When APS Says “Reorganize,” Watch Out: The District and Gifted Education

Note: This Week in “Better Burque does Duke City Fix” we look at an old professional wound that continues to fester…

Before I started bothering people here at Duke City Fix and elsewhere in that greatest of roles for people who wish to be bothersome, the “semi-retired person,” I was a full-time professional bother as a K-12 educator.

My little bailiwick was “Gifted Education,” and as “Gifted” has been in the news lately regarding vaguely necessary budget cutbacks, I thought I would bother you this morning by explaining a few things about funding gifted education in New Mexico and what Albuquerque Public Schools, i.e., “The District” plans to do with Gifted to save a few bucks.

To get started, let’s annotate this less than explanatory webpage from The District:

Taking it phrase-by-phrase, here’s what The District really means:

  • “Reorganizing, not cutting“:  Despite the cunning use of italics, The District is cutting Gifted Science and Social Studies programs at the middle school level where they are offered. Not many APS middle schools offer such classes, and there have been periodic and long-term attempts to eliminate these few. This time around, the current budget gap (and if you’ve been around long enough, you know there’s always a “current budget gap”) is being used as an excuse to finally excise these offerings. One reason for cutting these classes is that numbers of gifted students and services have never been equitable across The District. My old school, Jefferson MS, has had over 25% of its entire student body identified as “Gifted” for years, while, e.g., Harrison MS down the street from my house in the Deep South Valley is probably somewhere around 5%. The reasons for this discrepancy are many, including the fact that Jefferson MS has had Gifted Science for years and years, and parents from all parts of town have both noted and taken advantage of this to send their identified “Gifted” daughters/sons to Jefferson. In fact, getting one’s kids into Jefferson from other parts of town has included steps such as renting unneeded apartments within Jefferson boundaries (it’s still cheaper than sending your kid to Albuquerque Academy) and forging address information altogether. This and other repercussions, including fairness and equity, have dogged The District with regards to this situation for years, especially as The District has been eternally chintzy with Gifted Education funding, as will be seen below.
  • “Students will still get gifted services for which they qualify”: This disingenuous and poorly structured turn of phrase centers on two bogus premises regarding PARCC and IQ testing. The newest loathsome standardized test crammed down our collective throats by PARCC board member Hanna Skandera, PARCC only has tests covering “English Language Arts” and “Mathematics.” There aren’t any Science or Social Studies sections; therefore, voila!, you can’t be “Gifted” in Science or Social Studies from a “performance” (how well you do) basis? Jazz hands! This argumentative slight-of-jazz-hands is slightly undercut by the fact there is still an old, oddball SBA test in 7th Grade Science, but nobody, and I MEAN NOBODY, gives a rat’s ass about that test. Why the 7th Grade SBA Science test is still given is a complete mystery, kinda like the human prehensile tail, if one doesn’t “believe” in evolution. Then there’s IQ testing, the basis for placing kids in Gifted in the first place. IQ tests, whether you like them or not, simply aren’t based on “content areas” like Math, Science, English and Social Studies. They’re not. Depending on which of the many testing instruments/protocols employed, you’ve got everything from one’s ability to determine three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional drawings to finding similarities between varied pictured objects. They ain’t no algebra and grammar on these there tests. Because of this, Gifted screening/testing also includes “performance” testing to determine if kids are as ahead in specific content areas as would be indicated by their IQ scores. It is from these tests that content areas “for which they qualify” are determined, but one needs to keep in mind that student performance in Math, English, etc. isn’t solely centered in “IQ,” but also a huge number of other factors including language acquisition and quality/depth of instruction. For instance, if a kid is only exposed to third grade math, should they be expected to be as “advanced” in that subject as a kid whose school has offered fourth, fifth and sixth grade math to third graders? So, “qualify” in The District explanation is doubly disingenuous, but, of course, most folks don’t know that.
  • “Moving resource teachers back into the classroom”: “Resource” here means teachers who don’t have full-time classes and tend to see few kids per day, as there aren’t that many identified “Gifted” kids at the school. Moving them into classrooms means they will be now have “Regular Education” classrooms, while supposedly doing “Gifted Stuff” with those identified kids as part of their “Regular” classes. Yes, I really wish terms like “Gifted” and “Regular” would go away.
  • “Having some teachers…”: Like the bullet above, this part of the plan is all about raising the number of kids seen by teachers of the Gifted working at schools with small numbers of identified students. One interesting aspect of this is that: A. The District is swamped with less than full-time Gifted positions; B. It has a hell of a time finding Gifted endorsed teachers to fill these, and full-time, positions. By intensifying the blocking of part-time Gifted jobs into full-time gigs, The District hopes to whittle down all these part-time gigs, but who wants to teach part-time at two schools miles from each other? Despite my personal belief that teaching students identified as “Gifted” is the single greatest teacher job in the history of education, finding and retaining teachers of the Gifted has been a chronic problem, one that will only be exacerbated by this “solution.”
  • “Tightening the screening process”: Yeah, I think you already know what this one means. We’re gonna make it harder to be identified as “Gifted.” Period.
  • “Developing a more consistent districtwide model for gifted education”: See? Now you know what this actually means, i.e., “We’re getting rid of Gifted Science and Social Studies at middle school, but we’re too underhanded and wimpy to admit it.”
  • “Establishing minimum class sizes for high schools.” It’s another long story, and I’ll largely spare you that one today, but a battle was waged some years back regarding high school AP and Honors classes. In short the war was over who would teach these classes, teachers of the Gifted or “Regular Education” teachers. The “Gifted” teachers lost in that such classes are now “Regular Education.” One result has been the dramatic tumble in identified “Gifted” high school students taking “Gifted” classes. It’s pretty much down to “Gifted Health” and a smattering of other elective offerings, many of which have few students, due in part to the constant pull for college-bound students to take as many AP/Honors classes as possible. Perhaps with some justification, The District wants to nix some of these classes, using “minimum class sizes” as pretense.

Having now annotated The District’s deliberately uninformative and misleading webpage explanation, I’ll close with a little addendum on what this all means regarding the “reorganization” and its intended positive impact on the APS budget.

Gifted Education funding in New Mexico is murky, complicated in part by the fact our state is about the only one that includes it within the Special Education umbrella. From one perspective, such inclusion simplifies things. New Mexico’s State Equalization Guarantee (how education funds are equitably distributed) sets up a base per unit (student) allocation, in 2016-2017 right at $3,979, then adds multipliers to address additional expenditures such as Special Education/Gifted services.

That multiplier for almost 100% of identified “Gifted” students is .7. Hence, a district gets $3,979 + ($3,979 x .7) = $6,764.30 for every Gifted student. Another way of saying it is that The District gets an additional $2,785.30 for every identified Gifted student.

What The District does with that extra $2,785/student is at the heart of the latest “reorganization plan” and other anti-Gifted Education efforts it has pursued over the years. For it is also true, and this is important, that The District gets $2,785/student whether a student has:

  1. Three daily Gifted classes;
  2. Two daily Gifted classes;
  3. One daily Gifted class; or,
  4. Even what is called a “Monitor kid,” whose only Gifted service is to have a “resource” teacher endorsed in Gifted who drops by a class and/or talks to the kid a specified “15 minutes per week.”

They’re all worth $2,785.

Naturally, this system incentivizes:

A. Identifying more Gifted kids;

B. Offering them as few Gifted classes as The District can get away with.

Well, of course, if wouldn’t lead to these incentives IF The District’s guiding principles were truly centered on what is best for the student. Okay, you can stop laughing now.

Instead, that $2,785 has always been placed in a budgetary tug-of-war between educational bureaucrats seeking to steal as much of it toward other District needs as possible, and outraged parents, students and supporters of Gifted Education. Like a periodic round of influenza, or population spikes leading to lemmings dying en masse over a cliff, “reorganization plans” from The District arise every two or three years, seeking to steal more of the $2,785.

These plans are then fought by Gifted supporters, ending in usually some distorted compromise which makes neither side truly happy and further perpetuates the inequity and uncertainty about it all. Your humble blogger has witnessed and participated in several such cycles in his 20+ years of professionally bothering people, and has the gray hair, mental wounds and perhaps unhealthful levels of cynicism to prove it.

What will happen this time? Will The District’s disingenuous and misleading “explanation” be worded so wooingly that, for instance, Gifted Science will be successfully excised at schools like my old haunt, Jefferson MS? Will supporters raise enough of a ruckus, again, to save Gifted Science at Jefferson?

I don’t know.

What I do know is this. Jefferson MS has approximately 250 gifted students, out of a student body of around 850. 250 x $2,785 is $696,250. Right now, that Gifted funding at Jefferson goes not only to its nine teachers of the Gifted, but to Special Education administration, and “Regular Education” classes such as Honors Algebra. Cutting its three Gifted Science positions will simply result in The District/school being able to spend more of that nearly $700k on other, non-Gifted Education, things.

Sorry to be a bother, but that’s the truth.

One thought on “When APS Says “Reorganize,” Watch Out: The District and Gifted Education

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