It’s Time To Slow Down On AIM Changes

AIM

gate-2By Debbie Nichols Poulos

I’m frustrated, disillusioned, and sad. As a parent and teacher experienced with both the regular classroom and self-contained GATE (AIM), and as a citizen who has read and listened to most, if not all, of this discussion to date, I’ve come to the disheartened conclusion that AIM opponents are willfully distorting claims that AIM is responsible for problems in the DJUSD.

No wonder so many board meetings have contained hours of AIM testimony. Repetition of the same fact and experience-based information is falling on deaf ears. AIM supporters have naively thought that if we brought facts to the table we would be heard. But we are just banging our heads against a wall of people who already have their minds made up.

It is really a sad day when School Board Trustees, entrusted with leading our district, favor their own personal views over testimony from the constituents they are supposed to represent. Instead of being an educational debate AIM has become a political debate.

A conflict has developed among some parents, teachers, and Trustees who for some reason seem to believe the AIM program is damaging the regular classroom program. This appears to be the primary reason a majority of our DJUSD Trustees favors a plan to cut AIM by more than 50%.

  • I’ve listened to Trustee Lovenburg assert that AIM is responsible for the “achievement gap” and “under performance of minority students,” as reasons AIM should be downsized. Repeating this assertion over and over doesn’t make it true. The DJUSD GATE program has been recognized repeatedly by the state as exemplary.
  • I’ve heard other Trustees say, “AIM marginalizes students and undermines the education of students in regular classrooms.” How can a program that serves only 20% of the district’s students marginalize the program that serves 80% of students? It is AIM that is on the margins, and the majority of Trustees wants to push it even further to the margins.
  • The fact that “one third of the AIM identified students choose the regular program” is stated as a reason these classrooms are ‘good enough’ for students whose parents prefer the AIM option. Why should the views of parents of gifted students who choose the regular class be in charge of eliminating an option for parents who want the AIM option? Clearly some AIM parents keep their children in the neighborhood schools because the burden of transporting them is too great.
  • Some have said, “Regular classroom teachers are equally well equipped to meet the needs of AIM identified students.” This statement is clearly over-generalized, and does a disservice to AIM teachers’ experience and training. While some regular classroom teachers may meet the needs of some AIM identified students, should ALL teachers, in EVERY classroom, be REQUIRED to meet the needs of AIM students? This is what the proposed drastic cuts to AIM classrooms will require. None of the AIM opponents has answered this question.

These statements are based on feelings not facts. But, their biggest fault is that they seek to leverage a major change in AIM that will eliminate parental choice. Trustees, parents, and teachers opposed to AIM insist that they know better than AIM parents what is best for these children. Usually parents who come to the Trustees requesting more options get a fair hearing. In this case a majority of Trustees has decided on its own that fewer options are better.

The crux of these arguments seems to be that the AIM program is damaging children in regular classrooms. The Trustees should not be buying into arguments that allow one fine program to be pitted against another. These are not competing programs; they are complementary programs. No one has said that the AIM program, teachers, or students are superior to the regular classroom programs, teachers, or students. AIM supporters have simply asserted it is better for some children, and that they want to make the choice themselves, not have others’ choices forced on them.  AIM identified students are not “advantaged” as many seem to think. They simply have different needs. If their needs are not identified and met they will not have the opportunity to live up to their full potentials.

Let’s not scapegoat one of the district’s many excellent programs at the expense of students and parents who want it as an option. The district has taken the important step of eliminating private testing. Now the district must institute its own plan to test students individually to identify those who fall through the cracks in universal testing. Students with disabilities/special needs should have individual tests to be identified. What is the district’s plan to test these individual students who fall through the cracks? These tests must be in place before any new plan is approved.

None of us should stand in the way of students having access to programs designed to meet their unique needs and allowing them to reach their full potentials. The changes proposed for AIM are proceeding too rapidly. It’s time to slow down. What’s the rush?

Debbie Nichols Poulos is a retired DJUSD GATE teacher and a member of the Davis City Council from 1984 to 1988.

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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8 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I have no direct interest in the GATE/AIM controversy, and have not followed all of the back and forth arguments so I am going to address only what I see as some inadequacies in the arguments put forth in this particular article.

    The DJUSD GATE program has been recognized repeatedly by the state as exemplary.”

    While this is doubtless a true statement, it does not address the issue of whether or not there are adverse consequences to those students who are not in the program. This would seem to be to be a significant issue when we are talking about resources that are being diverted away from 80% of the population to serve 20%.

    AIM marginalizes students and undermines the education of students in regular classrooms.”

    I would not have used the word “marginalizes” but whenever there is a diversion of resources, there is certainly the possibility of undermining the education of those who are not the direct beneficiaries of those resources.

    their biggest fault is that they seek to leverage a major change in AIM that will eliminate parental choice.”

    Parental choice would already appear to have been limited by the existing system with its arbitrary cut off, its lottery, and the testing options that favored those who were either affluent enough or well enough engaged to just keep testing and requesting teacher testimonials. Don Shor, a strong supporter of this program has recognized major problems and suggested remedial actions that seem balanced and practical while acknowledging that the program as it is is not perfect.

    that allow one fine program to be pitted against another.”

    Unfortunately, whenever there is a finite amount of resources being discussed, one fine program is already pitted against another in the desire for more funding and resources for one’s favored program. This is as true of GATE/AIM just as it is true for all of the districts programs. I understand the desire of the GATE/AIM parents to advocate for their own program. But I feel that it is less than completely honest to claim that more resources directed to their favorite will not detract from the resources available to others. It is the job of the district representatives not to just consider the preferences of one very articulate group of parents, but to consider the benefits to all students. This point I think is often missed in the conversation.

        1. Don Shor

          I believe so, though I’m certainly open to correction. It’s been a long time since I delved deeply into the DJUSD budget.
          I think it’s just one part-time coordinator, and it should be noted that other programs also have coordinators. However, the committee they’ve proposed will probably take more staff time than what they were doing before. If those folks are on the clock, you’ll have 4 – 5 people reviewing GATE applicants. And it’s hard for me to imagine that Clark Bryant has much time for this in his portfolio.
          If they reduce the program too much, they’ll have trouble filling some grade levels of classrooms. If they get to that point, with a higher teacher:student ratio, the program will cost more.
          Overall the changes they’ve proposed could end up costing more than the current program costs.

      1. Tia Will

        Don

        the same resources that go to any other program. The coordinator, the teachers, the space, the materials. Please note that I am not making any comment about the relative worth of the program. I was only pointing out the obvious which is equally true for any special program that is not open to all. DaVinci at the time my son went there was by application and not every applicant was accepted. I was extremely grateful that my son was as it turned his high school experience around. But I would never make the claim that it did not do Rey resources from other programs.

  2. Anon

    But we are just banging our heads against a wall of people who already have their minds made up.”

    Exactly.

    Don Shor: “However, the committee they’ve proposed will probably take more staff time than what they were doing before.

    I believe this is the ultimate irony.

  3. ryankelly

    The average score of AIM students on the OLSAT has been in the 80th percentiles.  The identification process has been completely corrupted.  The GATE student you remember is not the average GATE student of today.  The Board and the District wants to identify children who need a segregated, self-contained program and remove the children who don’t really belong in a GATE classroom in order to reach their full potential.   How slowly do you think this change should take place?  How would you phase in the changes?

    1. Don Shor

      How would you phase in the changes?

      By parental choice, however long it takes. Implement true differentiated instruction specialized for gifted children. Adopt cluster-grouping of gifted-identified students as an option in each neighborhood school. Retain the option of self-contained GATE at some schools. See what the parents and students choose. Many would probably prefer that their kids remain in their neighborhood schools if possible, but would need to feel confident that they are getting appropriate instruction and will be grouped with their peers.

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