Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Research supports AIM’s aims

By Deborah Nichols Poulos

The AIM (formerly GATE) program of self-contained classes for students who have high academic potential is under attack.  There is so much disinformation being tossed about, some contradicting itself, that it is hard to keep track.

Opponents of AIM say the program should be limited only to those burdened with problems that make it impossible for them to learn in a neighborhood classroom. Some claim AIM teachers and classrooms receive special funding, despite all evidence to the contrary.  Some say AIM is “elitist,” despite the fact that it is the most diverse magnet program in the district.

These critics cannot claim that the AIM program is failing to meet its constituents’ needs, so they claim that this program is interfering with meeting the needs of students not in the program.

With this scattershot attack it is difficult to identify critics’ real objections to AIM. The Davis school district’s AIM program has been recognized as “exemplary” by the state. We have spent more than four decades trying a multitude of approaches for gifted education that have been used all over the country. Research has consistently shown that the “best practice” nationwide is the self-contained program for gifted students. It is no accident our program has been so successful that it is a model to which other districts aspire.

Funding for the district’s gifted program has been mischaracterized. I was one of three teachers of self-contained classes at Valley Oak from 1983 to 1991. I was also president of the Davis Teachers Association for three years.

AIM teachers receive no extra pay. All AIM teachers are paid on the same certificated salary scale as all other teachers in the district, based on years of experience and education.

AIM teachers receive no extra funding for field trips or special programs, such as Future Problem Solving. As both a regular and GATE classroom teacher, I know these activities are entirely dependent upon the time and effort a teacher chooses to devote to them.

In 1981, I took my regular sixth-grade class on a weekend trip to Point Reyes with a GATE class. In the 1990s, I repeated that trip several times with my Patwin general education fifth- and sixth-graders. No class received district or site funding.

AIM teachers receive no special funding for educational programs or training. I took all the master’s degree classes in GATE at Sacramento State at my own expense. Each school allocates its site funds to send teachers to conferences or workshops. Funding for these programs for AIM teachers is no different from other classroom teachers.

Opinions about current AIM testing, identification, delivery mechanisms, etc., have run wild. Some assert that the very existence of the AIM program or any other special education program hurts the neighborhood program. But these critics have presented no evidence showing AIM classes have any effect, positive or negative, on the quality of experiences for students in neighborhood or other classes.

Placing more gifted students back into neighborhood classes stretches even thinner their teachers’ ability to meet a wider range of needs, especially given increased class sizes. How can the district help all students reach their potential by ignoring the special needs of the gifted, best met in self-contained classrooms? The district would never ignore the special needs of the struggling student, nor the wishes of parents in other magnet programs, like those who want their children to grow up speaking Spanish, or who want to home-school.

We should not rely on opinions, many clearly out of date and prejudiced against self-contained gifted classes. Both the up-to-date educational research and experience support the district’s current practices, testing and self-contained classrooms, instead of enrichment or clusters. With the single exception of the newly instituted lottery, Davis has a stellar GATE program.

— Deborah Nichols Poulos is a longtime Davis resident and retired teacher. Reach her at dnpoulos@urcad.org



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