In high school, there tend to be fine lines. Fine lines between a friend and a companion, for example, and fine lines between understanding something or not.
A certain issue has been at the surface of high school administration talk lately, and I know which side I stand on. The issue: The school board is debating whether or not the GATE program should be eliminated from secondary schools. This means, at Santa Barbara High School, that GATE classes would become unavailable to freshmen and sophomores, the only class levels where they are now offered. For juniors and seniors, AP (“accelerated placement”) classes fill the top-performing-students niche. The hope is that removing the GATE program will encourage integration in higher level classes.
I understand the issue well enough to hold a firm position, but unfortunately it’s harder for me to determine the solutions that eventually need to be in effect. So do I fully understand it or not?
Not including AP, there are four levels of classes in high school. From least to most advanced they are: combination classes for English learners, college prep, honors, and GATE. Students in GATE classes either passed the placement test in third or sixth grade, or they found a loophole through the system vis à vis recommendations, etc. One problem administrators have with this system is that students are being placed in GATE according to a test that they likely took place six years ago. Some in the GATE program may no longer be in the right place, and some who did not pass could now be qualified. Furthermore, in elementary school, many parents are not aware of the GATE program, so their children never take the test.
The proposal to eliminate GATE was presented to the Santa Barbara School District Board of Education February 2, its purpose being to increase ethnic and socioeconomic diversity in advanced classes. Maybe this doesn’t mean much to you. But you haven’t lived and breathed in a school for four years that is inexplicably uncomfortable. You spend every day in an environment that is seemingly segregated, yet most people try to ignore it, and no one knows how to change it. Your advanced classes are only 15% Latino.
So yes, I stand behind the removal of the GATE program in high schools. Without a doubt; you cannot even make me shift one foot. It is a first step at ending this strange division, though its effects will be far from dramatic.
If you are a GATE parent reading this, most likely you currently hold a look of horror on your face. If this is true, I beg you, before you lose your temper, please, please try to understand: Your concerns are trivial. Note that GATE is not weighted more than honors. GATE means nothing to colleges, so be assured its absence will not affect your child’s chance at getting into Princeton or Brown or UPenn. The removal of GATE will not detract from the rigor of classes. In fact, there are currently no GATE science programs at SBHS; I can attest that these honors classes were as challenging or more so for me than many GATE classes I have taken. This move will in no way weaken your child’s education.
GATE, and acronym for “Gifted and Talented Education,” is a name that automatically gives its members a feeling of superiority, leaving outsiders to wrongly feel that they are not “gifted” or “talented. Just as importantly, GATE’s presence gives our school four levels of classes instead of the more universal three—so a student in a college-prep class is burdened with the feeling that to move to AP, he or she must jump over two levels of classes. It sounds terrifying.
I previously mentioned that this is not a dramatic step. We will not be screaming hallelujah for a newly righteous education. The fact is that the issue of diverse socioeconomic representation in advanced classes needs to be approached at an earlier stage: elementary school. It is when the GATE program first starts, and when students need to build a foundation of confidence. It is when teachers need to begin pushing students to their full capacities.
What can we do? I previously mentioned that because I have no solutions to offer, I’m not sure that I fully understand the issue. So help me take it from here.