KTTH OPINION

Rantz: School district takes next step in ditching Seattle gifted program

Apr 2, 2024, 7:20 AM | Updated: Apr 3, 2024, 3:56 am

Photo: Garfield High School is currently a highly capable cohort school which is part of the Seattl...

Garfield High School is currently a highly capable cohort school which is part of the Seattle gifted program. (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Privileged progressives, donning their white knight armor, are in the next phase of a plan to end Seattle Public Schools’ gifted students program — known locally as its Highly Capable Cohort (HCC). They complained the HCC was too white.

HCC separates academically gifted students from others via different classrooms or entirely different schools. But in 2020, white Seattle school board directors voted to terminate the HCC over the objections of parents. HCC will be completely phased out by the 2027-28 school year. 

Outraged more by the success of white and Asian students than by the untapped potential of black and Hispanic pupils, progressives would rather drag achievers down than elevate everyone. These self-proclaimed saviors boast on social media about tackling inequities, oblivious to the harm they inflict. Indeed, the program to replace the HCC, and be implemented in every classroom, ensures that gifted students will be unchallenged, struggling students will escape the attention they deserve and teachers will be overwhelmed. In other words, everyone will be equitably harmed.

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Why did Seattle Public Schools gifted program end?

Critics argued the students in HCC did not reflect the diversity of the community. The move was prompted by Black Lives Matter activism.

In 2018, three years after Seattle Public Schools (SPS) hired an “equity specialist” to address so-called racial inequities, the students HCC served 13% multiracial, 11.8% Asian, 3.7% Hispanic and 1.6% black. (By 2023, it was 20% multiracial, 16% Asian, 8.2% Hispanic and 3.4% black.) Critics argue that because the HCC didn’t match the district’s diversity, the program was irredeemably racist and needed to be dismantled.

But parents, including those who are black, Asian and Hispanic, argued against closing them down. They argued that SPS should work harder to identify minority students who are eligible for HCC, rather then kill the program entirely.

One father pleaded that the Seattle School Board “consider the disservice you would be doing to the minorities that are already in the HCC program.” He argued that the gifted program “does more for Black children, particularly Black boys, than it does for their peers.”

But the extremist Seattle School Board was unmoved.

Then-director Chandra Hampson accused black parents supporting the HCC as being “tokenized” by white Seattle parents. 

What is replacing the gifted highly capable cohort program?

The “whole-classroom model” is replacing HCC and be implemented in each classroom starting in the 2024-25 school year. It’s unworkable.

Under the model, classrooms will include students of all different learning abilities. A teacher is supposed to address each group of students, in classrooms with 20-30 students, with no additional resources and limited new training. How does a teacher create individualized programs for so many students with disparate needs? It’s not likely that a teacher can help a student who can barely read while simultaneously challenging a classmate who is reading two advanced books a week. 

A recent Seattle Times feature offered a look at a typical day in one of these programs, using View Ridge Elementary as an example. It was hardly impressive.

“On a recent day in a first grade classroom, seven advanced learners sat on the floor reading silently on their iPads. Several others wrote independently at their desks. A special education student wrote with a paraprofessional aide at their side. The rest of the class sat in a front corner of the classroom while the teacher read a book out loud.”

Advanced learners are relegated to impersonal iPads, as if COVID-19 digital learning didn’t prove to be an utter failure. Meanwhile, other students are writing, alone at their desks, somehow avoiding the distraction of the teacher loudly reading a book out loud?

Progressives take lazy way out with contrived Seattle Public Schools gifted program controversy

This is yet another lazy move by privileged progressives playing literal white knights. They avoid the heavy lifting needed to uncover real diversity barriers, preferring to cry systemic racism while ignoring its impact on the very students they claim to champion.

They find it too hard to do the necessary work to identify any legitimate impediments to a lack of diversity. And they don’t want to find out or admit that, perhaps, the system works relatively well and it just so happens that the current population of students is accurately reflected in the demographics of HCC.

When it comes to student performance, progressives keep trying to have it both ways.

They complain that systemic racism is failing “students of color” by giving them substandard education as compared to white students (they never want to mention that Asians routinely outperform whites because it doesn’t adhere to their ideological dogma). Couldn’t this explain the lack of diversity in HCC? It could be a reflection of “students of color” who are not qualified because they’re not being given the best education.

But progressives say no; that because there are, for example, 15% black students in SPS, there should be 15% black students in HCC. Though, to be clear, they would not complain if black or Hispanic students were overrepresented the way they do when whites or Asians are. 

Why address the root causes when they could complain about systemic racism without actually doing anything about it that helps black and Hispanic kids?

This move just hurts students of all academic skill levels

The move to end the Seattle gifted program was not merely another boneheaded decision. It was one that does measurable damage. It’s also another decision added to the long list of reasons why so many parents have pulled their kids from SPS.

Parents with financial means will rightly pull their kids from SPS and enroll them in private education so they’ll get the academic challenges to meet their needs. It will be an environment where their gifted child isn’t purposefully held back.

When the students leave, they take funding with them. It’s precisely why SPS faces a $105 million budget deficit. And doesn’t it create more inequity when parents of means can pull their kids for a better education?

In 2020, school board directors and their cronies ditched common sense for woke points, choosing ideology-driven policies over genuine student success. They strutted down the virtue-signaling runway, ditching effective educational strategies for feel-good nonsense. When their grand plan tanks, they’ll just pin it on another -ism, tossing kids’ education out with the bathwater for the next big edu-fad. Trust them to again swap a working classroom model for the latest, shiniest failure in progressive education theater.

Listen to The Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

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