Boston Suspends Advanced and Gifted Programs Over “Equity” Concerns

We recently discussed the condemnation of meritocracy in education as racist by one of the top officials in the San Francisco public school system. That position has fueled calls to end advanced or gifted programs around the country including in New York City.  Now, Boston has followed suit with a suspension of advanced learning program for its fourth, fifth and sixth graders. These measures will make our public schools less diverse over time in my view.While I do view the low number of minority students in such programs to be a serious problem, I have long opposed efforts to eliminate the programs or establish quota systems to rectify that problem. Students of all races benefit from such programs. While there is clearly less diversity, the best solution is not to eliminate such programs but to work harder in the earlier grades to allow minority students to excel (and ultimately gain admission to such programs).Nevertheless, according to WGBH and a few conservative sites, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius is calling for a one-year enrollment suspension of the Advanced Work Class due to both the pandemic and “concerns about equity.”  Cassellius said “There’s a lot of work we have to do in the district to be antiracist and have policies where all of our students have a fair shot at an equitable and excellent education.”

To be sure, the Boston system is facing a sharp contrast in the racial makeup of the program as opposed to the district at large. The district is 80 percent Black and Hispanic but 70 percent of the programs are white and Asian. However, denying those gifted students this option does not advance educational or diversity policies.  Greater diversity is possible but the focus should be on working to help minority children to excel despite what are often adverse conditions in the communities or at home.

Gifted programs and elite academic schools are designed to allow students to reach their full academic potential with other students performing at the highest level of math and other disciplines. It is often difficult for such students to reach that potential in conventional settings. Teachers have to keep their classes as a whole moving forward in subject areas. That often means that academically gifted children are held back by conventional curricula or lesson plans. Those students can actually underperform due to boredom or the lack of challenging material. Many simply leave the public school system.  Moreover, students tend to perform better with students progressing at their similar level. Teachers can then focus on a lesson plan and discussions that are tailored to students at a similar performance level.

These concerns should be particularly acute in Boston which has seen 40 percent of its student population chronically absent from classes.

Eliminating such programs creates a false “equity” by lobbing off the top performing programs.  That does not advance true diversity in my view.  In fairness to educators like Cassellius, these programs do siphon off staff and money. However, a touchstone of a public school system is that children of different needs and backgrounds can excel.  The minority of white and Asian students in the district reflects in part the exodus from public schools by such families due to mistrust in the commitment to such policies.  Suspending these programs will only accelerate such departures in my view.


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