Change is Good–As Long As the Changes Are Too


gate-2By Chuck Rairdan

Despite the stream of well-informed, first-hand testimonials of numerous community members — including past and present teachers, former school board trustees, concerned parents and students — it appears that the school board may be prepared to make drastic changes to the AIM program at its November 5th meeting.

Let’s consider some of the practical implications of what has been proposed. By increasing the test score cutoff from 96 to 98 percent, this would foreseeably reduce the current program by roughly half. A key question then is: which self-contained strands would stay and which would go?

Increasing the distance to school for many families likely will further reduce the number of children enrolled in the program. In other words, which two of the four schools in town would lose their AIM strands? Shouldn’t the sites slated for closure be publicly disclosed beforehand so the affected families and, looking ahead, the impacted neighborhoods could have a say in the matter?

Each year, numerous families opt out of AIM as a matter of choice. That’s the operative term here — choice. I wonder how the unsuspecting parents in those neighborhoods downstream of such a decision will feel when they realize this choice has effectively been made for them. This is contrary to the plan’s touted increase in equity and not letting any kids fall through the cracks.

And, just a reminder, reducing the number of AIM classrooms from four to two will save exactly zero dollars, as each AIM classroom costs no additional money; the teacher simply teaches at an accelerated pace.

And framing differentiated instruction as a “philosophical approach” to teaching in the absence of true differentiated instruction does not fill the gap that would be created by drastically reducing the AIM program. It has been pointed out on numerous occasions that a philosophy of differentiated instruction and its implementation as an alternative method of instruction are two very different propositions. Formalized differentiated instruction would be far more expensive and resource-intensive than the current program configuration, where we have about one teacher per 30 students at these grade levels.

Many teachers naturally apply differentiated instruction techniques in classrooms having a manageable range of aptitudes and learning styles. Cutting the AIM program and redistributing these students throughout the neighborhood classrooms would increase the number of kids in the new settings needing deeper challenges. This would place an additional burden on already stretched-thin teachers and, in so doing, underserve all the kids in these classrooms, not just the would-be AIM students.

As a member of the Strategic Planning Committee that convened in 2013 to help draft the school district’s road map for its guiding principles, main initiatives, and specific goals in the years ahead, I can assure you there was no discussion about making radical changes to AIM or any of the other magnet programs in the Davis school district.

The school district invested $60,000 to formulate this comprehensive, forward-looking document. Why such an early and abrupt departure from this endeavor that benefited from extensive input and collaboration between community members and school district staff? In addition to its content, it was hailed as a success for precisely this reason.

“What do you have to be afraid of?” some of this new plan’s supporters ask. Fear has nothing to do with it. The concerns being voiced are valid and real, supported by direct experience, a history of proven success, a defensible body of research and, last but not least, common sense (which has too often fallen prey to beliefs and emotion over facts and reason) — all of which is having no discernible effect on the thinking of those on the board and within the administration pushing for these rushed changes.

If the facts and community were united in support, there would be no need to rush.

The upshot of all this is that the school board is on the verge of voting on a proposal involving far-reaching changes to a hallmark program that have not been properly substantiated given the magnitude of changes being put forth.

And I would suggest that the central question at this time is: will we stand by and allow a “trust us” faith-based approach to vital school district decisions, or, expect that these decisions be made firmly grounded in evidence and reason, regardless of the program under review?

Imagine if, instead of tearing our community apart, a measured, step-wise approach was applied, resulting in verifiable improvements to the AIM program. Wouldn’t their successors then gladly pick up the torch and build upon those successes?

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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  1. Don Shor

    Thanks, Chuck. This is a good overview of the situation. It’s not been explained by the board majority who, if anyone, would benefit from the proposed changes. I think they need to answer some core questions.

    Would these changes be better for the students currently in GATE? If so, how?

    Would these changes be better for the students who would have been in GATE going forward?

    Do these changes clearly benefit the district as a whole?

    The board majority and staff need to explain more fully their vision for how differentiation will be implemented with respect to gifted students. Saying “it’s a philosophy, not a program” is a copout.

  2. ryankelly

    Former long time GATE teacher, Mr. Carlson, wrote a letter to the editor of the Davis Enterprise today urging the Board to pull AIM (GATE) classes out of neighborhood schools and move them  to one location only (he suggested Margarite Montgomery) and gave his reasons.

    If GATE disappeared out of the neighborhood schools entirely, then differentiated instruction would likely be more successful and the effect of separating of students at 4th grade wouldn’t have such an affect on the neighborhood school program.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    Mr. Rairdan’s comments are logical and provide meaningful guidance to anyone remotely interested in this issue (as all Davis residents should be). “Faith-based” approaches to vital school district decisions are a really, really bad idea, at least as bad as trying to cure a viral infection by beating a drum with chicken bones and sprinkling monkey dust around the window sills.

    Let’s raise a glass to Mr. Rairdan and in celebration of critical thinking and objective presentation of facts. Oink!

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