Among the questions we asked yesterday, regarding the GATE/AIM issue, was are you concerned that the program is too large – and if so, what size would you prefer?
We have had this discussion on the record with a number of people, and we end up with some differing opinions here. One person said that studies suggest that only about 6% need to be in GATE, but they figured that in Davis, with a larger population of highly educated parents, perhaps a more reasonable number would be 12%.
On the other hand, Don Shor, an advocate for the current program, argued yesterday, “The focus on size is totally misplaced. Like other communities near UC campuses, Davis has a high percentage of students who identify via testing for GATE.”
He cited Goleta (near UC Santa Barbara) at 30%, Irvine at 25%, Berkeley at “more than one-third of sixth graders” and La Jolla which hosts UC San Diego at 51-54 percent.
He writes, “There is no ideal size or number of students for AIM. I believe there can be logistical issues with filling classrooms with sufficient numbers, maintaining good teacher:student ratios, having a sufficient number of GATE teachers. I think those are largely administrative issues.”
Others have the impression that DJUSD is focused only on a self-contained GATE program.
On the other hand, a strong proponent of the self-contained GATE program pointed out to me that self-contained GATE was supposed to only incorporate the top 98 or 99 percentile of students with some form of differentiated instruction or other focus for the 94th through 97th percentile students.
So, is there a magic number? Or are we focusing on the wrong thing when we worry about size? These are critical questions for our community.
Along these lines I found a couple of columns from 2013.
On January 29, 2013, Anupam Chander (UC Davis Law Professor) and Madhavi Sunder (UC Davis Law Professor who is currently on the school board) wrote that “gifted kids need appropriate instruction.”
They wrote, “All across the country, we have seen successful programs in music, sports and arts dismantled due to lack of funds. In Davis today, we are considering dismantling the highly successful GATE program for high-achieving and high-potential children, even though it costs almost nothing extra.”
They argue that GATE programs “provide a high-expectation education to students whose parents cannot afford truly elite private schools or very expensive suburbs.”
The two professors argue, “Those arguing against GATE have offered no proof that the GATE classrooms are failing the students in them. Some 1,700 students are in the GATE program. Parents already have the option of placing their GATE-identified children in regular classrooms where they are supposed to receive differentiated instruction.”
“Research suggests that differentiated instruction, with a single teacher drawing up multiple lesson plans for every class period (not to mention homework, exams, projects, etc.), though wonderful in theory, is exceedingly difficult to achieve in practice, especially in a class of 35 students with a huge range of educational attainment,” they write. “Davis schools have a legal obligation to serve our academically high-achieving and high-potential students just as we must serve our students who are academically challenged. GATE students need appropriate instruction in order to learn to their full potential.”
In response in March 2013, Louise Angermann writes, “I disagree with their belief that removing GATE-identified children to a self-contained classroom is the only means of achieving this goal. It could very well be that GATE-identified kids would achieve their full potential by any number of other means.”
“There is ample evidence that alternative teaching strategies can and do work for both GATE and non-GATE-identified children. The Davis Joint Unified School District’s own GATE program 2008 Master Plan includes alternative delivery models such as cluster grouping, flexible grouping, split-site enrollment and high-achieving/honors/advanced placement classes at the three junior highs. Apparently, the authors did not believe that self-contained classrooms were the only effective method,” she writes.
Ms. Angerman continues, “There is strong evidence of successful alternatives to self-contained GATE classrooms right in our own, excellent community schools.”
She writes, “I am not suggesting that GATE be dismantled and self-contained classrooms disappear. Some children may require that. But, I do believe that if the Davis school district actually would implement the GATE Master Plan it has on paper, including several methods of serving GATE-identified children that don’t require self-contained classrooms, many children could be served right in their neighborhood schools. This would enrich every student’s school experience in terms of maintaining long-term friendships, and increasing the diversity of thoughts, problem-solving strategies, strengths and weaknesses in the classroom.”
She concludes, “It would allow us to achieve the same positive results without the negative side-effects of dividing 8- or 9-year-old children into two groups: one validated and empowered, and the other, much larger group, dejected and disenfranchised. Isn’t that worth considering? Don’t all children deserve to be empowered, to have high academic expectations, and to be challenged at whatever level they are capable? Maybe I’m naive, but I believe we can have that if we are simply willing to explore our options.”
The question, I think, becomes this: are there students who would perform better in a self-contained GATE/AIM program? Are there students who would perform better in an alternative program? Are there students who would perform better in the mainstream classroom with some form of differentiated instruction?
The key is to determine which students benefit from which program. While I find it interesting that self-contained programs may not have been intended for all of the students, it seems that identifying which students would benefit from which program should not be based on scores but rather some more subjective assessment of needs.
—David M. Greenwald reporting