Too few gifted? Hell yeah.

Mike Matsuda was (overwhelmingly) reelected in to the North Orange County Community College District Board in November. He is a member of the California Curriculum Commission that recommends textbooks for K-8 students and curriculum frameworks for all K-12 students. Matsuda was also the Democratic candidate for the 68th Assembly District in 98. And because he’s pretty knowledgeable when it comes to the topic of education and racial disparities in our system, we asked him to give us his thoughts on the Orange County Register editorial “Too few gifted? Says who?”

What I find most pathetic about the OC Register’s Op-Ed attack on the ACLU for threatening a lawsuit over discriminatory GATE identification practices is that the editorial board uses the NBA as an analogy. The editors state “Does anyone believe the NBA racially discriminates against poor white men? Then why the rush to conclude Tustin racially discriminates against poor black and Hispanic kids?” This is absolutely absurd.

Unfortunately, of course, most Register readers would probably agree that the NBA doesn’t discriminate against whites and that the best players play, just as the smartest and most deserving kids are identified GATE. Oh and by the way, most of the GATE kids are disproportionately white. And they are there because of MERIT-or so the myth goes.

If this were only true. I happened to check Tustin Unified GATE Program’s identification process (which is similar to most) and lo and behold there are THREE ways to get in. First, your child can get in the old fashioned way, through scoring a minimum of 132 on an IQ test. Second, he or she can qualify through high achievement on standardized tests, and third, he can get in by “High Ability.”

And how does Tustin determine “High Ability”? A parent can make a REFERRAL for little Johnny or Betty, which is then screened by administrators and a school psychologist. Gee, what’s the principal to do when the president of the PTA who has just raised a gazillion dollars for new jungle gyms asks for a referral for his kid? It’s going to be hard to say no. But what about little Juan or Imelda? In a district like Tustin’s that is comprised of 23% Spanish speaking students, I seriously doubt their parents know about option 3. Let’s face it, most immigrant parents are all about paying the rent, much less positioning their children for Stanford.

The real truth that most white collar, college educated parents know is that GATE identification is paramount if little Johnny is to have half a chance in the college admissions carnival. We know how the game is played, the immigrant parents don’t. And that really is what the lawsuit is about. If Tustin offered an EL GATE program as some districts do, perhaps that would help in leveling the field. I wouldn’t want to completely take away parent referrals, but when the disparity is so great, there obviously is a problem that needs fixing.

And this brings us back to the Register’s analogy of comparing Tustin’s “merit based” program to the NBA. If this were a valid analogy, NBA players could get in through option 3. Their parents could simply make referrals and more white guys, and yes, maybe even some 5’8” Asians like me could get in. Now that would really make me gifted.

[The Orange County Register]


  1. Great work. The Register sure has a knack for getting things wrong with exactly the wrong metaphor.

    From a parents’ perspective, with two very different children who participated in Gate programs, I’ll add that there is just insufficient support given to GATE programs. Programs for gifted kids generally require very little additional funding, but do require some modest support for teachers so that they can give a little additional support to students who have widely varying needs.

    IQ tests alone won’t identify the gifted children, nor will parent referrals. And it would be good to have a system for teacher referrals from every class room, with a goal of having every teacher in every class refer several students a year to better programs for a wide range of intelligences.

    But, the fundamental problem with GATE programs comes with funding levels, and the fact that schools have been given decreasing resources to provide funding for gifted or average students.

    I’ve watched my local district follow the money, and unfortunately also follow the path of least resistance that supports the agenda of the teachers’ union, which is not necessarily in synch with educational goals, but more oriented towards salaries and working conditions.

    I’ll also add that the special ed specialiat / consultant / advocate industry continues to suck massive amounts of money from every district. Unless this issue is addressed sensibly on a national and state level, our local school districts will continue to see tremendous resources diverted from the many to small group of very demanding parents who know how to work the system.

  2. Please don’t go thre with teachers unions. These peoplecould make considerablely more money in the private sector but teach because its their calling. Volunteer to do a junior achievement class some day and see how tough to is to keep 30+ kids engaged and involved. These people are very underpaid for what they do and Steve Jobs needs to stick to iPods instead of criticism of teachers unions.

    On special education, its an underfunded federal mandate. The feds need to pony up their share of the money needed but have only been paying about 40 percent of their committment.

  3. Are there any figures on how many students are admitted via the methods described? The ACLU letter didn’t seem to be complaining about the referral method — the letter calls for MORE non test-driven admissions. It would be interesting to see how often that method is currently used.

  4. Tell it like it is Mike! The “holy’er than thou” crowd at the OC Register need to get out of their arm-chairs and actually VOLUNTEER in school site council meetings, and classrooms, instead of publishing baseless op/eds as an excuse to take cheap, pot-shots at the intellectual abilities of minorities. As a parent volunteer at our elementary school in Lake Forest, I can vouch for the fact that some, not all, GATE families, tend to be the “squeaky wheels”, who are also successful in steering large sums of school budget dollars, (and any few dollars left over), their child’s way. The money is mostly used for purchasing materials and activities for two or three GATE teachers, (who also can receive additional $$ from Federal, State, and private entities), when perhaps the other twenty or thirty teachers at the same school could use those budget dollars to go towards purchasing materials and training to enrich the intellectual potential of English Learners.

  5. I believe one of the main problems with gifted programs is that they’ve been bastardized into programs for high achievers who may or may not be gifted. Course work in gifted classes consists of “MOTS” (More Of The Same) — giving kids a lot more work rather than different work geared to their different abilities

    Very well said, and one of the things that happens when the GATE programs are given short shrift. In my local district, I got to experience the difference between a great program 20 years ago with a MOTS program ten years ago, and reports say that it’s gotten worse.

    Please don’t go there with teachers unions.

    Sorry, but my experience with teachers’ unions isn’t all sunny. I can simultaneously support the teachers and the unions while criticizing some of the damage that the unions do. In my local districts, the unions have bargained away reasonable maximum class sizes in exchange for higher salaries, then supported teachers who refuse to assign written assignments because there would be too many to grade. That’s only one of many areas where the union negotiators support mediocrity.

  6. G. Jones nailed it – the problem with GATE, at least in TUSD, is and was a lack of curriculum that suited our needs. This has been a problem since at least the late 1980s when I went through the GATE program from 2nd-5th grade in the TUSD schools. Too often our work was More Of The Same, though in 5th grade we did have a full-time teacher who really did challenge us.

    At the same time, it should obvious why the programs remain largely white – they’re based on other educational practices that are inherently racialized. GATE privileges those who did well on standardized tests or whose parents have the time and institutional knowledge to advocate for getting their kids in.

    I don’t know if GATE helps in the college admissions process, since when I went through it (again, this was 20 years ago) it ended when middle school began. But what it DID do was begin the process of tracking students into honors and AP courses, and once you’re tracked into something less, it’s nearly impossible to get into the highest track – the one that sets you up for a good college admission.

    In any case, we all know the OC Register has their head somewhere unpleasant on this; they’re a bunch of libertarian nutjobs who are only interested in education as a possible path to profit. I would hope that the ACLU suit threat would at least force some changes in the way people get admitted to GATE, so that there are better efforts made to identify potential children in groups other than whites and Asians.

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