UW's Robinson Center for Young Scholars held an Equity Summit on Gifted Education on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 9/10th.
It was a full house of superintendents, school board members, educators, administrators and the rest of us. Members of Seattle Schools included Wyeth Jesse, Director Blanford (briefly with one interesting turn at the mic - more on that to come), Director Peters (both days), Director Harris (both days), and Director Geary. There were also teachers/staff from Seattle schools.
I found talking to the teachers over the two days very valuable because, as always, those on the ground tend to have the best insights. But there was some very clear division among them about HCC, mostly along equity lines but also over the issue of any kind of separation of students. (I was also told that emails were being subpeoenaed over the issue for some court case. I have no other information on this.)
The head of the Robinson Center for Young Scholars, Dr. Nancy Hertzog, stated that the focus would be on gifted education across the U.S. and the systemic advantages for white students. She said that there needed to be more "broad questions" about access and barriers for children who need advanced learning opportunities. She said that instruction matters as well as teacher beliefs and student attitudes and that change had to come from parents and school boards as well as schools.
She said that gifted education could include enrichment, acceleration or advanced curriculum.
And then, that was it on gifted education. Nearly everything that followed over the next two days was about equity in gifted education. Now given that was the actual title of the summit, that was not a surprise. However, there was virtually no information given about districts that were finding gifted learners across all races and classes, best practices in delivery, nothing.
The next speaker was the Vice Provost, Ed Taylor. He talked about the four prongs of inequity: standardized test scores, discipline, drop-outs and who has access to gifted programs. He stated that white students were twice as likely to be referred to gifted programs except for those with black teachers.
He found fault with the term "best and brightest" and I would agree that it's something of a broad statement. But then he said that, for him, "People figured out that I had talent and reinforced it and I got the right classes and support." I concur that for many kids it would help if adults encouraged them to believe in themselves AND their ability to stretch and strive.
But, is giftedness a talent? I'm not sure.
He ended with a great quote:
Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental....
The freedom to learn... has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever we may think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn, the right to have examined in our schools not only what we believe, but what we do not believe; not only what our leaders say, but what the leaders of other groups and nations, and the leaders of other centuries have said. We must insist upon this to give our children the fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can have a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be. --W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Freedom to Learn"
There was then another UW speaker, Mia Tuan,Dean of the UW College of Education. She didn't have all that much to say except for "Where are all the brown and black kids in Seattle's gifted education?" That is a good question but I'm surprised that she didn't ask that question of all the area's gifted programs. (There's a project - find out if other districts' gifted progress reflect the make-up of their district and if students of color are under-represented.)
After the talk, Director Blanford asked for the mic. He announced to the group how Seattle's gifted program was "political" and that was a problem. He didn't expand on that but asked Ed Taylor what his experience was with that. Provost Taylor seemed taken aback and just said he didn't really know.
What it felt like was that Director Blanford wanted to make a point in public. No one seemed to know what he was talking about.
Then we had one of the two best speakers of the summit, Dr. Gary Cohn, who is superintendent of Everett School District. He was Superintendent of the Year for Washington State this year and Everett SD has a 90% graduation rate that includes ELL students. I know; how did he do it?
Well, to go back several years, you can read about it here at my post at the time.
What Dr. Cohn had to say at the Summit was that "equity was a core value." He said it was about telling kids, "You can."
He said his district screens all their first graders for their gifted program. He said they had been trying new assessments and trying to remove barriers. He said there were advanced pathways available for all in middle school. He said middle school students could start taking high school English, math, science and world languages in middle school.
He said they also had a program that works to get kids to take AP courses. He said they give practice tests and have a summer boot camp. He said they had been busing families to high schools to talk to parents about college and career options, knowing that parents are a good way to push and reenforce the message the school is trying to deliver.
He took a couple of questions from the audience including Director Blanford who said that he had heard great things about Everett but said "my challenge is a political question - a zero sum" and "someone has to lose." Cohn said that their reality is that we might confront pushback and but that as long as they have multiple programs and expand them to include all students. He said it was important to be "careful with language."
I managed to get a few words alone with Dr. Cohn and asked him about what I had read about Everett several years back. He said yes, that was part one of three phrases and they are now in the third phase. Given what great work they seem to be doing, it might be worth a case study on their efforts.
I was just so impressed with him and I asked him if he might be lured away. He looked startled and then smiled and said, "Larry Nyland is a sweetheart." Cohn and I exchanged a long look at each other and then I said, "Yes, he is a good man." He said he really was happy where he was and then had to be on his way.
The next session was a panel discussion on Providing Equitable Access to Quality Early Learning Environments. There were three panelists: Kristie Kauerz, P-3 Institute Policy and Leadership, YW College of Education, Angelica Alvarez, School Board Director, Highline Schools, and Dan Finkel, Founder and Director of Operations of Math for Love.
- birth to three is the "sweet spot" with the most opportunity at the lowest cost
- the NAEP test results show achievement gaps that are especially profound in 4th grade
- the achievement gap may start at 9 months
- scholars are becoming more interested in income versus race as income is a better predictor of outcomes than race. But she said there was no one discounting the intersectionality of the two.
- she said Highline had hired an early learning director and P-3 director. She said most districts (and I think she means other states) are P-12 and "where is the funding?"
- there needs to be sustainability and follow-thru with PD for principals and teachers on brain development.
(Editor's note; I absolutely concur on more accessibility to good pre-K but until this state fully funds K-12 education, I'm not sure what districts can do beyond be supportive in policies. The space and the funding is not there and yes, this is one place the City should (and has) stepped into. But again, if our schools are full to the brim, the district cannot sacrifice the children they are charged to educate.)
-children need more play-based experience with math and be allowed to ask their own questions
- he said that SPS had used his company's Summer Staircase curriculum at 19 locations
- he said there was a difference between gifted and talent, prodigy versus genius but did not elaborate.
(Editor's note: I, along with some of the teachers at my table, were a little confused about Finkel's presence on the panel which seemed more in support of his company than valid information on gifted education and equity.)
There were then some breakout sessions and I attended the one by Tom Halverson of UW College of Education and some of their grad students. There were different tables and each table was assigned a perspective. Our table had Vertical Equity versus Horizontal Equity.
Vertical Equity was defined as unequal treatment of unequals.
Horizontal Equity was defined as resource allocation; maybe not equal but with a "differential resource allocation strategy."
Then we got to a very challenging issue of "how this plays out in the real (policy) world with what they called the "Margin of Perceived Competitive Advantage" (the haves). This link is the presentation we heard. (There is a paper out on this topic - "Exploring the Politics of Differential Resource Allocation: Implications for Policy Design and Leadership Practice," co-authored by Thomas Halverson and Marge Plecki. Unfortunately, this paper is behind a paywall so I was unable to read it.)
Those who have historically had an advantage (Haves) are willing to support those who have been disadvantaged (Have Nots), up to a point at which they feel like they are losing their "competitive advantage" within the system (Haves can no longer use their economic or social/political capital to gain an advantage for their children.)
Sadly, this was not a long discussion and I didn't get to ask one question I would have liked to asked: how do they know this in a measurable way? (The paper by Halverson and Plecki may explain this but it wasn't disclosed at the Summit.) I'm not sure that most Haves would admit they are losing their "competitive advantage" but maybe the work was done by asking increasingly provocative questions to elicit a reaction.
(The other discussion was lead by the SPS director of AL, Stephen Martin, on Hi-CapPLUS. From OSPI:
Pilot Project — HiCapPLUS — Will Address Gap in Professional Learning HiCapPLUS meets a critical need for professional learning, and technical assistance among teachers and administrators who serve gifted and talented children. The project is a grant award from the Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, U.S. Department of Education.
- launch a user-friendly, navigable online environment on the OSPI website and produce content for professional learning modules
- produce content for technical assistance units
- promote HiCapPLUS by sharing information and knowledge with districts, ESDs, schol and educational partnership statewide.
The next panel discussion was "Breaking the Language Barrier" with Manka Varghese, UW College of Education, ELL Certificate Program, E. Jean Gubbins, Professor and Associate Director of the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), University of Connecticut, Teddi Beam-Conroy, Director of Elementary Teacher Education Program, UW and Jamila Appleby, ELL Techer, Champaign Schools.
NCRGE did an ELL study and recommended the following:
- adopt universal screening procedures
- create alternative pathways to identification, testing in Spanish
- establish a "web of communication" because parents are not always as informed about programs in their school/district; what are the barriers for parents to access information
- eliminate nomination as a gatekeeping step
- use native language ability and achievement assessments
- provide periodic opportunities to assess EL acquistion
- create a pre-ID program for kindergarten
- create a talent pool or "watchlist" of students who exhibit high potential
- view screening, nomination and identification as a continual process
- view PD as a lever for change
- ESL leader should be part of the AL group
There was also reference to a Texas study of Mexican-American gifted students. They found that the students felt very supported in elementary school and their bilingual identities were "affirmed." But, when they got to secondary school, there was no more instruction in Spanish and teachers thought because they didn't speak English well, they were not gifted.
-again, eliminate nomination as gate-keeping
- use interviews, observational sketches and memory drawing to find students - the belief being that "observation is one of the best basis for identifying children."
I was not able to stay for the entire afternoon and missed a student roundtable as well as talks on state initiatives and on professional development.
Day Two of the Summit had a couple of new notables in the crowd - Director Scott Pinkham and former state superintendent candidate, Erin Jones.
Day Two is also where there was more from SPS and I got a bit steamed about it.
There was a panel with Matt Okun, Instructional Specialist from AL, Maria Breuder, McGilvra principal and Kristina Henry Collins, professor and researcher on STEM identity and talent development at Texas State University.
Okun has emerged from AL as something of the pitbull for that department. What I mean by "pitbull" is the aggressive push for HCC to change dramatically based only on racial disparities. He said that the goal was "to build a program that is culturally responsive and equitable."
I would posit that the district's goal here appears to be as much about equity as it is about social justice. This is my premise on what direction the district seems to be moving and I'm not sure the district can handle as much work that being a social justice district would take instead of just doing the work to be an equitable district. (But that's a discussion for another time.)
Okun claimed that AL is two-tiers which is news to me because the ALO tier is part of AL - vague and weak that it is. He also claimed that ALL students are being served at every school with ALOs. He must just be reading the CSIPs because that is not true.
He also said - referring to the district - that "our system is not set up to react quickly." Okay, then change it. Oh right, we're talking about Seattle Schools.
He also made confusing statements about how many HCC sites there are; it was confusing because he did not reference grade level.
He also said that AL had been going out and making site visits to schools. This is the first I've heard about this ever and I'll have to ask if those requests were made by principals or PTAs. He also said there was a lack of ability to get the message out to communities about AL.
That just baffled me because I'm not sure what is stopping the district from getting the word out about this program. I think it is far more than a lack of ability.
He did show a chart that I'll have to get about enrollment in AL by grade and race. It is down for blacks, up for whites, up for Hispanics and multi-racial is climbing.
He said that "We have to look at gifted education and ask, 'Where do we want to be?' " He said they currently have self-contained classrooms and schools. Again, currently there is just one self-contained school but he must have missed that. He then said the district has "tough decisions" to make.
She said they are using the Racial Equity Analysis Tool (yet another discussion we should have here as it was a focal element of the Board retreat last Saturday).
She said that there was "eligibility inflation" for HCC, noting that it's for those who place in the top 2% and yet 8.1% are eligible. She said it was possible to buy your way into HCC.
She said time, resources, mindset and skill sets were important elements for success and that teachers don't have all those.
I did agree with her statement that districts need to be more intentional in realizing that they are THE institution in "institutional racism."
She said the appeals process had to change. Maybe but I think the real work is to find out why parents of color don't appeal as often as white/Asian parents. I think it may be that for the parents who are low-income, they have not been told that the district will pay for the appeal.
When Principal Breuder said that many more white children were getting in on appeal and did NOT explain the policy that for F/RL students a private appeal testing was free, you could hear a ripple go thru the room.
I pause here to say that I went to Wyeth Jesse and told him that I felt both the SPS speakers had not presented the full story. I have no problem if they have a POV but fairness dictates that the whole story be told. He posited that perhaps Principal Breuder had gone from presenting information to advocacy. I agreed.
Dr. Collins remarks:
This woman was a wonderful speaker. She talked about "color-blindedness in gifted and enhanced education."
She said with the REAT, you have to look at who's at the table making decisions.
She said it is important to ask "why" several times, not just one time. She said if tests are biased, why are they still being used?
She had a great line somewhat about paternalism and students of color, "You're trying to 'save' me but you can't see me."
I was really pleased when she referenced a fairly old but very good report, "National Excellence; A Case for Developing America's Talent" from 1993.
She also referenced another good paper, "Profiles of the Gifted and Talented" by Betts and Howe.
She also mentioned some behavior issues, saying that so-called "anti-social behavior" could very well be signs of giftedness. But she also stated that it may be "students unwillingness to perform to educational culture." (This is another great, if delicate, topic for discussion that I will bring up in another thread.)
But she also stated this and I agree: "Students need to feel emotionally safe to risk thinking and talking beyond "getting the right answer." If I behave, you'll get a good grade anyway. And what does that tell a child?"
She also mentioned this organization, SENGifted, that looks promising.
Founded in 1981, following the suicide of a gifted student in Michigan, SENG has worked to offer support and guidance to the gifted community, through education, research, and connection. With the right intellectual and emotional support, gifted people can accept themselves and fulfill the potential of their incredible capabilities. And, perhaps more importantly, they can learn to work with their high sensitivities to feel balanced, happy, and at peace.I'm sure to some that sounds like the "snowflake" kind of thinking and yes, all kids need to be supported emotionally but the idea is to realize the differences in emotional needs.
She also spoke of "attitude barriers" like policies, privilege, talent value elitism and stereotype threats.
She mentioned the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking which I had never heard of before.
Building on J.P. Guilford's work and created by Ellis Paul Torrance, the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a test of creativity, originally involved simple tests of divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills, which were scored on four scales:The last session was with Tom Halverson of UW's College of Education, Rene Islas, Executive Director of the National Association for Gifted Children, Mary Fertakis, School Board director for Tukwila School District and Kurt Lauer, principal of Federal Way Academy.
With the five norm-referenced measures that he now had (fluency, originality, abstractness of titles, elaboration and resistance to premature closure), he added 13 criterion-referenced measures which include: emotional expressiveness, story-telling articulateness, movement or actions, expressiveness of titles, syntheses of incomplete figures, synthesis of lines, of circles, unusual visualization, extending or breaking boundaries, humor, richness of imagery, colourfulness of imagery, and fantasy.
- Fluency. The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated in response to the stimulus.
- Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
- Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.
- Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.
He opened by saying it was a hard nut to crack to realize that we don't have a fair legal system or health care system and yet people expect schools to get it right when they face the same kinds of issues those other entities do.
1. What's the problem here - broken or fixed?
2. What are our policy goals - be clear on what you want to accomplish (and here is where I think SPS should be concentrating their efforts on to get buy-in from teachers, principals and parents)
3. Who are your policy targets - who/what needs to change
He said children do better when they are challenged and made uncomfortable by the challenge. (This is an interesting statement given how there are some who say education should be "fun.")
He said ELL students were underrepresented in gifted education as much as minority groups.
He said new data should that children living in poverty or are an ethnic minority are less likely to be IDed for giftedness. He said that even students who are performing at the same level as other students and show aptitude are not being seen.
He said NAGC was trying to build on the new ESS Act which has a few positive things for gifted students. He said that leadership needs to step up to support those students.
He referenced something Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said that the frontier in education has moved from D.C. to state capitols, districts and schools. Meaning, that once again as it has mostly been, public education is a local issue.
He said there needs to be better qualified, trained and supported teachers for gifted students. He said there needs to be more accountability for those programs.
She was pretty direct in saying that we need to use political will to put children first and not adults. She said that white colleagues should "use our privilege for good."
She said the case should be made through data and not emotion or opinion.
She said that her district had involved students in the process and gave a draft of their racial equity policy to middle and high school students for feedback. One item they got back from those remarks? "if staff were not upholding the principles of the policy, could they be fired?" Out of the mouths of babes.
She said some boards create policies but don't truly implement them. She said they needed to be embedded in the culture.
She echoed a previous speaker saying "People give lip service to equity until those kids are competing with their kids."
She also said that districts should stop with the edu-speak because it marginalizes parents and makes translation information difficult.
She also spoke of an ELL test that is culturally neutral and focuses on creativity. I'll have to try to find out what that is.
She believes there should be no gate-keeping and every kindergartner should be assessed.
He said he had been a third grade teacher in SPS and Spectrum had been all white. He said that when he was at Graham Hill, they did put Spectrum kids in with Gen Ed but that changed when "they got sorted for the next level" which I assume meant middle school.
He believes classes should be set to the highest 10% using differentiation with more open-ended assignments and meeting each student at their level.
He said that study skills needed to be developed for higher level learning.
I did hear some useful information/perspectives at this summit but I wish there had been time for Q&As, check-ins from people about their challenges/failures/successes. What is out there that is working, whether regionally or in other states?