I no longer have any kids in the Davis school system.

  5. alegator7

    I would agree that some of the most valuable things learned in school cannot be measured by a test. These life lessons are as present in the GATE program just as much as in the neighborhood school. The GATE program is rich in diversity. There is even greater diversity in the GATE program than in other distric programs such as Spanish Immersion. The is a strong represention of ethnic minorities, ESL, special needs children, and children from a low socioeconomic backgrounds. There is a table referencing data included in the Davis Excel report. Please take the time to look at it. It’s interesting.
    I personally know of a child who is hearing impaired and know of a child that is legally blind. My son’s GATE teacher even has a disability and has to use a special microphone to communicate with the children. What greater life lesson to learn? One can succeed despite one’s disability.

    There is also the thought that GATE kids are super motivated high achievers and this is simply not the case. There are high performers and underperformers. Moreover, just like any class some are strong in math and othes in reading/writing. I know of children that are shy and quiet while some are strong leaders and others are loud, goofy and others just simply different. The children are so accepting of eachother that it is moving. The GATE children are not cloned “perfect students” they are diverse individuals just like all children.

    I also feel that the children find friends in eachother regardless of what class they are from. They play with eachother at lunch and at recess and other extracurricular activities. For example, my son plays basket ball with school mates during lunch and looks foward to it with excitement. In our school we have after school science nature bowl, the kid’s newspaper or gazzette, lego club, school buddies and many others that encourage team work and getting to know eachother. And yes more is better.

  6. alegator7

    The question of GATE being a choice program is complex. First of all, the child has no choice on who they are and how their brain works and how they may learn best. On one level I feel the program fills a need. A need for a challanging and appropriate education. A need for growth and stimulation of the human mind. Remember when you had one of your first aha learning moments? Wasn’t it exciting?
    Then there is the human need to be understood and accepted for who you are. The need to be with people with whom you share a commonality.

    Then of course there is choice to make. Those identified may choose to attend or not depending whether they feel the program is a good fit for them. Many don’t and many do. A choice. For us it was a choice my son made and a choice he doesnt regret and is happier for.

  7. wdf1

    Robin W: [i]Admitting students to GATE self-contained classes through the lottery system recently adopted by the School Board (in a 3-2 vote) is a major step towards dismantling the entire GATE program.[/i]

    This is false. It was a 5-0 unanimous vote to go with a lottery system in the
    Feb. 7 School board meeting, ~2:34:00 of video archive ([url]http://djusd.davismedia.org/content/february-7th-2013-school-board-meeting[/url]). In following the discussion, the decision was made in order to be in legal compliance, to avoid a potential lawsuit that would have cost the district money, and did not look promising to challenge it. I didn’t hear anything in the discussion that led me even to speculate that there was an effort to dismantle it.

  8. alegator7

    Dear wdf1,
    You are right it was 5-0 for the random lottery and yes mostly in fear of a lawsuit from the complaint that was settled. The real problem was how it was handled by the district. The lack of due process. The community and The GATE advisory committee had no meaningful conversation prior to this decision. The GATE advisory was presented predetermined lottery options by administration to vote on prior to these options having been vetted by the attorney. The committee voted almost unanimously 19-2(or very close to that) for a lottery within percentile bands, not the random lottery. Then the results were withheld to just before the Board meeting and coincident with the district memo going out stating there would be a random lottery. Then the board voted. The sad fact was the The Advisory committee had asked that the attorney be present at the advisory meeting at the time of the vote so as to make meaningful choices. Not only was the attorney not present but the committee was given non viable choices to vote on that had not been vetted by district legal. Had the committee been empowered with the knowledge of the key points of the legal complaint and the voting options been checked with legal first then the committee could have worked on finding a fair solution that addressed the legal concerns and was more equitable. There could have been another solution. Instead this random lottery was pushed through. I understand the board was under legal pressure, however there was no law suit and having learned that advisory committee voted against the random lottery and the community opposition to it and the lack of meaning full discussion before this decision they could have voted to allow more time to analyze the legal recommendation and allow for discussion of other options. Instead it was just rushed through . This not fair process.

  9. Robin W

    wdf1 — Yes, you are correct that the School Board’s lottery decision was unanimous. My apologies. I do not know which recent decision I was confusing it with, as far as the vote breakdown. Perhaps it was just too much cognitive dissonance to believe that all 5 of our School Board members were convinced to vote that way.

    You said you did not heard the School Board talk about dismantling the GATE program. You misunderstood what I said. I was not contending that the School Board’s intent was to start dismantling the program. My point was that the lottery system that was adopted will undermine the GATE program as the self-contained classrooms are filled with a random mix of kids who tested at or above the 94th percentile (30% of DJUSD students), and as half of the kids in the 98th and 99th percentile (who are most likely to need the GATE self-contained classes) are not placed in GATE self-contained classes.

    You asked what other solutions there could be to the lawsuit. There are a vast number of other possible solutions. Alicia Silva mentioned one, namely, a lottery within percentage bands, as compared with the ridiculous lottery that was adopted, which includes 30% of the DJUSD students finishing the third grade.

    Another possible solution would have been to narrowly tailor the solution to the legal claim that was made. The claim was that it was unlawfully discriminatory to rank students who achieved a given percentile score on the re-test with the TONI exam after students who achieved that same percentile on the original OLSAT test. The obviously most direct and narrowest solution would have been to agree to rank the students who scored in a given percentile on the re-test with the TONI exam at the same rank as the students who achieved the same percentile on the original OLSAT exam (which might, in practice, be the same solution as the one Alicia mentioned).

    As a lawyer with over twenty-five years’ experience handling discrimination cases, I cannot fathom why the Board, facing a lawsuit which raised a very specific, narrow point about the selection process, chose to respond by adopting a sweeping change to the program that essentially throws the kids who need a GATE self-contained classroom under the bus.

    The anti-GATE forces and their lawyer seem to have done a great job scaring the School Board and their lawyer into agreeing to a wholly unnecessary and unwarranted blow to what once was the premier GATE program in the state.

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