Education Lab’s examination of the diversity, or lack thereof, in classes for students deemed academically gifted provoked strong reaction from readers.
While black, Latino, American Indian and Pacific Islanders now comprise a third of all students in Washington public schools, they are represented at minuscule rates in classrooms for the intellectually advanced.
Whites and Asians, meanwhile, fill almost all those seats.
In response to the story, a few readers tartly suggested that The Seattle Times apply a similar lens to professional basketball and said the piece irresponsibly encouraged racial hatred. Still others, many of them retired teachers, decried what they saw as an under-the-radar sorting system that perpetuates segregation.
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dale Kutzera zeroed in on a fundamental divide.
“Some believe all kids are intellectually equal, and any variations are strictly due to environmental issues,” he wrote, while “others believe there is a range of intellectual aptitude and you test kids and those who do well are challenged with gifted programs.”
Many parents, he added, “want their kids in gifted programs in order to surround them with ‘better’ more academically oriented role models. Who wouldn’t?”
Diana Grusczynski, perhaps.
Grusczynski, who is Latina, said: “The amount of advocacy necessary to get a child into Seattle’s program is ridiculous … I couldn’t help wondering how the children of immigrants who are less educated, speak little English, or don’t even have email would fare.”
One possible solution?
“Perhaps [Seattle] needs to provide more enriched programs overall, rather than sort gifted students narrowly,” Grusczynski suggested. “Even though I was always an excellent test taker, I’ve always thought that this was a very narrow way to assess whether a student is gifted.”
The Times’ original story quoted Federal Way parent Angela Griffin as inspired to run for the school board because she saw barriers to gifted-education classes as a civil-rights issue.
Some readers strongly endorsed that sentiment, among them Kimberly D’Angelo, vice president of the Northshore School Board.
“Back in September,” she wrote, “I asked the district in an open public meeting, what percentage of gifted students were minority, Hispanic and [low-income]. I was astounded to find that these populations are minimally represented in our gifted program.”
Since then, Northshore has carefully re-examined its screening process, finding about 400 students who were previously overlooked.
The district may also begin testing students in Spanish “because entering a gifted program should not be based on a student’s level of English mastery, but rather a student’s ability,” D’Angelo wrote.
Mike MacLeod, a retired Northshore elementary teacher, said that while he encountered a few students in his gifted classes who were truly operating on a higher level, “The majority, sadly, took space in the program but didn’t buy into the notion that ‘with gifts (and I might add, privilege) comes responsibility.’ They had been told how brilliant they were, or got into the program mostly to salve their parents’ egos.”
For that reason, MacLeod decided to teach in general-education classrooms and prove that, “We could achieve the same kind of high-level work and product in that environment as I had seen in the gifted program.”
To do this, he visited families at home before the school year began, to explain his approach and build rapport.
“Parents really appreciated this entree,” he added, and “over the next 10 years, I had many kids who were every bit as ‘gifted’ as the average ‘gifted program’ kids, and their presence in the class made it easier to set the bar higher and get the vast majority of kids to exceed what they may have thought they were capable of doing.”