Achieving Equity through Mediocrity: Why Elimination of Gifted Programs Should Worry Us all

Below is my column in the Hill on the elimination of the gifted programs, proficiency requirements, and other performance-based elements in our public school system. This was highlighted recently by the elimination of the gifted and talented programs in New York City under Mayor Bill de Blasio, which were denounced as racist. I have long been critical of this trend which focuses on reducing disparities in performance by trimming the top rather than raising the bottom of a student body.

Here is the column:

Journalist H.L. Mencken once denounced public education as an effort “simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” Mencken’s fears may be coming true in a way that few of us thought possible just a few years ago.

While much of our public debate today has centered on the teaching of the concepts of systemic racism and white privilege, a far more worrisome trend is sweeping our public school system. Across the country, school districts are removing advanced programs and even standardized testing to achieve an artificial appearance of equity. Indeed, it promises a kind of equity through mediocrity that all families should reject.

This movement was on display this week after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the elimination of the Gifted and Talented (G&T) program for the city’s school system. G&T programs have been denounced by some as racist because a disproportionate number of white and Asian students are in the advanced programs. The De Blasio panel previously declared such programs to be “segregation” due to the lower number of minority students. The move is part of a campaign to eliminate racial disparities not by elevating the performance of minority students but by removing standardized testing and special programs that highlight such disparities. Now those separate programs will be eliminated and the students returned to the general student body. They can seek “accelerated” materials but will be taught in classes with other students in conventional schools.

Despite billions spent on public school systems, there remains a chronic failure to achieve bare proficiency in reading, writing and math for many public school students in cities like New YorkDetroitWashington, D.C., and Baltimore. The response by many is to declare standardized testing or meritocracy as racist, while other districts eliminate special programs or schools for gifted students. In Oregon, the governor and legislature went further and eliminated any graduation proficiency requirement in reading, writing or math.

De Blasio’s move will do little to advance students, while likely accelerating the departure of many families from public schools. Gifted students are unlikely to get the attention or advanced work they need to stay intellectually engaged; some will underperform or drop out.

It also is not necessarily good for other students. Gifted students are likely to push down the scores and ranking of other students. Currently, students in the other programs can still excel and achieve high class rankings in seeking college positions. Now, they likely will find themselves less competitive if classes are dominated by gifted students, and teachers will struggle to keep both sets of students engaged.

Rather than improving the performance of minority students, these districts are eliminating testing, requirements and programs that recognize disparities in performance. It is like making your track team more competitive by eliminating the fastest runners or just eliminating the clock. Suddenly everyone is magically performing in perfect harmony.

This movement goes beyond grades.

Recently, a Virginia teacher denounced classroom discipline as a form of “white supremacy.” In a short video, Blacksburg High School teacher Josh Thompson described the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports — or PBIS — as “white supremacy with a hug”: “The idea of just sitting quiet and being told stuff and taking things in a passive stance is not a thing that’s ‘in’ with many cultures. So if we’re positively enforcing these behaviors, we are by extension positively enforcing elements of white culture, which therefore keeps whiteness at the center, which is the definition of white supremacy.”

He is not alone. The Biden administration is looking at class discipline as an area of racial discrimination, and other school districts have barred expulsion or suspensions due to classroom disruptions as racially inequitable. In one English school, teachers were banned this month from even referring to the conduct of students as “good” or “bad.” Headteacher Dr. Julian Murphy said that “I don’t want [teachers] to be shouty and make pupils feel guilty.”

The question is how all of these changes will shape a rising generation. There have long been complaints about the “trophy generation” — young people raised on the expectation that you get trophies for just participating. This new trend is the inverse, effectively eliminating any trophies for higher performers.

Consider the current trajectory of all these moves: Students will be taught in schools that increasingly are unable to enforce good classroom behavior (assuming they can even refer to “good” behavior) with suspensions or expulsions; standardized testing and basic proficiency requirements will be eliminated to remove performance rankings and tracking. Many institutions, like the California university system, are eliminating college standardized testing in order to address racial inequities. Some have even called for random selection for college admissions. As Alison Collins, vice president of the San Francisco Board of Education, stated recently, “When we talk about merit, meritocracy and especially meritocracy based on standardized testing … those are racist systems.”

The result is a perfectly equitable — and a perfectly irrational — educational system.

It is unclear how this country intends to compete in an already challenging global economy. Other countries like China must be delighted to see these moves to eliminate G&T programs.

The most immediate response is likely to be the increasing departures of families from public schools. School choice and vouchers are becoming a more widely supported cause, including by a huge number of Democratic and independent voters. Yet the abandonment of public schools would be a terrible loss for many of us who have been lifelong supporters of public education. (My parents helped found a group in Chicago in the 1970s to stop the “white flight” from public schools. There, the loss of white and affluent families was not just reducing diversity in the schools but leaving schools without political and economic support. My wife and I sent our kids to Virginia public schools and feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in Fairfax County, with exceptional schools and teachers.)

These trends are now reversing such efforts. Teachers’ unions and politicians often treat families like captives in these systems, with little to no voice on curriculum or policies. That issue is at the center of the close governor’s race in Virginia, after Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe declared: “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Those parents ultimately can speak, however, by leaving public school systems. The result would be an educational system as divided as our society — racially, politically and economically. Moreover, we will have an increasing gap in the levels of performance between private and public schools, creating an image of public schools as the default educational option for students who are less competitive. That would be a disaster not just for minority families but for the entire country.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

101 thoughts on “Achieving Equity through Mediocrity: Why Elimination of Gifted Programs Should Worry Us all”

  1. No one (except morons) actually believe that the fact that always a disproportionate number of white and Asian students are in the advanced programs means these programs are racist anymore than they believe that the NBA players are mostly black is because of racism. But there are always many more parents with non-gifted students than gifted so it’s a better sell for attracting votes to close the advanced programs. It’s just typical, immoral politics.

  2. Equity and equality were referenced only once by the Founders, that in the Declaration of Independence, writing:

    “…that all men are created equal….”

    The Founders understood that after creation, the success or failure of a man’s life was in the hands of that particular man.

    It is a preposterous and insidious fraud for minorities to imply that the Founders meant to provide them all forms of “favor” in perpetuity.

    American equality lasts only for the split second in which men are created…after that, it’s every man for himself.

    In fact, the very Founders who revealed the equality of men upon creation, constitutionally legislated that citizens be “…free white person(s)…,” which required all freed slaves to be summarily deported in 1863.

    America is a society of laws.

    Understanding that Lincoln was a ruthless dictator who conducted an endless stream of heinous and unconstitutional acts, and that his successors rammed through the sham “Reconstruction Amendments” with a

    “gun to America’s head” and under the duress of brutal, post-war military occupation, America has some outstanding law to enforce, immediately and with extreme prejudice.

  3. OT Update:

    Nearly 150 legislators from over three dozen states call for countrywide audit of 2020 election

    Lawmakers call for decertification in cases where elections were called “prematurely and inaccurately.”

    1. …he said one day after the pro-communist traitor, Andy McCabe, Deputy Director, FBI, was completely “exonerated” by the Department of Jokes, “Fake” Figurehead Joke Buydem, Presidentette Susan Rice, General-Secretary-cum-Tribal-Chief Obama, the “Swamp” and the Deep Deep State, having lied to and defrauded the FISA Court, among his many multiple other felonious high crimes and misdemeanors.

      Your update is pure perishable politics as an absurd exercise in futility, with the exception of establishing an eminently corrigible “position” for 150 affected and factitious political candidates.

  4. Blame FDR. A local male age 32 was arrested for stealing from a drug store. When asked where he lived he said: “Da housing project where my mom and grandma live.”. When asked where he worked he said: “I ain’t never worked for nobody.”. When asked if he had income:. “My girlfriend had five of my kids and gets a check from da govment.”

    Blame Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He built that housing project and started the welfare state.


      Seriously? Roosevelt was a communist in the same vein as his subordinate who was convicted of spying, Alger Hiss, and a preponderance of State Department personnel. Roosevelt’s communist laws and programs were and remain unconstitutional. The singular American failure was and continues to be the judicial branch, with emphasis on the Supreme Court. The Congress under Roosevelt had no power to tax for individual welfare, specific welfare, redistribution of wealth or charity. Roosevelt was consumed by a desire to support and assist Stalin and the communists in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the degree that he withheld military intelligence and allowed Pearl Harbor to happen as part of his scheme to dupe Americans into WWII.

      “The Constitution For Dummies”

      Article 1, Section 8, provides Congress the power to tax ONLY for “…general Welfare…,” omitting and, thereby, excluding any power to tax for individual welfare, specific welfare, redistribution of wealth or charity. The same article provides Congress the power to regulate ONLY money, the “flow” of commerce, and land and naval Forces. Additionally, the 5th Amendment right to private property is not qualified by the Constitution and is, therefore, absolute, allowing Congress no power to claim or exercise dominion over private property, the sole exception being the power to “take” private property for public use.

      Government exists, under the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to provide maximal freedom to individuals while it is severely limited and restricted to merely facilitating that maximal freedom of individuals through the provision of security and infrastructure.

      The entire communistic American welfare state is unconstitutional including, but not limited to, matriculation affirmative action, grade-inflation affirmative action, employment affirmative action, quotas, welfare, food stamps, minimum wage, rent control, social services, forced busing, public housing, utility subsidies, WIC, SNAP, TANF, HAMP, HARP, TARP, HHS, HUD, Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Labor, Energy, Obamacare, Social Security, Social Security Disability, Social Security Supplemental Income, Medicare, Medicaid, “Fair Housing” laws, “Non-Discrimination” laws, etc.

    1. Did you say voter fraud?

      Young, are you paying attention?

      Lincoln must have deported blacks (i.e. black voters) in 1863 per the Naturalization Act of 1802.

      Johnson insidiously perpetrated election corruption and catalyzed blacks into voter-fraud-as-critical-mass through the monumental “free stuff” and payoff of the “Great Society.”

      America fought the “War on Poverty” and Poverty WON!

      “I’ll have those ——s voting democrat for the next two hundred years!”

      – Lyndon Baines Johnson

      He did.

      The illegal alien invasion and predictable and attendant “amnesties” (can government forgive invaders and retain a nation?) have secured communism in America; the beneficiaries of which have been recruited en masse to push vote harvesting, etc., well outside the parameters intended by the Founders.

      Voter fraud is self-replicating artificial intelligence – soon it won’t need its creators and will be done with them.

      The Founders’ intent to maintain a European population and European voters should have persisted much longer than 1860, if not in perpetuity, as have the Ten Commandments (the Founders may have collaborated with God on those, they are so sagacious and apropos).

      California is a one-party communist state; California leads the nation.

      America has been led into communism since 1860.

      “The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities. In the composition of society, the harmony of the ingredients is all-important, and whatever tends to a discordant intermixture must have an injurious tendency.”

      – Alexander Hamilton

      “The only thing necessary for the continuance of evil is for a good man to do nothing.”

      – Edmond Burke

  5. We just learned tonight that the NCAA is moving to remove any minimum College entrance test (SAT, ACT) for eligiblility calling them institutionally racist. This was done by a “Task Force on Equity” . No matter how many times statisticians warn “correlation does not mean cause” unequal outcomes are treated as absolute proof of racism. As most of the posters are telling us on this blog, this hurts any semblance of fairness as well as infantalizes an entire race.

    1. Unequal outcomes can be, and probably are in part, due to the fact that IQ varies between different populations.

      That has been shown too many times and in too many different ways to be honestly denied.

      1. Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson weren’t known for their success on “Jeopardy.”

        General Secretary Obama, Presidentette Susan Rice, Kamala “Empty Suit” Harris et al. perpetrate corruption and the methodology of the African tribal chiefs who sold their countrymen to acquire riches.

        The American Founders did not guarantee success.

        The Founders gave Americans the one and only thing they could: Freedom.

        The problem for Americans is that they couldn’t “keep” the republic that was given to them.

  6. It’s a problem because these nonsensical positions are taken by so called minorities and people who think it’s they’re job to coddle them as proper. It’s right up there with so called diversity and inclusion, it’s nauseating, is forced anything really inclusive or diverse? Are doing these things despite the obvious negative impacts they may have disregarded simply because it’s politically expedient? Me thinks so.
    Public education has always been used to foster nanny state types, people who believe the government and people who work for it are anything different than joe 6 pack, self interested.
    If a bureaucracy gains power by doing these things it will do them, end of story, however it causes serious resentment among the thinking class, aka anyone who can see past the colour or gender of some group…

    1. Insurrection on 14 Oct, yesterday, by the Left in DC.

      “ Let’s go!” one protester yells while trying to climb in through the door. People cheer in support and crowd the steps as police continue to physically block the one entrance that is not locked.”
      – Twitter @esilverman11

      Taser barbs flew as demonstrators tried to batter their way past police lines, with law enforcers suffering injuries to the point of requiring hospitalization. Chants and obscenities rose from the mob of radicals trying to send a message in the form of infiltrating our esteemed government quarters with physical force. Some activists vandalized a building, while others pinned police against a wall. This rebellion against authority was nothing short of sedition. ….I’m talking about the rowdy protest outside the Department of the Interior on Thursday that turned violent as climate activists stormed the entrance — the Oct. 14 insurrection.

  7. I have seen papers that claim that competitive schools do not help advanced students, or in other words, lack of competitive schools does not hurt them.

    But let me just discuss my own personal story. I went to Central HS in Philadelphia, a competitive school and one of the best in the country.  I came in 73 out of 365. My friend, equally talented, went to a mediocre ( I’m being polite) neighborhood school and came in 1st in his class. He got more good college offers than I did and went on to do better than I did.
    I say this with mixed feelings because I have fond memories of my HS days. 

    1. The majority of Mensa members work for someone. Despite their brilliance and extraordinary IQ, they need to find employment working under someone with a lesser IQ. So much with IQs and success. Success is what people achieve because they continue to try at endeavors that others have given up on trying. IQ, attending a “competitive” school, or being gifted have nothing to do with success. Its the 10,000 hours shtick. See Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book, “Outliers”.

  8. It is difficult to believe that people would be so nefarious as to take the children from their parents. Make no mistake, it is and has been a prominent criteria of all leftist governments both present and if allowed in the future. One of the first things declared under such governments is that the children belong to the government and the parents will have no say in what their children are taught. Hence, the statement by Terry Mcauliffe, who is Democrat running for Governor of Virginia espousing that parents in Virginia should have no say in their children’s education should be of no surprise. Such sentiments were made by both Hitler and Lenin. It wasn’t just a slip up by Mr. Mcauliffe. When they say what they mean believe them.

  9. Just think, if everyone gets the same grade the Hollywood types (Anonymous) won’t have to pay off schools to get their children special treatment. See, behind every silver lining there’s a cloud.

  10. OT

    “F.B.I. Official Fired Under Trump Wins Back His Pension”

    Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director, will receive his pension and other benefits after settling his lawsuit with the Justice Department.
    Oct. 14, 2021

    WASHINGTON — Hours before he was scheduled to retire in 2018, Andrew G. McCabe, then the F.B.I.’s deputy director, was fired by the Justice Department, depriving him of his pension and prompting cheers from President Donald J. Trump, who had been hounding him over his role in the Russia investigation.

    On Thursday, the department reversed Mr. McCabe’s firing, settling a lawsuit he filed asserting that he was dismissed for political reasons. Under the settlement, Mr. McCabe, 53, will be able to officially retire, receive his pension and other benefits, and get about $200,000 in missed pension payments.

    – NY Times

    The “Swamp” of the global communist Deep Deep State, commanded General Secretary Barack “Barry Soetoro” Obama to order President Susan Rice to direct the useful idiot and corrupt professional sycophant, Joke Buydem, to absolve former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who perpetrated fraud before the FISA court, etc., of his egregious, flagrant de facto crimes and, furthermore, to pay him hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.

    “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

    – Declaration of Independence, 1776

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