Lovenburg Talks about AIM Reform and the Achievement Gap

Susan Lovenburg listens at the November School Board Meeting
Susan Lovenburg listens at the November School Board meeting

In the aftermath of the implementation of AIM reforms enacted in November, with a recent update showing a loss of diversity in the program as well as concerns about the ongoing achievement gap and efforts to deal with it through LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) and Common Core, the Vanguard has reached out to school board member Susan Lovenburg to get her thoughts on some of these key issues.

Her responses are below.

  1. What are your thoughts on the progress of the AIM reform?  Do you have concerns about the underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics among those currently identified?  Do you have concerns about identifying only 46 students this year at the hypothetical 98th percentile?

I believe we are making good progress with reforms to the AIM assessment protocol, and I’m pleased we’ve been able to achieve some measure of consensus on the board in doing so.   As I expressed in our most recent board discussion, I do have a concern that the protocol is not yet identifying an AIM cohort that matches the student demographic profile of our district.  I reject the notion that some races or ethnicities have a higher incidence of giftedness than others.

We’ve already made some refinements to the assessment protocol in response to what we learned in the first year, and we’ll continue to focus on getting it right.  Key to the approach is using multiple measures and tying the right assessment tool to each significant risk factor.  In addition, the Hope Scale, which will be fully implemented next year, provides the benefit of teacher observation and evaluation in addition to the standardized tests.

The number of students identified is not particularly significant to me.  I am most concerned with making sure we have a protocol that identifies those most in need of AIM services, and in fully implementing differentiated instruction in all classrooms in Davis.

  1. What do you see as the key to alleviating the achievement gap?  

I think the achievement gap is an outdated way of looking at what is really an opportunity gap which affects children and families in poverty, and too often that means children of color.  While schools are first and foremost about teaching and learning and we must continue to build a collaborative culture to improve practice, we also need to make sure we have opportunities for students to feel and be connected to the school environment and the community.  My thinking about the right policy choices to affect change has been influenced by Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam and Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn.  I highly recommend both to anyone interested in what we need to do to close the opportunity gap.

  1. The district has an increasing Title One population – and is increasingly diverse – what kinds of resources can the district bring to help those students who might otherwise be left behind?

The district’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) is focused on just this question.  Last year we were able to allocate about $400,000 to increased nursing time, elementary counselors, professional development for teachers focused on Common Core and the needs of at risk students, career technical education for career readiness, and implementation of a student survey to more fully assess climate issues at each campus.  This year we are assessing the success of those efforts, and the LCAP Advisory is looking at proposals to recommend how $170,000 should be allocated to further improve services for English Language Learners, low socio-economic or homeless students, and foster youth.  I hope to see a continued focus on better connecting our at risk students to a positive school experience with high expectations for academic and social success.

  1. Are you concerned with the heavy concentration of low income and Title One students at Montgomery?  How can the district better represent their needs?  Should the district look into changes?

This continues to be one of the questions I struggle with most.  Philosophically, I do not agree that we should allow a higher concentration of low socio-economic students in any Davis school, given the many resources we have in this community.  However, the current situation has given us the opportunity to focus more resources on the Montgomery student population – lower class sizes, preschool and transitional kindergarten, a dual immersion program, English and Math instructional supports, and the Bridge afterschool program.   We’ve been patient to see if these focused services are providing a strong benefit to our kids.  Ultimately, though, if we don’t make the needed progress, we’ll have to revisit our options.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. South of Davis

    Susan said:

    > I think the achievement gap is an outdated way of looking at what

    > is really an opportunity gap which affects children and families in poverty,

    > and too often that means children of color.

    The “opportunity gap” is half of the reason (the “nurture” part) we have an “achievement” gap, but I find it funny that she says “too often that means children of color” when there are more American white kids in poverty than all the “children of color” combined.

    > My thinking about the right policy choices to affect change has been

    > influenced by Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam

    I’m looking at Putnam’s book on my book shelf right now and early on he points out that the smart are getting smarter and are less likely to ever interact with poor kids (as written about by Putnam’s conservative friend Charles Murray in “Coming Apart”).  Putnam also points out that the number of college educated single moms has increased by about 3% in 50 years while the number of single moms that don’t have college degrees has increased by close to 50%.

    1. Frankly

      Agree here and agree with Susan Lovenburg.

      In fact, much of what divides us socially and politically in this country has this as a root cause.

      Murray covers it well in his latest book and illustrates it with his comparison of the demographic, social and economic changes between Fishtown and Belmont.

      I have heard from all of those VG posters that are strong GATE/AIM supporters that we also don’t have enough good teachers.   The Vergara vs. CA case might begin to help.  But even if we do get to change the practice of tenure locking in crappy teachers, we will still likely always be challenged to have enough teaching talent.

      And what happens in the education system is that the better teachers get “promoted” to teach the “brighter” kids.   And the “brighter” kids are generally those that are not so much brighter but academically-privileged and advanced.  And so the result is a growing achievement gap between the privileged and the non-privileged.

      The academically-privileged families tend to demand that we keep the GATE/AIM programs while increasing spending and social services to “help” those less privileged.  But this is an unsustainable spiral downward in increasing social and economic division… Fishtown grows more crappy and Belmont improves.

    2. wdf1

      South of Davis:   the smart are getting smarter and are less likely to ever interact with poor kids 

      Probably mean to say that “the more affluent (who are likelier college educated) are getting smarter by having access to a wider variety of residential choices, and are less likely to ever interact with poor kids.”

      There is evidence that shows that while school desegregation policies were generally in effect in the U.S. up until the 1980’s, the achievement gap as measured by standardized test scores (in this case, the NAEP is usually referenced) uniformly narrowed.  After that the narrowing halted. (source)

  2. Misanthrop

    “The number of students identified is not particularly significant to me.”

    I thought it was the over identification  of students that was the problem. If it wasn’t about the number of students identified what was it about?

    On the achievement gap she cites authors but doesn’t really explain what they are saying that she identifies with leaving us guessing.

    After ten years on the school board what is her record on the achievement gap? Have things improved? Why, why not?

    1. Anon

      I’ll go one step further on Ms. Lovenburg’s comment: “The number of students identified is not particularly significant to me.”  It was my understanding that the intention of the new AIM system pushed by Ms. Lovenburg was to cut the number of AIM students in the program in half – by changing the cutoff percentage from 96% to 98%.  So I would say Ms. Lovenburg is saying one thing, but doing another.  Actions speak louder than words.

      1. David Greenwald

        She has told me in the past that she thought we were over identifying AIM students, so I agree with you that her use of words was not as accurate as it should be. I think what she meant was that she is not concerned by a low number of students identified, but that’s just my interpretation.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    The proper word is not “reform,” but rather “dismantling,” “degradation,” or “plundering.”

    Nice how she deflects the need to take any personal responsibility for reducing the “achievement” gap (or her lack of effectiveness) by whining about an “opportunity” gap (a common tactic of a practiced propagandist). The former problem can be addressed by a competent school board; the latter is well beyond the ability of such a group to do more than pontificate about.

    1. wdf1

      Do you favor going back to private testing?

      Or is the sticking point going to 98% on the OLSAT?

      NPIV: “opportunity” gap (a common tactic of a practiced propagandist)

      You prefer the term achievement gap then? I personally think opportunity gap is closer to being descriptive of what’s going on.

    2. Frankly

      the latter is well beyond the ability of such a group to do more than pontificate about.

      I get your point here, but I don’t agree.  Education is the a HUGE component of opportunity… and opportunity is the basis for this gap we righteously wring our hands over.  Differentiation is the primary bridge to that gap.

      I am a child development socialist.  After age 18… or maybe 20… I become a full capitalist.  The kids should be recognized as adults at that point (with minor exception) and be expected to compete for their share of the prosperity pie.  But is wrong and frankly immoral to advance the already privileged youngsters unless we are putting greater effort in catching up those behind.

      I say we keep GATE/AIM for those privileged kids, and add 2x and 3x GATE/AIM for those behind.  And we do it all in the same classroom and call it differentiation.

      1. lotaspark

        Lovenburg just continues to show me that she is more interested in being a politician (forget what I said last week about this issue, here is my new value system) than being  a provider of a good education to our children! All that she has managed to do in her wasted time on the board is to cause a huge distrust between the parents and the district (volleyballgate and AIM) reduce the number of children in a program that could benefit them, and use our children as Guinea pigs while she guesses at what may work instead of what has already been proven to work.

        Look at the class of 3rd grade children this year as proof of her destruction. She said she thought we were over identifying (now numbers don’t matter), she thought it was an “elitist” program that was only offered to Asians and whites (and now the testing that she put in place is ensuring that happens), and that we were going to universally adopt “differentiation” in the classroom to solve all of the educational issues our children face. As of the February board meeting only 20 teachers attended the “career technical education” the district is spending our money on to teach this theory of differentiation. What has she offered these 3rd grade families? Nothing except less educational opportunities  and no real plan on how to provide for any of the kids in the district. She says “we’ve been patient to see if these focused services are providing a strong benefit to our children”, meanwhile these kids are going through this district dealing with her poor decisions. This is not Groundhog Day where you keep getting do overs until you get it right. This is our children’s future she is carelessly guessing at. No one cares more or understands better these children’s needs than their parents, yet every board meeting Lovenburg, Archer, and Adams speak to the parents with disgust and resentment. Time for them to go find a different career path where they don’t hurt children in the process of trying to figure things out. I for one will be saying how I feel about her guessing with my vote and my money in the future elections. Then I can quote her by saying Susan, “get over it”.

      2. Napoleon Pig IV


        I agree with much of what you say here with an important difference. I do not think the GATE/AIM program was a program of the privileged but rather a program for those who are actually intellectually different from the majority of people/students. For those people/students it can/could have made an important difference in whether or not they ever enjoy “education” (as opposed to learning, which can take place in many places other than school) and whether or not they will choose to learn the things that might position them to make important breakthroughs in thought and knowledge. Deliberately trashing that program as Lovenburg, Archer, Adams (Peterson and Roberson) did is tragic and stupid.

        However, I agree with you about offering real differentiation to all students, and I also agree with you about the merits of being a child development socialist. Unfortunately, differentiation is very difficult, even for highly trained and dedicated teachers. Even more unfortunate, many public school teachers are not up to the task – a different problem involving unions and politicians of Lovenburg quality.


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