MadronaGreen had asked my opinion about APP and its future. That's a tricky question for me as I have never had a child in APP (one son who I thought would test in, didn't, and the other one did but we chose to keep them at the same school). I toured APP when it was in Madrona. I thought I saw good things happening but I could sense the tension the moment I walked into the building. Things seemed separate and it just had a bad vibe. I can't really describe it any other way. The tour guide did not mention any interaction with the regular ed students.
So, I would ask APP parents what their perceptions are.
The question was also what do I think APP does well and what could be done better?
I won't go into APP (formerly IPP) history. It was started before Spectrum so I believe there was the recognition the these were students who had learning needs that needed to be served. Even for people who don't like separating kids there is a realization that some gifted kids don't function well in a regular ed class room either from an academic or behavior standpoint. (Sometimes it almost feels like people understand the separation more for the behavior differences than the academic differences.)
Given that the overwhelming majority of parents whose children test into APP, go into APP, I'd have to say it works for them. Maybe they wish for better but it meets their needs more than a general ed classroom. I have heard from APP parents that the work isn't really accelerated or enriched but that's a story for them to tell. But I believe the APP community HAS built a community and a strong one at that. The cloud over APP is how white and middle-class it is (which I have addressed in another thread). There are also the occasional (but steady) stories about the few minority kids in the program getting picked on or experiencing out and out racism (by other kids). To that I say, it could happen (and probably does) at any school.
It is surprising, however, that the largest part of the Advanced Learning program almost never gets discussed and wasn't part of the audit and that would be Spectrum. Spectrum used to be called Horizon and I think it was created more for enrichment than acceleration. The plus side was that parents did not have to send their children to just one school (a la APP) but possibly closer to their cluster. The downside? Spectrum gets no real attention from the district and every single Spectrum school runs "their" version differently. How is this good? Some schools have pull-out, some have mixed classes (teacher nominated kids in the class) and some are entirely self-contained. Then you have any number of schools who say they don't need Spectrum because they have such great rigor. And that may be true but I also know at least one elementary that has a parent-paid for private tutor for kids who excel in math because...their needs aren't being met in the classroom.
The reality is that there educators and laypeople who just do NOT like separate classrooms. Now some of this is that kids get "tracked" and once they are on a track never leave it. I would agree with that as there can be the occasional problem of a student who can't keep up and how to exit him or her from Spectrum or APP? I would also agree there are students who may start slow but come on like gangbusters and need more especially (especially!) in one area. This is one failing of the district - not providing extra help for students who shine in one area (no matter if they tested for Advanced Learning or not).
These educators and laypeople say they believe in "inclusion" and that kids all have things to learn from each other. Sure but that doesn't mean everyone's academic needs are going to be met in one classroom if the curriculum isn't differentiated and the teacher has training to do so (and time to do it).
So back to APP. Well, again, the ending of gifted programming at high school is not standard. Many districts have gifted programs in high school. Just having AP and Honors is NOT a gifted program. (Many people get upset that Garfield has the most AP courses but the district made the decision that if not a real program, then one high school has to accommodate those advanced learners. It should be a plus for Garfield but I don't know if there is enough space for anyone who wasn't in APP to get into them.)
The future? Well, more AP in all high schools with the possible eye towards ending the APP push into Garfield. I don't think it will work. Now we have a split of both the elementary and middle school programs. I believe the middle school one will work out well. Hamilton has a good principal, a new building coming and already has Spectrum so the teachers are on-board with teaching highly capable students. The elementary end is more problematic especially with Thurgood Marshall. The program has a strong leader in Bob Vaughn although it sure would be nice to have a champion further up the leadership chain either on the Board or in the top tier of administrative leadership. Further, what is vexing to me is that we spend most of our state grant on testing.
Now Bob Vaughn is going to be spending most of his time, for the rest of the year, on these splits. Not on new and interesting curriculum or teaching ideas. Not on how to get more minority kids in these programs (because there are bright kids in every single corner of this district who could benefit from this program). But no, his time is going to be on organizing and carrying out the split.