We have kept the focus on the GATE/AIM issue on the potential Brown Act violation. The Brown Act, as we noted yesterday, requires among other things that the legislative body of a local agency shall post, at least 72 hours before a regular meeting, “an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting….”
Moreover, “No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda….”
We see this at work in a 2013 opinion from the Fifth Appellate District in San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center v. County of Merced, et al. This case is instructive because a decision was made that “bore some relation” to the posted agenda, but was not itself posted on the agenda.
The court writes:
The Merced County Planning Commission (the Commission) posted an agenda that set forth, as one item of business for its upcoming meeting, the Commission’s potential approval of a subdivision application submitted by William Morris to divide 380.45 acres into nine parcels (the project). The agenda, however, failed to mention that the Commission would also be considering whether or not to adopt a CEQA document known as a mitigated negative declaration (MND) concerning the environmental impact of the project. At the meeting, the Commission approved the project and adopted the MND.
Thereafter, San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water (petitioners) filed a petition for writ of mandate against the County of Merced and the Commission (together the County) seeking to set aside the approval of the project and the adoption of the MND on the ground that the Commission’s adoption of the MND violated the agenda requirements of the Brown Act.
The County now appeals from the judgment, arguing that the agenda requirement was satisfied because the public would have implicitly understood that CEQA documents, if any, would likely be considered at the time of the project’s approval.
We disagree. As more fully explained herein, we conclude that the Brown Act was violated in this case because the Commission took action on the MND when that matter was not expressly disclosed on the meeting agenda. Accordingly, we affirm that portion of the judgment based on the Brown Act violation.
As we noted yesterday, the key in the Board action on Thursday was that differentiated instruction is a major change to the AIM program and was not agendized. Differentiated instruction can be defined as the manner in which a teacher modifies the core curriculum and designs strategies which addresses the unique needs of gifted students.
There is a tendency to see this as an alternative to a self-contained GATE program. Again, we are not arguing the merits of whether this approach is preferable, only that what the board voted on and approved marked a major change in direction that should have been properly noticed.
We note that the phrase “differentiated instruction” does not appear on the agenda. Superintendent Winfred Roberson confirmed that the agenda online is the posted agenda. It is also important to note that the district does not have their counsel at most board meetings, meaning that district staff and President Alan Fernandes made the determination as to whether the topic was properly noticed.
Campaign Promises on GATE
As we move toward an evaluation of the issue on its merits, it is instructive to see where three of the board members came down on GATE prior to the election. Three of the board members were elected in November but Alan Fernandes, who was appointed in May of 2014, appeared during the candidate’s forum sponsored by the Vanguard, but did not respond to weekly questions.
On October 17, 2014 we asked: Have you been involved in the GATE/AIM Committee Meetings? If so, what has been your involvement? How do you view the current state of the GATE/AIM program, and what would be your interest in a future direction? Finally, how will you be able to balance the needs of the great majority of students that are not in the GATE/AIM program with that for GATE/AIM students?
Here were the responses:
Tom Adams: I have not been involved in the GATE/AIM Committee meeting. The needs of GATE/AIM-identified students can be balanced with the needs of the majority of students by improving program design and through the better use of existing resources. The Davis program should be evaluated for whether it is using current best practices, and the California Association for the Gifted would be the first place to seek information about best practices. More importantly, the AIM program should be an innovative program that is an exemplar. As I stated in the Vanguard’s Forum, my educational philosophy is summed up in the idea of universal design for learning. The district needs to shape its programs to meeting the needs of all students, including GATE/AIM-identified student.
Barbara Archer: I have not been involved in the GATE/AIM district advisory committee meetings. When I was a member of the Willett Site Council, we had a rep who reported back to the group from that meeting, and we discussed school climate issues related to the program.
Being part of a campus with a GATE/AIM track for 10 years allowed me to hear about the many perspectives on GATE/AIM from parents, teachers and students. I have also talked with many community members during the campaign – people with kids in the program, people with kids not in the program, people whose kids were in the program 20 years ago and middle-aged Davisites who were in the precursor to GATE/AIM – Mentally Gifted Minors.
Some parents believe that self-contained classes of AIM-identified students are the best way to educate their students. Some parents who have kids in the program are not wedded to the idea of the self-contained model. Some parents have AIM-identified kids and choose to do the neighborhood program because they do not agree with the self-contained model. Some parents believe that we must put equal resources toward all needs – GATE/AIM, high achieving, learning disabled, and students who struggle with academics to name a few groups. Some parents believe that the self-contained model is out-moded, and we should look into more current models for serving AIM-identified students.
What I believe is that that we owe it to our students to learn what other districts are doing to serve students working above grade level including examining current best practices and the advantages or disadvantages offered by flexible ability groupings. We must look at educational research and district data and consult with education experts to see if we are serving our students the best way we can. This has been a difficult community conversation, and my hope is that we can bring all parties to the table to discuss the future program direction.
Regarding balancing needs of all our students, I think it would best serve our students to make sure that all children have an enriching education regardless of ability level.
Madhavi Sunder: All children should thrive in school, learning to their full potential. I think all children are “gifted” and that all of them are gifts. I do not like the language of “gifted and talented” education, which comes from the state, and support the changed name of our Davis program to AIM (Alternative Instructional Model).
The AIM program is a means that the DJUSD has used since at least the 1980s to serve some of the children who are not being challenged adequately in the regular study. In fact, challenging students at their level is the very essence of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s suggestion that we should promote a growth, not a fixed, mindset. Placing a child in a classroom where the work comes easily relative to one’s peers only confirms the child’s view that his or her success is natural, confirming a fixed mindset. We want each of the children in our schools to be challenged so that they will ultimately grow.
I have participated in the district’s AIM advisory committee meetings. There and in countless conversations with members of the community, I have heard concerns about AIM. There are concerns about the size of the program, stigma placed on children not in the program, the lottery, private testing, and the all-or-nothing option that seems to exist, because our regular-ed programs do not offer consistent or adequate differentiation to meet the needs of AIM learners in their classrooms.
We ought to have more effective ways of meeting the needs of diverse learners in the regular classroom. We need to keep class sizes small and provide professional development to teachers in differentiated instruction. We may consider coordinating schedules so math and/or language arts would be taught at the same time, allowing for clustering within a grade. For some children a self-contained model may still fit best; but offering viable alternatives to kids and families will likely lead to a smaller self-contained program, which in turn may mitigate some issues of stigma. It is also time to reconsider the score cutoffs for the program and the controversial lottery. Private testing must be made available to families on a need basis (contrary to popular conception, under current rules a child can only take one private test, not multiple).
I am open to thoughtful changes to the program that are piloted and well tested.
Change in Thinking
One source told us that there is a key finding in a report by Scott Carrell, Michael Kurleander, Marianne Page and K.A. Kramer from the School of Education and Department of Economics at UC Davis. Their presentation is, “How Does the AIM Program Affect Student Outcomes in the Davis Joint Unified School District?”
Overall their finding was, “We find no evidence that the AIM program has any effect on students who do not qualify for AIM.” They add that, for the most part, their estimated effects overall are small and not statistically significant. However, “We find significant negative effects for Hispanic students.”
The departure of students for the AIM program lowers the test scores of students left behind. The 4th grade English Language Arts CST scores drop by 1.7 points on average per students while the math CST scores drop by 3.9 points on average.
The thinking is that this finding may have pushed two of the board members in favor of the motion.
Again, our view is to have as full a public discussion as possible on this issue and we believe the process on Thursday was not conducive to that discussion.
—David M. Greenwald reporting