by 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.