Sunday, December 28, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Education: Keep the baby, replace the bath water

By Hemant Bhargava

Madhavi Sunder’s two recent articles on AIM/GATE (“AIM is one of school district’s most diverse programs” and “Napa model does not fit here”) reinforce the old adage “Do not throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Opponents of the self-contained AIM model in Davis have frequently lamented drawbacks and limitations of this model, calling for its elimination in favor of an amorphous unproven and ill-defined “alternative” differentiated learning model.

With any model, if you try hard enough and collect enough metrics and criteria to judge it, you will always find something to criticize. Self-contained AIM sometimes is considered too big, but others say it is too small and elitist. Pick on diversity: You can always find some ethnic group or some income range that is not perfectly represented. If you worry about identification, you can argue that the tests favor only one group of children or, if the district has worked hard to find tests that fit different types of children, that they are too unfair.

The important thing is not that the model is or be perfect. Rather, that if you truly find a gap in it, if you find something missing or less than perfect, then try to close that imperfection, propose a realistic workable alternative. The mere presence of an imperfection is no reason at all to demand that the program be scrapped or fatally crippled, as those against self-contained GATE/AIM repeatedly have sought.

What are the alternatives? Some point to Napa’s differentiated learning model. Look, Napa is not Davis by any means. According to 2012 census data, 69 percent of Davis adults age 25 or above have at least a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, Napa’s score is 30.7 percent, right alongside the California state average of 30.2 percent.

In a typical California district such as Napa, only 2 to 4 percent of children would be considered eligible for the GATE/AIM program. Those numbers are simply not enough to form self-contained classes in neighborhood schools. You would have to combine children from seven to eight schools into one location, which means a lot of driving to drop off and pick up kids.

Others previously had held Lafayette as an exemplar, but that fallacious argument was easily debunked (see The Davis Enterprise article, “GATE is good for all students”).

One educational model does not fit all districts. A recent contribution by a GATE opponent (“Baby Bear’s ready for his bed”) ridiculed the self-contained model, noting that though Goldilocks tried various sizes and found a perfect one, she was booted off at the end. But the author missed some key points of this treasured fairy tale, which silently emphasizes that each individual has different wants and needs. Children will succeed academically when the curriculum fits their ability and needs.

Should Mama Bear have her chair taken away just because Papa Bear likes his better? Should she feel ashamed that her chair is more comfortable? Does her choice mean that Papa’s chair is “wrong” or change the value of Papa’s chair in any way? No, Mama Bear is not being “elitist” because she prefers her own chair — it is simply the appropriate chair for her.

Mama’s preference for her own chair doesn’t mean that she feels Baby’s and Papa’s chairs are of any lesser quality or value, and likewise it is ridiculous and irresponsible to conclude that by choosing AIM, families are denigrating the other educational choices available to them. What if Papa says his feelings are hurt because Mama chose a different chair? Should we just order Papa’s chair for every child in Davis and demand they use it, or should we explain to Papa that Mama’s choice of chair relates to what is best for her and should have no bearing on his choice?

Why are some in Davis working so hard to shoehorn every student into the same identical “chair” when we have different types of great chairs available? Should we limit the Bear home to a single type of chair? And who would be given the power to choose what is best for all of them?

It would be wonderful if we could run off to Ikea and order a one-size-fits-all chair that would adjust itself by customizing its fit the needs of Baby Bear one moment, Mama Bear another time and Papa Bear some other time. Unfortunately, this just isn’t realistic.

While there are chairs that offer a certain degree of adjustment, the fact is that this one-size-fits-everyone-best chair doesn’t currently exist. Nor does such a differentiated learning educational model. We are fortunate to have so many highly skilled teachers in Davis working hard to meet the needs of each of their 33 children. Let’s support and applaud them rather than limit them to one type of chair.

Self-contained AIM, combined with differentiated instruction in other classes, is indeed “best practice” for educating children in both self-contained and general ed classes (again, see “GATE is good for all students”). Districts who turn to alternative models do so because they simply don’t have the numbers of qualifying children to form neighborhood based self-contained AIM programs.

Davis is blessed with an extremely educated population, one that also values excellence in education for their children. We are fortunate in this respect. Let’s clean the bath water but keep the baby. In fact, please shower the baby with some love and affection.

— Hemant Bhargava is a Davis resident.

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