By Chuck Rairdan
Among the themes that have been abundantly clear in the ongoing debate about GATE is that the name itself invites plenty of scorn and ridicule. This is an unfortunate side-effect of a legacy that is distracting us from critical issues affecting our public education system.
The current program name is rooted in the California statute that established and regulates Gifted and Talented Education, or the GATE program. The terms “gifted” and “talented” refer to a segment of the student population that, as with other focused needs programs, require a curriculum and instructional method designed to develop their full potentials. These terms were not devised to split our children into the two camps of “special” and “not special,” but the perceptions associated with their application have been problematic.
It has also become clear from the controversy that there are significant gaps in the choices available to parents in the neighborhood schools to service the full range and diversity of academic needs present in our community. In addition to high educational standards across the board and a cadre of dedicated teachers giving our children their very best, part of what distinguishes Davis public schools are precisely the choices available to meet specific instructional needs through the magnet and other tailored programs, including GATE.
To improve the choices available to all Davis parents, the school district should consider developing a more integrated set of programs that effectively addresses the range of student needs and aptitudes across all our neighborhood schools. The current dichotomous choice between GATE and not-GATE does not achieve this.
A program name change that diffuses the labeling and stereotyping that has evolved in association with the current program title would be a good place to start in concert with developing a broader spectrum of academic choices. Such a departure would, I hope, also help get the conversation moving in a more productive direction.
At DavisExcel, a community-based group committed to academic excellence for all in Davis, a name change we’ve long considered and would like to propose is Alternative Instructional Model, or AIM. This name avoids controversial terminology and alludes to what is essentially an alternative model of teaching for a targeted segment of the student population.
In making this proposal, there is still obviously much work to be done on the substantive issues affecting our schools. For one, we must continue to improve the choices available to parents while complementing the programs that are already successful in meeting the diversity of educational needs in our community.
As a town, we are better than the rancor and rhetoric surrounding the great GATE debate. There is no shortage of intelligent, well-meaning people in Davis who are capable of engaging in a meaningful discussion about the challenges facing our schools in an open and transparent setting. Hitting the reset button with a program name change for GATE may be one of the best places to start.
— Chuck Rairdan is a Davis resident and member of DavisExcel, a group of community members who support educational excellence.