by Alicia Sullivan
My husband and I work at a pharmaceutical company in Vacaville. When our family decided to leave the city of Vacaville and purchase a home in Davis, it certainly wasn’t because Davis is more affordable or closer to work. Like many Davis families, we moved our family here to offer our boys the best education we could. DJUSD is known for its high test scores and its choices among multiple educational programs.
But these two qualities that attract students to Davis are now in danger. That is all thanks to the current members of the school board. Prior to the election these “trustees” went on record that they had no intention of getting rid of the AIM program. They promised to do everything they could to build back the community’s trust — trust that was lost after it was discovered that board members were lying to the public and using personal agendas when making hiring and firing decisions. Talk about history repeating itself! Within the last three months the Davis school board has voted to eliminate private testing for AIM, fire the AIM coordinator (against the advice of the Superintendent), and have a proposal put together that would eliminate the program from being offered to anyone not “failing” in the standard classroom. All without ever stating to the public what their agenda was or explaining how eliminating this educational program would benefit our children.
What this school board is failing to see are the following:
- We have options for our kids. The government has enabled the creation of public charter schools for times like this when the district is not serving the best educational needs of its students. It would cost the parents nothing and we could create an amazing STEM school that is not controlled by the school board. It would be easy to do with the 20% of Davis students eligible for AIM who would be displaced following the Superintendents recommendations for the program. In fact, I think the majority of Davis parents would actually prefer this charter school because children would be allowed to learn at their own pace, even if it meant getting ahead of their grade level. They wouldn’t be ostracized for trying hard, they would be celebrated.
- Davis homeowners’ financial health depends on the large number of high-achieving students in the district. Without those test scores we would all see an immediate decline in the amount of potential homebuyers causing a dramatic decrease in the value of our homes. In a city with low academic achievement, there is no incentive to move there and pay an average of $500 a month in school district taxes alone. People would choose Woodland, or Dixon, or West Sac and pay a mere fraction of that.
- EVERY child in Davis deserves to have an education that will allow them to reach their full potential. Not just those children that are failing. Every child! That is why we continue to add on parcel tax after parcel tax – to ensure that programs are added, not taken away, so all of the children are given the best chance at a bright future.
- AIM is one of the most successful programs in the district. It has nearly a zero percent turn-over rate, costs next to nothing ($33 a child/school year), and always has a huge waiting list. Despite these facts, certain members of the board think that instead of offering this program to the 2000 children it currently serves, the community would somehow benefit if they closed the program down to allow just a handful of students.
- The board’s actions thus far with respect to the AIM coordinator job do not add up. The work of a coordinator who made $30,000 a year is now being done by four Superintendents making $150,000-200,000 a year. Board members: you must justify this fiscally irresponsible decision!
Since the current school board is trying to take away the only successful options that our children have at thriving in school, we were hoping for a report from the Superintendent that was sensible and would ensure success for all Davis students. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Just like the report that was presented to the board recently from the UCD “researchers”, the Superintendent’s 200 page report isn’t worth the paper it is written on.
In his report the Superintendent stated that in 2004 the qualifying score was adjusted down to the 92nd percentile in an effort to identify more students from underrepresented groups, but that the demographics of the GATE program still did not mirror that of the district. So now the suggestion is to move the requirement up to 98% and that will somehow make the program more diverse and get rid of the perception that gate is elitist and exclusive? His own research states that all of the other districts use a score between 90-99%, so why would we error on the high side thereby removing the option of AIM from so many children of the district?
Just the elimination of private testing alone will take the current program down to a ridiculously small group of 60-100 students. Then on top of that, out of the 60-100 students, only the kids scoring 98% or better would be admitted. Is the district hoping for an AIM program of 10 kids? This report goes on to state that an “analysis from relevant research as well as conversations with GATE teachers, principals and community input has led the administration to select a qualification score that is meant to best serve the DJUSD student populations”. With the current interest in this program requiring wait lists to be created, how is further restricting the eligible students benefiting the “student population”? This is in addition to the fact that he is asking for an additional $6000-$10000 dollars a year for this new program. Huh? Pay more and have less kids benefit, who comes up with this stuff?
The OLSAT, like any test, is known to have a standard rate of error. Currently students scoring within the error percentage are given a retest to ensure that they are not restricted from the program that, had it not been for the error, they would have tested into. This safe guard is being done away with in the 2015-2016 school year and those children will no longer be able to show that they should be AIM identified.
The district is talking about piloting a program using the HOPE scale, but 1) it will not be used in at least the first year of this new program, so any child with one or more risk factors will not have that factor taken into account and 2) the district is not even sure if it will work correctly before implementing this new method so there are going to be many years ahead where kids are not appropriately identified and therefore will not be eligible for the program. This is a perfect setup for this school board because all of these new restrictions and eliminations of safeguards will mean that AIM will no longer be a program that represents the diversity of Davis and will give them a reason to state that it needs to be eliminated. Talk about setting a program up for failure.
Now let’s talk about the almighty panacea that they claim differentiation to be. It doesn’t matter what they hope it will bring to the classroom or what it may offer some students because the fact is that the teachers are NOT required to practice differentiation because it is NOT in their contracts! The district talks about offering classes to the teachers given in the summer on differentiation but there is no requirement or expectation by their contract/union that these are ever attended. In addition to the fact that the district failed to recommend clustering as an option for the standard classrooms which further indicates that differentiation will be impossible to implement. There is not a single student in Davis who will be better off after they implement the Superintendents suggestions. Just more kids in the classrooms with an even broader spectrum of needs for the teacher to try to deal with. There is no chance that any of the children, more or less all of the children, will be given the tools to reach their full potential.
You don’t decrease the achievement gap by bringing the top down. You do it by bringing the bottom up. We need to come together to build more programs and make them bigger and stronger, not break successful things down and take programs away. It may be the AIM program they are trying to eliminate now, but soon it will be AP classes, Spanish immersion, and the Montessori program up for elimination.