By Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder
All across the country, we have seen successful programs in music, sports and arts dismantled due to lack of funds. In Davis today, we are considering dismantling the highly successful GATE program for high-achieving and high-potential children, even though it costs almost nothing extra.
While critics have denounced the GATE program as elitist or even “segregationist,” they are anything but. They provide a high-expectation education to students whose parents cannot afford truly elite private schools or very expensive suburbs.
Would we label the great Madrigals program, which allows our children to tour Europe, elitist or segregationist because it restricts entry to the most talented singers and then has them practice in a different room? Should we open up varsity football to a lottery to give equal access to the highest-quality coaching? Would we tar Spanish immersion, Fairfield Elementary, Montessori or Da Vinci Charter Academy as “segregation”?
That term, freighted with the horrors of a grave centuries-long injustice, is inappropriate here, even more so in a classroom filled with students of diverse backgrounds.
We are also told that GATE is “divisive.” Should we get rid of the honor society, class prizes, grades, varsity sports or class presidents because they cause hurt feelings among students who do not place as well as their parents would like? The alternatives proposed — having gifted students sit together in “clusters” or be “pulled out” for special instruction — make differences even more apparent. Furthermore, California law requires the school to identify “gifted and talented” students, so we will continue to identify such students whatever the changes in the programming.
Those arguing against GATE have offered no proof that the GATE classrooms are failing the students in them. Some 1,700 students are in the GATE program. Parents already have the option of placing their GATE-identified children in regular classrooms where they are supposed to receive differentiated instruction.
Research suggests that differentiated instruction, with a single teacher drawing up multiple lesson plans for every class period (not to mention homework, exams, projects, etc.), though wonderful in theory, is exceedingly difficult to achieve in practice, especially in a class of 35 students with a huge range of educational attainment.
Davis schools have a legal obligation to serve our academically high-achieving and high-potential students just as we must serve our students who are academically challenged. GATE students need appropriate instruction in order to learn to their full potential.
Our children deserve the best education, not to be thwarted in their dreams.
— Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder are Davis residents and parents.