Leave these kids the hell alone


The best way of encouraging “gifted” kids to do well in life and school is to create an incredibly nurturing environment and then find great role models and personalities to help keep them inspired. This works well for kids of all kinds. Adults, too.

But no.

Sure, we grew up during the John Dewey-laden progressive era, but this is all just so terrifically awful.

Predictable, but awful:

In a renewed effort to better serve intellectually gifted students, Burbank school officials are working to create a new master plan to address the district’s approach in teaching students who are part of its Gifted and Talented Education program, commonly known as GATE.

A total of 236 elementary students and 509 middle school students were part of the GATE program during the 2015-16 school year.

Combined, those students represent 13% of the 5,598 students who were enrolled in fourth through eighth grades.

That’s an odd number discrepancy there now, isn’t it? Half as many k-5 kids are considered to be high achievers?

How so? They suddenly get bright when they enter the 6th grade? Or does GATE become a PR thing for the older kids?

After acknowledging a need to improve the program’s quality, several educators, administrators and parents started to meet on on a weekly basis last December to draft a new plan, which they modeled after one used by the Davis Joint Unified School District.

Burbank’s plan addresses the social and emotional development of students, who are defined as having “high potential in the areas of abstract thinking and reasoning ability as applied to school-learning situations,” according to a district report.

The plan aims to have teachers work with parents to address common characteristics of gifted students.

“Lots of gifted kids have anxiety, and it’s not something out of the norm,” said Jennifer Almer, a teacher specialist who worked on the plan, which was presented for the first time to school board members last week.

Anxiety? No wonder:

Although school board President Larry Applebaum said the plan, overall, was well-articulated, he took issue with its accountability aspects, and wondered whether students’ exam scores were enough to determine whether they are being pushed to their academic limits.

Is that the goal? Turning gifted kids into performing automatons? Gifted in what?

Almer pointed to the plan’s use of benchmark exams, state exams and classroom observations as ways to measure students’ growth, while Burbank Supt. Matt Hill said educators would also examine students’ attendance rates and behavioral issues.

Teachers’ design of assessments and lessons would also be used to determine whether or not a student has mastered skills, Almer added.

“It really is going to be up to teachers and benchmark assessments to see where they begin and where they end,” she said.

Tests tests tests! Accountability! Which is often the very opposite of what intelligent people want or need to be measured on.

Even so, board members wanted the team to detail additional ways to use data to measure student outcomes.

“What data demonstrates that we’re supporting them effectively?” board member Steve Ferguson asked.

He also requested the team outline the plan’s qualitative and quantitative measurements.

Applebaum agreed with Ferguson and wondered whether a student scoring well on exams is enough for an educator to measure that student’s ability.

“How do I know that the kid who is doing exceptionally well is being challenged to the limits of their ability to be successful?” Applebaum asked.

He’s really big on extreme performance, isn’t he? What a dangerous knucklehead.

To answer that question, school officials recently administered a survey about the GATE program to students, their parents and teachers, said Tom Kissinger, assistant superintendent of instructional services.

“One of the things you can do to ask if a student is being challenged is to ask him. Ask her. We’ve done that in the survey,” he said, adding that the survey had not yet closed.

Like these days this pack of youthful self-promoters and grade-grubbers are going to tell you anything they know or might think you don’t want to hear? And why does lots of work and effort mean the most?

Most smart kids know how to challenge themselves, and should be — unless you think you need to spoon feed them all the time. Which is what this really sounds like.

School board member Roberta Reynolds suggested using the recent survey responses with students’ past answers to draw comparisons and trends.

The team crafting the plan is expected to return to the board during an upcoming meeting to further discuss quantifiable ways they can measure students’ outcomes.


Those poor kids. They’re being ruined in the cradle and most of them now don’t even know it.

We would have– and did. Our problem back then was the families not expecting anything of us, or even deliberately blocking the way. Especially in Burbank. Not the schools. They were being cool and supportive. We had wonderful, wonderful teachers and administrators and lots of great and inspirational characters who were just that way on their own. (Miss Smiley, anyone? How about Miss Johnson?)

But that’s for a different post. As you can guess, we think it all begins and ends in the family. And yes, we don’t like most of them.







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10 responses to “Leave these kids the hell alone

  1. Anonymous

    Amen! As a retired teacher of almost 40 years experience I agree with this 100 %.

    • semichorus

      I know so many older teachers who have literally fled the profession the last few years just because they just couldn’t deal with all of the negative change. It wasn’t the kids, it was the pedagogy.

      The Dewey reformers back in the 1920s and 30s had a name for what they were up against: they called it “the Technocrats” or the “Technocratic Impulse” or some other such similar language. The machines might have changed, but the mentality is the same.

  2. Anonymous

    BUSD’s natural inclination is to institute a caste system. This is disgusting.

  3. Irwin Fletcher

    I’m a parent of a GATE kid and I can tell you that this district (not the teachers) turned their backs on “gifted” kids a long time ago, despite there being successful programs throughout California. BUSD’s focus is on bringing up the low test scores- mainly because that’s what the state requires. The age-old attitude that “gifted kids will do well on the test, so we don’t need to worry about them” is alive and well. Kids with special needs get attention because their parents got fed up and put a lot of pressure (some legal) on districts to fund resources for disabled students.

    I applaud their efforts, but now parents of GATE kids are finally waking up to the reality that BUSD doesn’t have any reason to advocate for the top performers- after all, when Bush II was president, intellectuals were demonized. Many parents ship their kids to other schools, or invest in lots of extracurricular stuff outside of Burbank. So now the parents are gaining traction and have a seat at the table- but it will take a decade or more to build in the funding (and reduce class sizes) to truly establish meaningful change.

    By the way, Larry Applebaum despises the whole intent of the GATE program- he doesn’t believe in it and insists on testing to measure its success as a way to cast doubt on the whole thing. Anyone who has researched gifted programs and children will tell you that some of the successes aren’t measurable in the same way as a Math or English test, but that’s not a reason to abandon the program. Oftentimes it’s about giving students the room to explore and pursue their talents, and even more importantly, to train teachers and parents how to handle the social and emotional needs of those students before they get bored, frustrated, and start developing behavior problems and lower grades.

    Instead of celebrating our top minds, the district focuses on bringing the bottom up to the middle, oh- and athletics and singing- the other two pillars of Burbank.

    • semichorus

      Are the GATE kids actually personally floundering in school? I was one of those pre-GATE kids too, and all we wanted was to be left alone with each other and not be pushed into performing. Just have good influences and materials around, and cool teachers who understood us and got the joke.

      Which we had in Burbank circa the mid-60s to late 70s. We weren’t into being spoon fed intelligence. Just cool, smart teachers and cool, smart subject matter. No programs.

      That’s all it takes — anything more artificial than this is inherently stifling I think. It takes away the spirit of self-discovery to always be led by the hand into somebody else’s idea of education. And then be measured on it!

      • Anonymous

        They were MGM kids when I went to Glendale schools. Those kids never amounted to much being called Gifted. Classifying students into groups never has worked.

      • CornFused

        Some are floundering during and after the program.

        My Kid had interest in the program when he was in 4th grade. His best friend at time was in it. My kid never tested high enough even though nothing lower than A’s on his reports. His friend never had great grades after the first year he was accepted, but they couldn’t take him out. Now their both in High School and the Gate kid ( who is a great kid mind you) barley get’s Cs in high school.

        Just a flawed system that shouldn’t even be in place. I never pushed my kid to try…he was asking us if he could try on his own.

  4. Irwin Fletcher

    Don’t confuse high GPA with giftedness- they aren’t linked directly. Some people work really hard to get an A, while others come to it naturally and effortlessly in certain subjects. When a kinder or 1st grader can read books years above grade level, they are bored to death when surrounded by kids learning their ABCs. Make no mistake about that. BUSD GATE programs start in 4th grade, but they are fairly hollow until middle school. The system maybe flawed, but it shouldn’t be abandoned. People feel stigmatized when their kid isn’t “identified” as gifted, but it doesn’t make your kid less important. When you hang out with kids and talk to them, you clearly see which ones are the leader Type-A personalities and which ones are followers- it’s just the way humans develop. Both types of kids deserve an education that stimulates their particular learning styles and passions- but a one size curriculum doesn’t fit everyone.

    • CornFused

      I mentioned the grading since it’s how they choose the participants. The kid I mentioned is really nice, but he doesn’t have many of the positive attributes you’re leading to. He scored well the first year to get in and hasn’t done anything with his time since. Pretty much just video games.

      If they’re going to offer something like this it needs a good fixing. And part of the problem is you shouldn’t be in it year after year because of one test year. As you know, 4th grade kids are worlds different than 7th grade kids. That’s a pretty big developmental range.

      • Irwin Fletcher

        If you pass the test, regardless of your willingness to participate, you are still classified as “gifted”, even in high school where there is no GATE program. Some parents opt their kids out of the test, or out of GATE later on after passing the test. Likewise, if you don’t pass the test, you are welcome to re-test the following year. By the way, BUSD is using a different test next spring, not the OLSAT.

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