By Kathy Glatter
There has been a spate of negative articles in The Davis Enterprise arguing that the GATE program should be cut or even curtailed. It would be a huge loss to the highly educated Davis community if the GATE program were markedly altered. It has enjoyed 20 years of support and is part of the alternative learning options offered, like the Spanish Immersion or Montessori programs.
Like many people who live here, we moved to Davis for the excellent public schools. My older son Jack started in the fourth grade GATE program at North Davis Elementary School this year.
The GATE program is truly an “alternative learning pathway.” It isn’t right for every child. The name itself is a misnomer. It’s not really a “gifted and talented” program per se but is more of a project-based learning concept, along the lines of the Da Vinci Charter Academy.
In my opinion, the GATE program is also a huge amount of work, for both the child and the parent. Most children do not have the organizational skills to complete such work without some parental supervision. And that is one major reason why this program is not for everyone.
Jack’s fourth-grade GATE class has done five massive writing projects so far this year. The teacher assures us there is ample time in class to finish everything, which I believe, but somehow Jack doesn’t always manage his time well. He is a dawdler, a doodler, a daydreamer. Incomplete work finds it way home, where he spends hours finishing it while we check on him.
This past week, the class wrote a five-paragraph, original story in class in one day. I cringe, waiting for the unfinished story to come home, but it never does. Magically, he has finished it in class. The next day, a girl named Sara edits it, while he edits hers; Jack refers to her as “my colleague.” The class has moved way beyond explaining what a topic sentence is; they are knee-deep in writing and copy-editing — all at the beginning of fourth grade.
The math is similarly accelerated. This year, the fourth-grade GATE class started with the fifth-grade math book. They simply skipped past fourth-grade math completely. For Jack, who is very good at math, the transition has been easy. His weekly, 20-word vocabulary test has very difficult words like “arid” and “serene.” They almost look like SAT words, except he is only in the fourth grade. He tells me he has been moved up to the sixth-grade vocab book.
The pace is dizzying and endless. There is also science, computer lab, P.E. and art, all with the other fourth-graders at NDE. (Plus recess, Jack’s favorite part of the day.) Yet Jack loves it. He is fully engaged in school for the first time.
Jack is also hearing-impaired and has worn a hearing aid since kindergarten. We never know if he will go completely deaf; we keep our fingers crossed that this horrible event will never happen. Even with his state-of-the-art, $3,000 hearing aid, Jack still misses things in class.
His brain does not process verbal information normally. It makes him look inattentive, when he simply doesn’t realize you were talking to him. Jack’s GATE teacher has been the absolute best of all his teachers at dealing with his disability, I believe, because she has specialized training for dealing with gifted children.
Ironically, Jack’s hearing disability gets him needed support from the school district in the form of an Individualized Education Program. He is officially a “special education student.” His other major disability, being gifted, gets him absolutely nothing in the Davis schools, except in the form of the excellent GATE program.
I believe class differentiation, as suggested in the recent visit by Lafayette Superintendent Fred Brill, would not work in our Davis schools. It is an unacceptable substitute for the Davis GATE program and will serve everyone poorly. My husband and I have volunteered in both of our kids’ classes for years, to help out, and we have seen this first-hand.
Under No Child Left Behind, the gifted child has been left behind. Virtually all of the school resources are focused on the kids at the bottom. Several national studies have shown that NCLB has been bad for gifted children. Such children who are not challenged in school can simply tune out and drop out, their wonderful potential simply wasted. Do you like to work in a dead-end, boring job? Well, neither does your gifted child.
But Davis is not a typical city, which is why we all live here. My next-door neighbor is a professor at the UC Davis School of Law. The couple at the end of the street are professors at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine with National Institutes of Health research funding. This is life in the bubble.
You will thus not be shocked if I tell you that 15 percent of the fourth-graders in Davis scored in the top 2 percent on the OLSAT GATE test (or a similarly normed, national IQ test like the WISC or Wechsler IQ test). This is a highly educated community. The qualifications for the GATE program include getting a 96th percentile on just such a test, although it can drop to the 94th percentile if your child comes from a non-English-speaking background, has a disability like Jack, etc. Up to 25 percent of our children hit that metric, which is not surprising because it is Davis.
My younger son Max is also highly gifted, but he presents differently since he is shy and timid. He seems lost frequently among the 31 children in his NDE second-grade class. We shared with the teacher that a psychologist tested his IQ at 160, in the genius range, and that he is a Mensa member (the high-IQ society), but there is little she can do for differentiation. The class is too big, their needs are too diverse, and No Child Left Behind looms large.
Ten percent of his second-grade class speaks no English, and another 10 percent have severe emotional problems (autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, etc.). It seems truly hopeless that his intellectual needs will be met there.
I believe some parents will pull their kids out of the Davis public schools for private schools if the GATE program is radically changed into a differentiation only in the classroom model. The GATE program is a hugely popular program with a long waiting list. It makes no sense to shrink it. Rather, I would recommend that the program be expanded and that another strand be added at schools like Montgomery or Birch Lane, to accommodate those children waiting for a spot.
The current GATE program is a fantastic educational option for our public schools. It is sad to see that a handful of people, some of whom do not even have children in the Davis schools, are trying to systematically dismantle the program.
If you feel as I do that the GATE program is important, email Superintendent Winfred Roberson and the school board members as they will decide the program’s fate in the spring.
— Kathy Glatter, M.D., is a Davis resident, cardiologist at the Woodland Clinic and the mother of two boys at North Davis Elementary School.