I want to start my analysis of her latest column by stating that, of all of the great people we have in the community, Jann Murray-Garcia ranks in my view at or very near the top in terms of those I admire.
I have known her for over a decade and she has been among the people who most consistently fights for justice for those who have less in this community. At times she has done so at great social expense. At times she has done so at financial expense. And never has she done so to amass personal power or fortune.
I may not always agree with her (though I agree more often than not), but I am always going to read and listen closely to what she has to say.
The first thing I think we all need to acknowledge is that DJUSD has a bad history when it comes to equity for people of color. Whether it has been the history of bullying or the achievement gap, DJUSD has a lot of work it needs to do to provide equality to children of color. We saw this firsthand with the parents who came forward back in 2012 to talk about the treatment their kids received in our local schools.
So, in 2002-03, it was Jann Murray-Garcia who raised the alarm that “no African-American or Latino third-graders in the entire Davis school district were recommended by teachers to sit for the GATE test.” The OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test), then as now, was part of the problem. Back in 2005 it yielded few African-American or Latino students and now, as we have seen, it continues to identify heavily for whites and Asians.
The district instituted the TONI (Test of Nonverbal Intelligence) to address racial inequity and bias. But, as Dr. Murray-Garcia notes, “funny things happened over the next several years.” She cites the fact that the TONI increased the black and Latino population “dramatically,” but she saw it as a red flag that it had achieved racial parity by 2005, “matching the proportion of African-American and Latino in the Davis schools to the tenth of a decimal point!”
She concludes from that: “To me, that means when the GATE coordinator found enough students, she stopped looking. When she needed more, she kept looking. Not justice, but political appeasement, maybe?”
We will return to this issue, because she raised a critical alarm in 2010 about private testing.
In 2010 she wrote that, while there has been progress, in 2002-03 “white and Asian-American children were more than three times as likely as African-American children and more than four times as likely as Latino children to be enrolled in the district’s GATE program. Last year, white and Asian students remained twice as likely as African-American and Latino children to be GATE-identified and/or enrolled in the district’s GATE program.”
However, she argued, “private testing is a continuing source of racial and income inequality in GATE identification within our district. White and Asian students are between two and three times more likely as African-American and Latino students to become GATE-identified by private testing.” She added, “Students who are not eligible to receive free and reduced lunch (higher-income families) are nearly three times as likely as children who are eligible for free and reduced lunch (low-income).”
The district, as many now know, has discontinued private testing for GATE/AIM following the 4-1 school board vote on June 4, which probably would have been 5-0 vote had the vote on private testing have been a stand alone.
The bottom line, I think, is this for Jann Murray-Garcia: “AIM’s improved racial representation was achieved only over many years and is now sustained through methods I am still not quite sure of. Racial diversity was forced on AIM, in community response to a culture of racial exclusivity and hostility on our campuses that, at its worse, included several hate crimes occurring over a number of years, in my time, from 2002 onward.”
So what do we make of this? The first thing is that there were clear racial discrepancies in back in 2003, which have been alleviated but not eliminated.
The second, private testing was a problem from the standpoint of fairness and resources. While several parents raised the need for private testing for children moving into the school district, it might be better to address that problem with an approach that allows new students to individually test with the school district.
On the other hand, back in 2010, Jann Murray-Garcia would write, “Many parents believe, and perhaps rightly so, that the GATE self-contained classroom offers an enriched (better?) experience than the non-GATE classroom.” That leads us back to the question as to whether the real answer should be a bigger, more inclusive GATE rather than a smaller and more exclusive GATE (more on this at a later column).
The key to the reforms – and Jann Murray-Garcia was instrumental in pushing the district to reform – was that, in 2002, the district basically used only the OLSAT and teacher identification. The OLSAT, as she notes, is biased against blacks and Latinos, and teacher identification was disastrous for diversity – with teachers simply not recommending blacks and Latinos to the program.
As I understand one strand of the AIM-reform movement, it is to make it smaller and get away from the TONI in identifying students, but that would push us back to where we were in 2003. The data bears that out, with 92 percent of those identified through OLSAT being white and Asian.
One of the problems is that parents of color appear to be under-utilizing GATE/AIM.
As Alicia Silva points out in her recent column in the Vanguard, “District data shows that Latino students are identified for AIM services at nearly the same rate as their representation in the school district, but that fewer Latinos than are identified actually enroll in the program as compared to other ethnic and racial groups.”
She then speculates on a cause of that phenomenon.
She suggests, “This finding may be due to the option of Spanish Immersion, and I think there are additional factors. It saddened me when I heard that an AIM identified Latina child was discouraged in enrolling in AIM by her teacher. I have heard of similar issues at other schools.”
She adds, “I personally know of a very humble Latino family who did not enroll their AIM identified child because of lack of understanding of the program and difficulty navigating the system. I think these cultural and societal issues are also important to look at.”
She concludes, “We need to provide more parental education and support with regard to the AIM program to Latino families. The bottom line is, let’s figure out how to best educate Latino families about the AIM program and how best to support them if they chose to enroll their children in AIM, the general education program or Spanish Immersion.”
Jann Murray-Garcia seems to see the reforms as a form of political appeasement. However, watching the July 9 meeting and the large number of people of color, including African-Americans, speak movingly about what the program has done for their children, it seems that the expansion of diversity has been a positive for most involved.
We are still left with the hard questions from before – how large should the program be, who should it serve, and how do we best identify kids in a fair way that promotes diversity?
The ultimate goal here is to best serve as many kids as possible, whether they are in a self-contained AIM classroom or a mainstream one.
—David M. Greenwald reporting