GATE/AIM: Education Standards and Growing Gaps

AIM

AIMby Jeff Boone

Before I get too deep in this contentious and impassioned topic, I will admit that I am not a qualified education professional.  My perspective on the topic of GATE/AIM is one connected to my own life experiences as a past public school student who is also the father of two sons that attended Davis public schools K-12.  Lastly, I am a businessman and someone that sees the state of our education system as one of the most important issues facing our country today.

Suffice to say that I have some pretty strongly-held views that our general public education system is inadequate for modern times.

Lastly, my opinions here fly about the 20,000 foot range related to GATE/AIM.  I have not invested the time to learn about GATE/AIM procedural minutia.  Frankly, I have no interest to do so because I see the entire concept in its current iteration as being flawed and damaging to the whole.

My general opinion of GATE/AIM is that there is justification for it to help deal with a small minority of children with unique learning challenges.  Again, for emphasis… I support it for “a SMALL minority”.

I see the type of student needing GATE/AIM being those with high cognitive function, but possessing a true disability that prevents them from adjusting to the regular classroom; for example, a child with Aspergers Syndrome or some other medically-diagnosed condition.

What about the rest that struggle fitting-in and feeling adequately challenged?

Before I get to that I must detour with an opinion that “cognitive stratification”, or the more severe term “cognitive segregation”, is the root cause of our county’s growing economic and social gaps.

The current political narrative from social justice crusaders is that CEOs are hording the wealth and this is the primary explanation for the growing wage gap.  The political message is vote for the party that will play Robin Hood… taking from those rich CEOs and redistributing it to the poor.  This is an old standard populist political strategy of the ideological left and even some on the political right.  Unfortunately, it tends to work politically while it drives a large wedge into society and foments a downward decline.  And, it isn’t even close to being accurate.

The truth is both simpler and more complex.  It requires a more honest assessment of the true socioeconomic transformation that has occurred in this country.  It requires we connect quality education access and economic outcomes.  It requires that we do some traditional math.

Note that much of the data below is derived from Charles Murray’s book: Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.  I have done random confirmations by researching the federal data statistics cited.  Unless noted otherwise, all monetary references are adjusted to 2010 dollars: the census data available at the time of the books writing.   This book picks up from his previous best-selling work: The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

In the early 1960s the gap between working-class or middle-class, and upper middle-class (the “professional class”) was much more compressed.  The medium family income of people working in managerial occupations and the professions was about $62,000 (remember, in 2010 dollars).  Fewer than 8 percent of families made $100,000 or more and less that 1% made $200,000 or more.  Fewer class-segregated neighborhoods existed.  For example, the average price of all new homes in 1963 was $129,000, and in the “exclusive” neighborhoods like Chevy Chase, the average price was $272,000.  The most expensive listing at the time was $556,000.  Ironically this is the average home price in Davis today (about $550,000).  Davis is filled with people in the top 10% of income and so it is affordable to them.

Everyone drove similar cars.  The better-off maybe drove a Buick instead of a Chevy or Ford, and the top 1% maybe swung for a Cadillac… the top of the line model costing only about $47,000… expensive but not extravagantly so.

People mostly ate the same food and drank the same drinks at home and at restaurants.

They watched the same TV shows and enjoyed the same entertainment.

They took similar vacations.

The “lifestyles of the rich and famous” were entertaining to see and consider and did not cause fits of envy within the general population. The reason had to do with the fact that 99% of the people watching were mostly in the same socioeconomic-boat and everyone could look at these super-rich as lottery-winning lucky freaks… not comparable have and have-nots.

Then something changed.  Class envy and class anger began to boil.

Today it isn’t that the CEOs are hoarding money; it is that the highly-educated professional class wage earner today makes a lot more than other wage earners… and both camps are increasingly culturally and socially segregated.

They don’t eat the same foods.

They don’t watch the same TV shows and their other entertainment choices are different.

They don’t vacation the same way.

It is the lifestyle difference between the top 10% and the bottom 90%, not the top 1% and the bottom 99% or the top .5% and the bottom 99.5%, that is the source of our growing great divide.

Based on IRS data from 2010-2014, the average income of the top 10% wage earners was $113,799.  For the top 25% it was $67,280.  For the top 50% it was $33,048.  As you can see the earnings level drops precipitously below the top 10%.

So what does this have to do with GATE/AIM?

Getting back to the point about cognitive stratification, it is one of the primary causes of our current state of cultural and economic separation.

It is a problem of the new upper-class.

Let me explain.

Davis is an exclusive community.  Primarily because of artificial growth-constraining development policies that result in high housing costs, the general cost of living is much higher than other communities in the region.  And because of this, (aside from our population of starving college students) Davis has more affluent families and fewer economic disadvantaged families per capita.

Davis kids’ well-off parents are generally much older and much better-educated than are their lower-income parental peers.  They tend to work in jobs that allow them flex-time.  In many cases one of the parents does not work or works part time.  They have more time, more resources and more developed skills for assisting their children in academics.  They eat better and exercise more.  They read more, watch less TV and take more exotic family vacations that are education opportunities in their own right.

The kids of the new upper-class are subjects of intense planning from the time they are growing in the womb.  The infants are loaded up with intellectual stimulation at birth.  They are hovered-over from their play dates to their copious extra-curricular activities. The new upper-class doesn’t just attend a few practices, games and performances… they attend everything their child participates in.

Other parents love their children just as much as do the parents in the new upper-class; but their children experience significantly different upbringings.  And of course there is the impact of the higher incidence of broken homes to consider.

Something else that needs to be mentioned, but I will not get into any detailed discussion about, is the compounding effect of homogamy… or the tendency to marry within a similar cultural and/or class group and then pass on the same to offspring.

The bottom line here is that the demand for GATE/AIM, aside from those children with true diagnose-able learning disabilities, seems to be related to the new upper-class having advanced their child’s cognitive capabilities beyond the mainstream.  The self-contained solution is an obvious attractant for these parents recognizing the advanced cognitive ability of their kids and the insufficiency of the regular classroom to keep up.

Unfortunately, although it would certainly benefit these more highly cognitively-developed students, self-contained GATE/AIM segregates them from mainstream students and contributes to the ever-growing great economic and social class divide.

Except for those very few students with true learning disabilities, from a wider perspective, self-contained GATE/AIM appears to benefit few at the expense of many.

The alternative of education differentiation should be the solution as it would benefit all students.

The Glossary of Education Reform defines education differentiation as: “A wide variety of teaching techniques and lesson adaptations that educators use to instruct a diverse group of students, with diverse learning needs, in the same course, classroom, or learning environment. Differentiation is commonly used in “heterogeneous grouping”—an educational strategy in which students of different abilities, learning needs, and levels of academic achievement are grouped together. In heterogeneously grouped classrooms, for example, teachers vary instructional strategies and use more flexibly designed lessons to engage student interests and address distinct learning needs—all of which may vary from student to student. The basic idea is that the primary educational objectives—making sure all students master essential knowledge, concepts, and skills—remain the same for every student, but teachers may use different instructional methods to help students meet those expectations.”

Differentiation has long been embedded in the best-practices of private industry for employee development.  So has individualized career-pathing.  Companies have discovered that everyone is better-served by helping all unique pegs find their perfectly-shaped hole.

Education differentiation isn’t only the right solution for our education system; it is the solution to help heal our great country… or at least to help narrow the economic class gap.

Differentiation done right also helps the cognitively-advanced develop other needed human skills.

Cognitive ability is only one thing that explains why some people rise to the top of their professions and have greater economic success.  Assets such as industriousness, motivation, creativity, self-discipline, and interpersonal skills also play crucial roles.  Research has shown that group diversity benefits all.  Diverse collaboration often results in a sum than is greater than the whole of its parts.

When the cognitively-advanced children of the new upper-class are forced to deal with challenges in the mainstream, they benefit by seeing other skills advance.  When less cognitively-advanced children interact with more advanced children the skills rub off and capabilities rise.

Truly all students deserve to be challenged to strive for all that they can attain.

But segregation is segregation.  Self-contained GATE/AIM is a “solution” that contributes to other bigger problems; namely larger economic class and social class gaps.  If we really want to solve these gaps and do away with segregation, we must stop modeling it in the schools and make a turn to robust differentiation in the classroom.

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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13 Comments

  1. wdf1

    I read the Charles Murray book that you review, Coming Apart.

    I think it is helpful treatment for describing some of the social and societal changes that have taken place since 1960, at least in ways that can be quantified.  I took issue with how he interpreted some of his data.  But it is fairly easy to see where Davis fits on many of his trend lines.  I think we still have more potential social diversity in Davis than what he describes for Belmont (his example of a relatively homogeneously professional-class community).  Viewing these trends from 1960 to 2010 leaves out trends of the previous decade; there is a lack of full historical context to his observations.

    Murray borrows inspiration in his book from the work of Robert Putnam, best known for his book, Bowling Alone.  I recommend as a follow up book, Robert Putnam’s more recent book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.  That book I think better orients discussion to solutions for our children and youth that include education.

    It’s a mistake to think that there is one over-riding strategy or solution to education that will fix everything.  I appreciate that differentiated instruction can add to the educational experience, but relying on differentiation in that way will miss other key factors.  Discussion around differentiation tends to be oriented toward cognitive academic development, for instance stuff that can be measured in standardized test scores.  There are plenty of outcomes that are not measured by standardized tests, and for which differentiation is not a helpful model.  For instance, how do we work and connect together in groups, adopt and model positive behavior and strategies from peers, learn how to develop leadership skills.  One thread of discussion in the recent Vanguard posting on the value of pre-school was about how pre-school was valuable for beginning to develop many of these non-cognitive skills and traits.

    Over the decades there has been a trend in education toward improving aspects that can be quantified and measured (standardized testing, for instance), and almost completely ignoring what cannot be quantified, typically non-cognitive skills and traits.  This hasn’t been a good thing.  In earlier decades, these concepts were described as developing character, or “creating good citizens.”

    Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?

    1. Jeff Boone

      Thanks for the detailed post wdf1.  I agree with most of what you write here.  The point is not to form an education-religion around differentiation.  Of course there should be some self-contained academic and other activities.  But in my opinion there should not be any segregated instruction except for true special ed needs… for all core academics.

      If every student is required to demonstrate mastery of a certain subject, then the education model for that subject should be based on robust differentiation.

      Beyond that there are electives that should be self-contained with only students interested in the subject-matter.   But based on interest and demonstrated readiness, and not cognitive stratification.

      I was thinking of this demand for self-contained GATE/AIM for the cognitive-advanced students and applying it to the music programs.  The music programs do have a cut-off for some level of capability, and there is some capability stratification in that there are various bands, but there is also primary differentiation as the band teacher attempts to develop each student up from his current progress.  It works too as you can see that the upper bands are generally filled with upper-class students and the lower bands with freshmen and sophomores.   There is of course some exception to this, but no matter where each student starts, they will progress along their continuum and students with varying capabilities are mixed together and collaborate to produce and perform great music.

      Your question about the non-cognitive skills is an important one.  As an experienced hiring manager I have absolutely proven the principle of “hiring attitude and training skills”.  What this really means is that the soft skills (all those non-cognitive skills) are of paramount importance for success in employment.

      I am dubious about the push for preschool mandates.  I have read numerous studies on this.  Those that strongly advocate this as a solution for closing gaps are generally from sources that connect to the education establishment in one way or another.  And the appeal for hiring more teachers certainly becomes a reason to question the objectivity of the conclusions.   And this really gets away from the concept of differentiation since all children develop at a different pace.   Some children might greatly benefit from preschool, while others might not be ready for it.

      The business of education has to get more sophisticated in the use of technology.  We need robust assessment and education-path management tools.  I think starting at kindergarten we immediately assess the capabilities and development levels of all children and set them on a custom education path.  And then manage their education progress along that path.

      1. wdf1

        Jeff:   Those that strongly advocate this as a solution for closing gaps are generally from sources that connect to the education establishment in one way or another. 

        And can you suggest any alternative study that you think is acceptable?

        Having put one of my kids through DPNS (Davis Parent Nursery School), I can see where preschool was a very helpful step.  He was always excited to go to preschool.  There was absolutely no pressure of cognitive skill development.  I think that helped to set a more consistent positive perspective toward school later on.

        Frankly:  And this really gets away from the concept of differentiation since all children develop at a different pace.

        There’s a good argument to make that accessibility to preschool is a component to addressing achievement gap issues.  Traditionally, the achievement gap is defined by standardized test score differentials.  But the trends extend to various other success measures, such as high school graduation, college matriculation, etc.

        Under-performing schools and school districts have been identified so because of NCLB mandated standardized testing.  But what is notably lacking in many of these schools is non-cognitive skill development.  Why?  Because it’s not tested for under NCLB.  That is one thing that preschool education has been documented to support.

         

      2. wdf1

        Another related angle is that the more I research and reflect on education, the more I recognize that education has a very strong social/community component.  Some adults and a few extraordinary children/youth may function very well learning the relevant cognitive content by themselves with little to no social contact.  But for most humans, education without some healthy dose of social contact is a very empty experience.  Evidence of this can be found in the shortcomings of online K-12 education, the disappointing completion rates of MOOCs, and that online college education hasn’t caught on in a bigger way.  IMO, the positive social aspects of education make humans better social beings.

        Technology in education can be helpful only if it recognizes the social parameters.  A lot of what passes as education reform has ignored the social components.

         

        1. Jeff Boone

          I believe there is a technology-assisted model out there that we should be adopting but is blocked by the education establishment that holds the keys to how funds are spent… because of the fear that a new model would help reduce the need for as many employees of the system (members of the unions).

          Kids today get a much lamented, but actually more fast, diverse and broad interactive experience, using social networking.  The current state of online education is significantly less sophisticated than it should be primarily because private industry does not have a profit motive for investing in solutions to sell.

          In my opinion, it will only be when enough voters turn on the education establishment for falling far behind meeting modern education service quality needs, that we will start to see the investments occur.  Remember, CA voted for Torlakson and not Tuck… but the race was not a slam dunk.  I think it is just a matter of time.

        2. wdf1

          Jeff:  …because of the fear that a new model would help reduce the need for as many employees of the system (members of the unions).

          I don’t see a way in which technology, as it exists today, would reduce the need for as many employees in the system.

          Some of what I see going on is an expectation of what schools should look like with technology, which is formulated without carefully considering what is necessary and helpful to formational (K-12) education.  When that happens, you don’t find success.

          Here are some examples:

          K12 is an online charter school chain.  It hasn’t been producing very good results.

          Bloomberg Business, 2014: K12 Backed by Milken Suffers Low Scores as States Resist

          …but meanwhile, top executives at K12 are receiving great salaries.

          This 2011 Pennsylvania study of virtual charter schools shows dismal failure.

          Portland Press Herald, Sept. 2012: Special Report: The profit motive behind virtual schools in Maine

          Then there is also this.
          [moderator] edited

  2. Davis Progressive

    “I see the type of student needing GATE/AIM being those with high cognitive function, but possessing a true disability that prevents them from adjusting to the regular classroom; for example, a child with Aspergers Syndrome or some other medically-diagnosed condition.”

    you’re seeing gate as a special ed class rather than a program that allows gifted kids to move at their own pace and excel.  gate wasn’t developed as such a program but everyone seems to have falaciously bought into the mindset that it was.

  3. Don Shor

    from a wider perspective, self-contained GATE/AIM appears to benefit few at the expense of many.

     When the cognitively-advanced children of the new upper-class are forced to deal with challenges in the mainstream, they benefit by seeing other skills advance.

     When less cognitively-advanced children interact with more advanced children the skills rub off and capabilities rise.

    Self-contained GATE/AIM is a “solution” that contributes to other bigger problems; namely larger economic class and social class gaps.

    You have provided no evidence for any of these assertions. You are basically asserting that gifted programs harm other students, that gifted students should be held back with respect to academic performance in order to acquire nebulous soft skills, and that this will help the other students.

    In the absence of proof or any evidence of the efficacy of this approach, or any examples, and in view of your prior comments about education in general and gifted programs in particular, I will just repeat what I’ve said before: what you propose would be harmful to those students who benefit from self-contained GATE, and would not be beneficial to other students. And your notion of a tiny cohort of students who need self-contained gifted education, basically a program for students with identified disabilities, isn’t actually a gifted program at all. You are proposing abolishing gifted education for purposes of social engineering.

    1. Grant Acosta

      “that gifted students should be held back with respect to academic performance in order to acquire nebulous soft skills”

      Wow, Don…  Sounds like your vision of the AIM program is for training young thinking machines that have no interpersonal skills.  Scary…

      1. Don Shor

        What makes you think kids in GATE classes don’t interact with each other? The gifted kids I know have great interpersonal skills. I continue to be mystified by your comments on this topic. My vision for GATE is for gifted kids to have the placement that best matches their aptitudes and needs.

  4. Jeff Boone

    You are proposing abolishing gifted education for purposes of social engineering.

    That is both an inaccurate statement and one that indicates you did not read what was written by me.  I also recommend that you read Murray’s books on this topic.

    I am proposing that we stop the current trend of social engineering by the cognitively-affluent (that also happen to be the economically-affluent) and return to a model that seeks to adequately accommodate all students as individual development challenges.

    The evidence is that the cognitively-affluent are advancing their skills and abilities at a much steeper slope than the rest.   Next the evidence is that this then leads to higher income levels in the modern economy.

    A point rarely made is that the growing education gap is happening relative to the outcome increases at the top.  I know many people that attended top schools that if applying today would be rejected.

    And this then leads to the growing family income gap.

    Based on previous things you have written, I would think you would care deeply about these gaps and want to see them decreased.

    How do you explain the high number of children in Davis that are GATE/AIM qualified if not cognitive-affluence?

    1. Don Shor

      I am proposing that we stop the current trend of social engineering by the cognitively-affluent (that also happen to be the economically-affluent)

      Translation: parents should not be able to choose to have their children in self-contained classes for the gifted, even if that would be the best placement for them.

      return to a model that seeks to adequately accommodate all students as individual development challenges.

      That is not a gifted program. That is differentiation. Differentiation occurs in regular classrooms, in gifted classrooms, and in special ed. Contrary to what the district has been trying to assert, it is not a replacement for self-contained GATE (fortunately Dr. Sunder made that clear in her questions at the school board meeting).

      And this then leads to the growing family income gap.

      Based on previous things you have written, I would think you would care deeply about these gaps and want to see them decreased.

      I’m not sure what you think I’ve written that would lead you to that conclusion. But I don’t favor eliminating self-contained GATE for the purpose of somehow raising family incomes. I might favor decreasing class sizes to make differentiation more effective. I might favor having lots of special programs that enhance student aptitudes in different ways, things that have been cut as our system has obsessed about school test scores. I would certainly favor more funding for counselors and special ed and ESL students and anything that might help bring up the lower-achieving students. I don’t think there is evidence that forcing gifted students into regular classrooms will enhance anybody’s learning experiences.

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