AIM-Gate in the Making: A Parade of Follies

Chuck Rairdan ran for School Board in 2014
Chuck Rairdan ran for School Board in 2014

by Chuck Rairdan

In light of the newly revived skirmishes on the GATE/AIM front, it would appear we are in for another long, hot summer in school board chambers. And, it turns out, the devil is in the details.

Running up on midnight June 4th, the school board was involved in a lengthy discussion, many points of which were non-conclusive, about academic performance relationships between AIM (formerly GATE) and neighborhood school programs. At the closing of this debate, Trustee Lovenberg moved unexpectedly for a vote to end private testing as a means to determine eligibility for the AIM program—a topic that was not at all the thrust of the conversation nor on the agenda as a pending board action

Ultimately, a 4-1 majority voted in favor of this motion. Why wasn’t there a fair and open debate on this specific item before casting a vote? Rather than addressing specific concerns about this option for identifying AIM candidates who do not test well in group settings, it was simplistically and summarily eliminated without due process.  And irrespective of the merits of this decision (from the discussion that wasn’t), only one board member–Madhavi Sunder–rightfully objected to this surprise motion on purely procedural grounds..

The Brown Act requires advance public notice of significant agenda items to be voted upon. No reasonable citizen could have seen this coming. For this board majority to claim their vote met both the letter and intent of the act is dubious at best and may represent a violation of the law.

During this same session, the administration was directed to look for more ways to implement differentiated instruction in DJUSD classrooms. To be clear, a piece-meal approach to differentiated instruction and its implementation as a complete and coherent system of instruction are two very different propositions.

True differentiated instruction requires extensive teacher training, significantly smaller class sizes (typically in the teens to low twenties), multi-layered curricula, and is resource intensive. Add to all this the requirement of teacher contracts needing to be renegotiated for multiple curricula. As impressive as this method can be when properly implemented and sustained, we are far from that reality. Personally, I would also like to see a better integrated range of educational options to meet the corresponding range of student needs and aptitudes. But doing so requires having a fully vetted plan, the resources needed for implementation, and a phased approach to reconfiguring existing programs as new options come on line.

On June 18th, a 3-2 majority voted to not renew the part-time contract of the longstanding GATE/AIM coordinator, Deanne Quinn. Meanwhile, the replacement position is being advertised for more salary and significantly less experience than what is embodied by Quinn’s resume. Anyone familiar with the work Deanne has done in this heavily subscribed program to ensure diversity and reach out to disadvantaged students knows that she has for years successfully administered the program and has earned the respect of many parents and teachers along the way.

One might also consider a possible connection between the administration’s poorly conceived AIM lottery system (presented as a legal necessity with no other options) and Ms. Quinn’s continued employment. Who needs all that coordination and human intervention that Deanne has performed for the past twenty-three years? With the lottery, it’s a much simpler task of drawing staws, slicing and dicing for those randomly generated logistical challenges and, ‘voila!’, you have the incoming AIM cohort.

In this automated system, a 96 percentile testee is considered statistically identical to a 99 percentile outlier in dire need of an alternative instructional format. During Deanne’s tenure, ethnic diversity was often greater in GATE/AIM than in the overall student population. Again, who needs a seasoned and effective program coordinator to work through these challenging nuances and private testing options when the providence of blind luck can just as well determine who is admitted and who isn’t? The lottery is actually skewed against greater diversity. Fix it till it’s broke.

And now that the district AIM expert who has won numerous accolades for the program is no longer around, the new AIM master plan is being drafted over the summer break (while the program’s teachers are also away) by the Superintendent’s inner circle.  I really wish I was making this stuff up.

Among the ways to kill a program that doesn’t square with one’s ideological leanings is to incrementally render it so cumbersome and ineffectual that it eventually falls by the wayside and its advocates, it is hoped, will just give up and abandon their efforts. All the while enticing the compliant with a false carrot of promising differentiated instruction that, under the foreseeable budget, staffing, and facilities outlays, stands no chance of being fully and, thereby, successfully implemented.

The timing of these actions is equally curious—just after school has let out and parents and teachers have turned their attention towards summer activities and family vacations and temporarily away from the hard business matters affecting the school district.

The specially scheduled AIM board meeting on July 9th wasn’t held to address program matters in advance of possible significant decisions, but rather as a reaction to the backlash generated by the June 4th vote and Deanne Quinn’s termination, all led by concerned parents who caught wind of the midnight and off-season maneuvers.

Taken as a whole, the recent decisions by the school board represent either 1) a serious lapse of judgment, or 2) part of a calculated set of moves to systematically dismantle the AIM program. In the case of scenario 2), then 1) would also apply given the presumed obvious need to restore the community’s trust in open and transparent school board proceedings.

School boards have a responsibility to represent the entire district, not just select interests with whom a coalition of trustees happen to agree. For this group to trample upon a constituency and a longstanding successful program simply because it can only ensures that the abused points of contention will resurface again along with the added baggage and resentments. This isn’t the way to move the school district and community forward by the standards of due process and transparency expected of this body.

Regardless of one’s personal views on the AIM program, this emerging style of governance by the school board should be of concern to the community at large. The character and quality of life in Davis is closely linked to its public schools. It can take years and years to build a successful program, warts and all, which can then be ruined by mere strokes of the pen and, in this case, the absence of tested and proven options being in place.

The various magnet programs (Chavez, AIM, Montessori, DaVinci) combined with the overall quality of education in DJUSD have more in common with AIM’s purpose than at first meets the eye. Collectively, these programs meet the needs of a wide array of student aptitudes and interests. Adjustments can always be made to improve the interrelationships of these programs within the overall fabric of educational opportunities and that is where the board’s focus should be rather than on surreptitiously undermining a successful program.

Board President Alan Fernandez recently claimed that the diversion of students to AIM has acted to reduce Latino test scores in the neighborhood schools. Applying that same rationale, the other magnet programs would likewise be having a similar effect. Such thinking becomes a slippery slope and, if applied to one program, should (with valid, supporting data) also be applied to the other magnet programs. And then there’s the complex interpretations of what such a correlation would mean within the broader scheme of public education and how to go about addressing the root causes.  I don’t think AIM students have it in their day planners to hold other kids back.

It strikes me as ironic that those who presume to know what’s best for parents and their children amid charges of elitism and discrimination proceed to force feed these same families an alternative that is manifestly infeasible. Objective analysis has repeatedly shown that the current model of self-contained AIM classrooms is the most efficient both instructionally and cost-wise. Whether or not long-term that is the best arrangement needs to be considered through the rigors of due process.

Conversely, through ill-conceived plans and the inability to meet the needs of a large segment of the Davis student population, there could well be, among other backlashes, a movement toward private schools, calls for breakaway charters, damage to the district’s reputation, and the cascade of consequences that ensues from such unravellings. Oddly enough, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of segregation or “tracking” that would, in practice, be intensified by this board’s emerging pattern of actions.

And by alienating a sizeable constituency of Davis voters, the jeopardy to renewal of the parcel tax by this board majority’s actions is entirely foreseeable. A 2/3rds majority is needed to pass tax measures and the passage margins are usually pretty slim. Who could be so reckless and short-sighted as to resort to such divisive tactics with these stakes at hand?

To those parents who currently have young children in Davis public schools or will eventually, it’s fair to say there is an expectation that the same or better quality of education will be there as your kids journey through the grades. I recommend you get involved and monitor closely the actions of the current school board. The decisions being made today will have significant consequences for the range of educational opportunities available to meet your child’s individual needs.

The garden path approach to differentiated instruction this school board and administration are embarking upon will result in something more closely resembling a one-size-fits-all education, with teachers being stretched even further and an increasing number of kids checking out and falling through the cracks.

Chuck Rairdan was a candidate for school board in 2014

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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19 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    Mr. Rairdan makes some valid points, most of which have also been expressed in other posts. Amongst them:

    Whether or not long-term that is the best arrangement needs to be considered through the rigors of due process.”

    However, he then proceeds to undermine his strong points with sarcasm and threats:

    I don’t think AIM students have it in their day planners to hold other kids back.” 

    Clearly pretending that there is no possibility of unintended consequences from either maintaining the program the way it is now, or from changing it. Either option has its pros and cons and neither should be brushed off with this kind of snarky comment.

    And by alienating a sizeable constituency of Davis voters, the jeopardy to renewal of the parcel tax by this board majority’s actions is entirely foreseeable. A 2/3rds majority is needed to pass tax measures and the passage margins are usually pretty slim. Who could be so reckless and short-sighted as to resort to such divisive tactics with these stakes at hand?”

    Then near the end, he brings in the veiled threat of, handle this the way the proponents want or put future parcel taxes at risk, argument that some have argued is not being made by proponents of the Gate/Aim system as it has recently been run. I see this as a thinly veiled threat do “do things as I want them done or suffer the consequences” all the while ignoring that the consequences of less funding will be felt primarily by the students, not be the electeds or the administration.

     

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      Sorry Tia. I usually find your posts to be insightful, but this time I think you’re in need of a second cup of morning coffee.

      First of all, sarcasm and satire are honorable and time-proven techniques for breaking through apathy and poorly-justified assumptions – an alternate approach to seeing the truth. In no way does a diversion into humor or satire undermine a strongly intellectual argument such as made here by Mr. Rairdan.

      Secondly, your characterization of a simple factual statement as a “veiled threat” suggests to me that you are getting entrapped in the misleading propaganda of the mindless opponents of good education in Davis. What Mr. Rairdan states about parcel taxes is merely factual, and should be viewed as a warning, not a threat. There is an important difference.

      Perhaps one important insight you should dwell on over that second cup of coffee is this very perception observation:

      “Among the ways to kill a program that doesn’t square with one’s ideological leanings is to incrementally render it so cumbersome and ineffectual that it eventually falls by the wayside and its advocates, it is hoped, will just give up and abandon their efforts.”

      This would seem to me to be a clear description of what is really going on. It describes the actions and words of the Board and Administration so well that I suspect at least three, maybe four “Trustees” (a real misnomer given their lack of trustworthiness) and a couple of senior administrators are squirming over their morning coffee as they reluctantly begin to take note of how they are regarded by the community.

      Oink!

       

       

       

  2. DavisAnon

    I don’t think he’s trying to make a threat, just an acknowledgement of potential negative circumstances of the Board’s poor choices at a sensitive time. Archer should be fully aware of this having worked in the last parcel tax campaign, but she seems determined to bring the AIM program down at any cost. Deciding to change the focus of the AIM program and firing the AIM coordinator could be a very costly decision in the long run. A much better approach would have been to develop and implement a plan to improve differentiation in the neighborhood classrooms first. Then if it’s successful, I think many parents would choose not to enter the self-contained AIM program. Instead, the Board thinks they know what’s better for our kids and vote to take away this choice from parents without something planned, let alone proven to be a good option. Many AIM parents volunteered their time lobbying hard in support of parcel taxes in prior elections.  It’s not hard to imagine that if some of them feel less inclined to dedicate the same level time and effort in the next election, the outcome could be different. That’s a far cry from actively trying to see parcel taxes defeated, as some have mentioned. So much for rebuilding the community’s trust.

  3. ryankelly

    There is a fine line between a warning and a threat.  Would these parents, with these leaders, really vote down a school tax in retaliation for an attempt to re-set the Davis GATE program.

    1. zaqzaq

      Ryan,

      The previous school board screwed up the Crawford/Peterson issue.  Many voters were mystified that the school district spent over $22,000 on lawyers fees to investigate the case only to rehire Crawford after the investigation found that she more likely than not retaliated against the student due to Peterson’s influence in issues relating to the volleyball team.  The new board members ran on rebuilding the trust with the community.  Then they take actions without notice that indicate a restructuring of the AIM program.   A program that is very popular with a large segment of the parents of students in the district.  There has been a waiting list to get into the program for years.  There was a recent lawsuit concerning the criteria used for admission into the program resulting in the ridiculous lottery system now used.  The voters are being hit time and again with additional requests from the city and school district for more local taxes.  The city recently got a sales tax increase and is looking at additional taxes for roads and other infrastructure.  We now have parcel tax on top of parcel tax on top of sales tax on top of a parcel tax and maybe a utility tax.  Many voters do not have children in the school district but still vote for the taxes.  Some of these voters may become sick of the drama surrounding the school district that they many not support the next school tax and opt to support the city tax for roads instead. The city council screwed up on the mello roos tax for the Cannery project. The gift to the developer really upset me and now they want more of my money when they are giving away money to a developer.  I believe there is a limit to the number of times the city and school district can keep coming to the well (public) asking for more taxes.  Some parents who believe that their child should be in the self contained AIM program that is being reduced in size may opt to send their child to a private school and opt to use their money for their child instead of giving a donation to the school district that failed them.  The school board needs to build up trust in the community that they will spend the extra income from local taxes responsibly.  If they look like they are hiding the ball on issues such as how they handled the AIM issues they will lose the trust of the community and possibly the vote on the parcel tax.  A large segment of the public thinks they are acting like thieves in the night on the AIM program.  This segment of the public also now feels like the board is lying to them.   The school board can lose the next parcel tax without any active campaigning against it by upset parents.  Hopefully this helps explain some of the concern from parents who mention AIM and parcel tax in the same comment.

      1. wdf1

        zaqzaq:  Many voters do not have children in the school district but still vote for the taxes.  Some of these voters may become sick of the drama surrounding the school district that they many not support the next school tax and opt to support the city tax for roads instead.

        I have volunteered for Davis school parcel tax campaigns, and there are already voters who either vote against school parcel taxes or choose not to vote at all on the issue on the basis of perceived privilege in discussions about Davis schools.  That Davis schools may not really be serving all students evenly or very well, and that voting for more school parcel taxes will ultimately funnel money to the more privileged students.  Davis AIM/GATE attracts attention in that perception.  As Don Shor points out, university communities attract higher GATE participation, that is, students of parents who are highly educated.  Those are regarded as privileged students in this public school environment.  If the debate is perceived to be about “what’s in it for my kid” then that’s a turnoff.  If the discussion results in the perception that more students will be better served (i.e., a credible discussion about “our kids” rather than “my kid”), then that concern is lessened.

        The best outcome that I see from this is to have both a credible differentiated instruction option and a self-contained option.

        1. Don Shor

          That Davis schools may not really be serving all students evenly or very well, and that voting for more school parcel taxes will ultimately funnel money to the more privileged students. Davis AIM/GATE attracts attention in that perception.

          Particularly if the board goes down a path which costs the district more money for a smaller number of students with little benefit to anyone.

          The best outcome that I see from this is to have both a credible differentiated instruction option and a self-contained option.

          credible being the operative word here. To quote Rairdan:

          True differentiated instruction requires extensive teacher training, significantly smaller class sizes (typically in the teens to low twenties), multi-layered curricula, and is resource intensive. Add to all this the requirement of teacher contracts needing to be renegotiated for multiple curricula. As impressive as this method can be when properly implemented and sustained, we are far from that reality. … doing so requires having a fully vetted plan, the resources needed for implementation, and a phased approach to reconfiguring existing programs as new options come on line.

        2. wdf1

          Board is scheduled to look at something in September.  Let’s see what staff brings back.

          Don Shor:  credible being the operative word here. To quote Rairdan:

          There are teachers who seem to be up for the challenge.  If Rairdan’s comments are valid, then I’m sure staff will raise them.  If indeed it would be too much to implement, well then we will have had the discussion and move on.  I suspect there would be opportunity for a pilot project.

        3. zaqzaq

          wdf1,

          Then the school board should use a pilot program using differentiated instruction for the regular classrooms where they include the AIM math track for those able to complete it.  The AIM students complete 7th grade math in 6th grade.  I am aware that in the past at North Davis the regular classroom teachers wanted the AIM teacher to take their advanced math students because they could not conduct the differentiated teaching required with 30+ students.  That would have given the AIM teacher over 40 students and she could not pull that off.  From my limited research the differentiated classroom has less than 25 students.  That is not the classroom size now.  A pilot program on math would be appropriate.  Then they can compare the math scores on a test at the end of each school year.

          I have heard teachers claim to use differentiated teaching while fellow teachers claim she is not.

          If they are going to have a credible differentiated program and self contained then it should be parent choice concerning which program the qualified child attends.

          I also think they need to create an advanced math track for all students.  The more rigorous math track may be one of the draws for that program for parents.

           

  4. Tia Will

    ryankelly

    I will take this one step further. Would these parents actively oppose and advocate against others voting for a parcel tax on the basis of this action ?

    NPIV

    sarcasm and satire are honorable and time-proven techniques for breaking through apathy and poorly-justified assumptions”

    You are correct that sarcasm and satire are just as you say. Perhaps the statement “I don’t think AIM students have it in their day planners to hold other kids back.” struck a little close to home as I had related the situation in which AiM students of a decade ago were definitely using their GATE ( at the time) status to try to make my daughter feel “less smart” than they were, in my mind a form of trying to “hold back” or at least make feel bad.

    Once again, I reiterate my neutrality on this issue and sincere feeling that the students would best be served by a collaborative, best practices evidence based approach which so far, I am not seeing advocated honestly for by either side, much to the potential detriment of the students.
     

    1. Don Shor

      Measure C in 2012 passed with 72.3% Yes. That was 917 more votes than it needed to make the 67% margin. It is not unreasonable, nor is it any kind of a threat, to suggest that alienating a substantial body of the Davis voting public could reduce the margin or even kill a parcel tax. I consider it unlikely, but 900 votes isn’t that big a margin.

  5. Misanthrop

    I’ve always supported school parcel taxes and intend to support the next one too. I do worry though that there will be enough voters willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It won’t take that many voters to turn the vote especially with the rude and arrogant behavior of some trustees toward the public. If you were the woman who read from the email sent to her by a trustee  questioning her motives would you vote for additional parcel taxes? Would anyone blame her for not doing so? They are bringing this down upon themselves and the community. If the next parcel tax fails these board members can blame others as much as they want but they might also look in the mirror. Changing gate after a long heartfelt discussion that was seeking the art of the possible, if not true consensus, would not have caused so many people to worry about the next parcel tax vote. There might have been a few but not this widespread angst coming from many disparate corners of the community. Only through a truly inclusive process is there any hope of trying to change the program without the risk of a large enough voter rebellion that they kill the next parcel tax. Its not too late for the district to pull back from the brink and look for that consensus but each day they believe that they have the votes and there is nothing their opponents can do is a lost opportunity that  brings us closer to the day of reckoning.

  6. Tia Will

    Misanthrop

    If you were the woman who read from the email sent to her by a trustee  questioning her motives would you vote for additional parcel taxes? Would anyone blame her for not doing so?”

    Yes, I would vote for additional parcel taxes.

    No, I would not blame her for not doing so.

    I am able to separate feelings of dismissiveness generated by poorly considered communication from a trustee from the well being of the students which is at stake with a parcel tax. I would prefer that others would be able to make this distinction also, but I would not blame someone for voting according to their best judgement.

    1. Don Shor

      I think the word root of trustee tells you where part of the problem would come from. Loss of trust in those who will be administering the tax would be an issue.

  7. SODA

    I have been gone for the last few days, trying to keep up with the DV with iffy wifi so I may be wrong but it seemed that ALL the articles in today’s DE have been published by the DV in the last few days and they are all opposed to the June 4 vote/Ms Quinn’s non-renewal. That seems telling to me?

    1. ryankelly

      It tells you that it is a well thought out campaign, with the letters timed to appear in the Sunday paper, even though they could have been sent earlier and were sent earlier to the Vanguard.

      1. Misanthrop

        Does it? Maybe the Enterprise held all the letters until Sunday, you have no way of knowing. Maybe this is being orchestrated or maybe not, again, you have no way of knowing. It could be simply that it has taken time for the community to react. Its hard to know if there is a conspiracy any more than was the turnout by the PAGE advocates on June 4 when Lovenburg made the motion she was not able to make at the prior meeting when Tobin White presented. If you want to see a coordinated plan look there where Lovenburg sat on a motion for weeks but never vetted it with the larger community but had the room packed with anti-gate advocates the night she rolled it out and rolled Sunder and her gate constituency.

        1. Davis Progressive

          the enterprise typically reserves their best letters/ op-ed’s for sunday when they have the most readership.  however, david has explained to me that the vanguard’s best readership is usually monday through friday, so the vanguard prints stuff more as it gets it.

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