Equity Is Not Reducing Schools to the Lowest Common Denominator

I thought the recommendations made by New York City's School Diversity Advisory Group are clear: "Because we believe all students deserve to be challenged, we recommend that the Department of Education resource community school districts to pilot creative, equitable enrichment alternatives to Gifted &Talented, resource community engagement and implementation appropriately and measure, track and publicize impacts; discontinue the use of the Gifted & Talented admissions test; and institute a moratorium on new Gifted & Talented programs, while phasing out existing programs." Even Andy Smarick at the Atlantic correctly gets the message, "The panel would instead prioritize schoolwide enrichment programs so a diverse student body could learn together under one roof." Yet, Smarick still makes the claim that equity contradicts excellence. It only seems a contradiction if we keep thinking that public basic education is a "zero-sum game". Education should never be viewed as a competition where one child gains what another child loses.

Above copied from The Atlantic

The immediate need to close Gifted&Talented programs cannot be fully appreciated if one misses the important facts that current procedures in identifying the gifted, segregation of schools, and providing different opportunities and resources to children are deeply flawed. This necessitates nothing less than a moratorium for this is causing great harm to society.

Smarick casually points out that "Instead of destroying the current system, the panelists could, for instance, have suggested methods to improve the identification of gifted students, or creative ways for the district to use federal Title I funds to support low-income gifted students... ...The scholars Jonathan Plucker and Scott Peters have explored and recommended an array of interventions along these lines." There are no known methods so far that do a good job in identifying gifted students. Interventions that aim to extend Gifted&Talented programs to underrepresented minority and low-income families are still being developed. One simply has to read what Plucker and Peters have to say on their blog: "Our resulting intervention model is based on the concept of frontloading, which involves those activities that prepare students to take advantage of new, rigorous opportunities. For example, placing a student living in poverty into an AP Calculus class when she hasn’t been exposed to all of the necessary prerequisites skills will benefit no one; but placing that student into the AP class after a couple years of increasingly rigorous math classes and tutoring may be a very important opportunity for the student. Frontloading matters and interventions that follow in the vein of frontloading are the most likely to put a dent in excellence gaps."

To appreciate why Gifted&Talented programs contribute to inequity in education, one must simply acknowledge that quality education and learning opportunities are being provided only to a few that have been selected based on their parent's educational attainment and income. This happens because identification and segregation are done very early in a child's basic education. There is no flexibility as children become labeled. Resources (not so much in terms of quantity but more on quality) are diverted to the education of the selected children of privilege. One simply has to compare facilities inside schools inside my district to see that this is the case.

This year, the advisory committee on advanced academic programs in Fairfax county has been given this charge: "AAPAC will explore successful practices at schools that provide frequent access to AAP strategies and curriculum in K-2 and propose a set of school-based actions to increase access to challenging learning experiences at the primary grade levels." Enrichment should be provided to all students especially at the K-8 levels. And as Plucker and Peters point out, "All of these interventions are likely to foster above-grade-level skills with proactive attention to doing so in traditionally underrepresented populations." It is not catering to the lowest common denominator.