Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gifted programs and desegregation

Gifted programs and desegregation efforts often become intertwined. Some people think gifted programs are a way to avoid desegregation -- that they involve separating out white students from other kids. That's an erroneous idea, since gifted kids come in all colors. But sometimes the two issues become involved for other reasons. A number of cities, after being ordered to desegregate their schools, chose to create magnet schools offering gifted programs. The more strategic of these districts located their gifted programs in historically black schools that white parents might have been wary of enrolling their children in otherwise. Parents of highly gifted kids are usually willing to send their kids anywhere that might work, and when the schools offer enough other benefits besides gifted programs, these school districts have integrated their schools fairly seamlessly. For instance, my elementary school in Raleigh, NC was located in a historically black school. I rode the bus for an hour every morning. In addition to gifted programs, the school offered lots of dance, drama and music, and consequently middle-class parents of "average" kids also put their students on the bus. A good enough magnet program can actually draw kids back into the public school system. DuPont Manual in Louisville, for instance, offers dozens of AP classes, and its adjacent performing arts academy offers a best-in-nation class orchestra. The school draws kids from 32 middle schools into its 9th grade. A good number of those schools are private.

But other districts have been less successful in this regard. The Baton-Rouge, LA school system had tried putting its gifted programs in inner-city schools as part of a desegregation effort. But it was less successful in convincing middle-class, white parents to give the public schools a whirl. You can read about the course of events here. The district is now considering opening more gifted programs at neighborhood schools.

I am not sure why, exactly, the gifted-program-in-inner-city-school tactic works for some districts and not for others. A few things certainly help. For instance, when magnet schools work, it's because the whole school is good -- not just the gifted program. The school also has to be reasonably integrated -- no one likes it if the gifted program is predominantly white and the rest of the school has no white students. It looks bad. I think the change has to be managed at a time of a broader shake-up in the schools -- for instance, a merger of two districts. Then people approach their new schools with less of the baggage that they might have had before. I'm curious if any parents reading this blog have experience with a district that tried to use gifted education as a tool to help achieve desegregation compliance.

And -- a side note, if you post, you just might be the 30,000th visitor since March 29th last year! I'm thrilled that we're going to cross 30,000 views in a year. That's 2500 a month. If the average visitor stops by 4-6 times per month (roughly, I'm guessing), that means we have about 400-600 regular readers. Which is wonderful. I'll see if I can hunt down some Gifted Exchange stats for the next post.


Jason Jones said...

Raleigh, NC?

Are you native to Raleigh?

Have you seen the Wake County school system recently?

There was a recent write up in the Independent/Spectator about the bursting student population and the politics behind funding.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

In Lafayette, Louisiana the Paul Breaux Middle School is located a few blocks into a bad neighborhood, although there is a park at one end, and the area around it is poor but no projects. I hesitated about sending my gifted chld there, but finally went ahead, and she got an awesome education.
But the gifted kids are pretty segregated from the overwhelmingly black population (only gym class is integrated).
I gotta tell ya, in this case, there really is little integration of the races. The gifted black kids are accepted, but the regular ed black kids are not accepted by the white kids.
If what we want to achieve for blacks is economic integration, then use neighborhood all black schools, or integrated schools, whatevr, but have teachers who push the kids, from pre-K on up, by introducing reading in pre-K for those kids who are ready, and make it fun, etc. It's not the school, it's what is going on in the classroom, whether there are high expectations or not. And get rid of the teachers who have the low expectations, they are truly a blight on the teaching profession, and no, that is not too harsh a denunciation. Sorry.