What Would Fairfax County Do With Its Advanced Academic Program?

Near the end of last year, the school board of Fairfax county decided to review its advanced academic program. Part of the decision is to seek advice from experts in advanced academics programming and equity. The board wants to hear what experts have to say. Well, experts in another school district in the United States, New York City public schools, have already spoken. Their recommendation is the immediate elimination of "gifted programs". One can guess then that in the near future the board at Fairfax county will face the same question New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is facing: Should one implement what experts recommend when the recommendation can possibly lead to political suicide?

Above copied from
Making the Grade II

One simply has to look at comments posted on news articles reporting this recommendation to grasp the strong objection to this recommendation. Here are examples from the Washington Post:

  • Unreal. 

    The “progressive” race to the bottom continues....
  • Ohhhkay... time to acknowledge the 800-pound gorilla in the room... the words that dare not be spoken:
    There are more gifted white and Asian children per capita than gifted black and Hispanic children.
  • What is next,
    giving extra points in professional medical,engineering,and law exams to non Asian minorities so that they can practice in their respective fields even though they can can't pass required professional exams? I hope not, I would not want to cross that bridge.
  • Everyone wants to be super, and when everyone's super...no one will be.

    In this society, if you're a nail, prepared to get hammered by those who just want to "do the right thing."
  • So typical of libby thoughtlessness!  Why do they consistently fail to recognize differences?  If these plans go through, NYC public schools  will have a big pot of mediocrity at best and failure at worst, while the smartest kids will simply move away or pay for a private education.
  • I feel sorry for the bright students of whatever race they may be.  They will not be challenged and be bored.  The ones coming from disadvantaged neighborhoods might not be able to escape those who try to drag them down.  (I've read of black students trying to do well and study hard being called " Acting White".)
Not every comment appears to miss what the panel is saying. There are a few thoughtful posts like this one:

I particularly dislike the way I saw "gifted/talented" work at my childrens’ ‘90’s elemsch in NJ. They’d pull the ‘smartest’ kids for a couple of ½ days/wk for exposure to museum art, robotics et al applied math, early-forlang-learning. Everything those kids were doing could & should have been part of all kids’ curriculum. Such enhancements connect ongoing curriculum to real-world application, which stimulates kids’ brains & increases motivation.

When school programs do not represent the distribution of its student population based on race, gender or socio-economic status, there is clearly something wrong. Yet, we choose to ignore this dilemma for years or even decades. Being gifted is not dependent on a child's skin color, a child's mother tongue, or a child's home. Being privileged is. As long as advanced academic programs cater more to the privileged then inequity problems in school will persist. 

It is true that students need to be challenged and children enter school with a wide range of abilities. Advanced academic programs do respond to these needs. However, as the panel at New York City points out, there are better and much more inclusive ways to do this beside sorting students into different bins according to how talented we perceive them. For starters, we can "recognize not just a student’s academic accomplishments, but also what obstacles the student already has had to overcome to be where the student is". 

Providing opportunities to all students is a must and elimination of programs that only segregate students according to race and income is a must. This is not choosing the lowest denominator. It is about providing the best education for all not just for a selected few based on race and family income. It is about lifting the quality of education in all schools for all children. It is certainly not dumbing-down the curriculum for children who happen to grow up in well-to-do homes. This objection is simply a red herring.