Thursday, May 19, 2005

Dumbing down our students

This is sad. In this report about the Lincoln Middle School in Vista, CA, just north of San Diego, the principal has proposed to drop the GATE program for gifted students so that he can mix them with under-performing students and thereby artificially drive up the school's test scores and stay out of trouble with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

You know where this is going, right? The parents of Latino (immigrant) children whose command of English is not sufficient to allow them to score well enough on the standardized tests are demanding that their lower-performing children be treated exactly the same as higher performing native English speakers. Here is what they said in a letter that was sent to the school principal by the lower-performing student's parents:
"All students should be treated equally," Latino parents said in a letter to the board and district administrators. "We believe that the school should not create differences between students who know more and students who know less."
Oh, you mean like in the real world? The world that your children must face after they matriculate? The actual big wide world out there that you apparently don't want to recognize as extant? The world that rewards the smartest, best educated, the hardest workers and those that "know the most" with more opportunities, promotions, pay raises, awards, prizes etc.?

The article notes that the GATE program has already been dropped by the other three middle schools in the district (although I could only find two other middle schools listed, Roosevelt and Madison, so I think the reporter who wrote the story is in error here). Furthermore, the article states that Lincoln's 437 (out of 1296) students who are in English improvement classes (and of whom 99% speak Spanish) has dropped the school's overall test score average into the "program improvement status" of the NCLB. The NCLB stipulates that parents have the right to transfer from a lower-performing school to a higher-performing school, within the same district, if they transferred by March 1. Faced with a "flurry" of transfers, the idea to can the GATE program and mix the students was hatched by the principal, Larrie Hall. The district also extended the deadline to May 24 to give principal Hall time to work with the parents on dumping the GATE program from its last remaining bastion. 203 out of the 1296 students applied for transfers although 9 changed their minds, leaving 192 set to flee, or 15% of the student body. A quick check of Madison Middle School shows a Latino student percentage of just 10%. So this middle school has a better rating with NCLB although the GATE program no longer exists there.

And, of course, the old race card gets played again. In a written response, Latino parents said they
"don't understand why the parents of the GATE students don't want to work together in public school.

"We want to reduce discrimination (emphasis mine) through uniting and working together."
Parents of GATE students responded,
GATE parents said preserving the program is about making sure their children stay challenged so they have a better chance at college.

"It has nothing to do with ethnicity", said Crista McClure-Swan, a Vista real estate broker whose daughter is a GATE student at Lincoln.

She expressed disappointment that Latinos had raised the ethnic issue.

Robb Scheele, another GATE parent, agreed. "What we're saying is, 'Why get rid of a program that has worked so well?'"
Why, indeed. The answer is simple. It is the easiest course for Lincoln Middle School principal Hall, the Latino parents and the Vista school district administrators to take. Don't spend time and effort to figure out how to actually improve and help the lower-performing students. Don't take responsibility for educating these students. Don't prepare these students for that cold hard world out there that does discriminate against those who know less and those who perform at a lower level. Dumb down everyone so that opportunities are stolen from the brightest so that all of you, the principal, the teachers, the administrators and the parents don't have to work as hard and your "numbers" become better, but bogus (the other BBB).

You know who pays the highest price for this travesty? The Latino children, that's who. They are the ones being held back the most. They are the ones who will matriculate to the prep schools not prepared for what they are going to face there. The parents of the Gate students who are surely going to lose this fight will worm and squirm and figure out how to get their kids the opportunities that they deserve, at least most of them will. I would hope and expect. But the Latino kids are having their opportunities nipped in the bud, principally by their own parents and with the willing participation of the school's principal and the district's administrators.

What role in this NCLB plays, I cannot say. Does NCLB make provisions for 40% or higher non-native English speakers in a given school? I don't know. I do know that NCLB exists because of a failure by parents, teachers and local and state school administrators to educate the children in their charge. Dumbing down a school's student body still seems to me to be a poor solution.

And the GATE students and their parents? Perhaps a little more anti-Latino and a little more anti-immigrant than they were this time last year? No doubt. And probably rightfully so. This is one way that the seeds of bigotry and discrimination are sewn. Sewn by the Latino parents themselves. And they will be the first to scream about it when it manifests itself in some way on them or their children in the future.

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