School board cries 'uncle'

When a recent attempt to make a technical correction in the Chapel Hill Carrboro School System's gifted program resulted in an hour of angry testimony from gifted parents, the school board simply gave up.

Board member Ed Sechrest said he would vote "against his conscience" to forestall the legions of e-mails he receives if he votes against what the parents of gifted students want.

"I don't want to read 20,000 e-mails from parents, saying you cheated us, you lied to us," he said. "So I am voting against my conscience."
- Chapel Hill Herald, 9/7/05

Congratulations to these parents who have proven that they are better organized and have more time and energy to spend on this issue than anyone else in town.


Having read the story, what this tells me is something different. It tells me that the school board meetings are run inefficiently at the risk of alienating anyone. It also tells me that Ed Sechrest should not be on the school board, or any elected office, if he is unwilling to stand up for what he believes in, merely because it will be an inconvenience. If his personal opinion is swayed by the arguments he hears, that is different.

Having sat through a fair number of meetings in my life, it is the leader's responsibility to reign in the "talkers". They will NEVER have their fill of talking. I would guess leader here means Superintendent Neil Pedersen.

After years of being unhappy with the CHCCS school board, I actually felt empathy for them after reading this article. If you look back through the Schools discussions here on OP Robert, I think you will see that the ferocity with which local parents attack this issue of gifted education is simply overwhelming all the other work of the school board. Everything cycles back to gifted education in the eyes of parents, and many of those who are most vocal don't understand the difference between giftedness and having a home life rich in opportunity.

In a school district where regular classroom instruction is of a pretty high quality, one has to wonder why so much attention is paid to "gifted" students and perhaps not enough paid to students who are failing to make the grade (literally).

Yes, its because these parents are well-organized, but their seeming focus on only their kids and (again, seeming) lack of concern about the district's very real problems with low performers is a bit much. After all, these parents most likely have plenty of resources to help their kids (tutoring, lessons, etc.) beyond what the district offers.

Unfortunately, the reality under the heinous NCLB is that some schools (East, in particular) face sanctions if the low performers are not brought up to par. And that has to hurt the "gifted" kids as much as the regular learners.

It seems to me that "gifted" kids get plenty of resources and opportunities in the district. As a community, we should be doing more to help the kids who struggle with the demanding standards of the Chapel Hill schools. Those kids lack the family resources to help themselves -- or to make a lot of noise at school board meetings.

What was the "small change the board was making to the score students needed to be guaranteed admission to that highly-gifted program"?

I do feel sorry for the small number of families who participate in this program who actually need it. How horrible it must be to be associated with some of these narrow parents!

" It also tells me that Ed Sechrest should not be on the school board, or any elected office, if he is unwilling to stand up for what he believes in, merely because it will be an inconvenience."

Completely unfair assessment of Ed Sechrest. Ed absolutely DOES belong on the school board. He has been a leader in promoting differentiated insruction, and, like myself, is weary of LEAP parents. This is rather like connector roads and neighborhood protection. At some point elected officials have to back off, realizing that no town business will ever get done if all time is spent fighting neighborhoods who want isolation.

After all, these parents most likely have plenty of resources to help their kids (tutoring, lessons, etc.)

I think it is unfair to assume that the line between "gifted" and "struggling" automatically divides itself along economic strata.

Also, Anyone who actually saw Ed Sechrest say what he said knows that his words sound much harsher than the expression that underlied them (as Mary said, "weary")

My wife grew up in Chapel Hill and attended Estes Hills: this argument has been going on for thirty years now. It's no wonder everyone is exhausted.

Someone should tell Ed that there are e-mail filters out there..and at least one of his fellow board memebers uses them. If I could remember who it was--I'd say--but I can't. All I know is that when I e-mailed one of the members, from the e-mail address given on the school website, the e-mail got bounced back because I wasn't on the "approved" list. Ticked me off at the time--but maybe not such a bad idea... And just to be clear--I was e-mailing about HS reform, not "giftedness."

John--it may be unfair to assume that the divide between gifted and struggling falls on socio-economic/parental education lines, but if you look at the NUMBERS it pretty much does. So, should we ignore reality for the sake of fairness?

Why does it breakdown along those lines? I don't think we have a definitive answer to that--but I CAN tell you that (anecdotally) the higher socio-economic kids with LD's almost all end up with supplemental tutoring/services paid for by their parents.

If I had relied on the SCHOOLS to help my (LEAP level) kid deal with his SI/dyspraxia/adhd issues I don't think he'd be majoring in physics at private university. Nor do I think he'd have a merit scholarship. I'm just grateful his second grade teacher pulled me aside in November and told me to have him screened and tested PRIVATELY, rather than thorugh the schools. She told us that, withthe way the review process worked at the time, it would be the middle of third or beginning of fourth grade until we got him identified...and then it would be several months until we got services. She also told me NOT to mention that she had "shared" because it was against protocol and she could get into trouble.

Now, perhaps things have improved...but that was how it worked "back in the day." It is my FIRM belief that, because he was identified early in his school career, and then paid for PRIVATE SERVICES, he didn't end up in the spiral of failure that so many adhd/ld kids get trapped in.


Ruby, just a couple of factual corrections from somebody who was actually at the meeting.

What the district proposed was not a "technical" correction. (Unless "technical" corrections include corrections that negatively impact the admissions status of 3/4 of the kids in the program. If that's what counts as a "technical" change, then yes, it was "technical." I just hope the town doesn't make any such "technical" changes in, say, the staffing of the police department or the budget of the library!)

The public comments of parents concerning the LEAP program did not last an hour.

The public comments of parents concerning the LEAP program were not "angry." They were quiet and civil, and included repeated expressions of gratitude and appreciation for the Board's time and for the recent decision to revive LEAP in the middle schools.

(The only "angry" comments at the meeting were those of Board member Liz Carter, who glowered at and scolded the parents who had spoken about LEAP for between 5 and 10 minutes.

(I wouldn't put Ed Sechrest's comment in the "angry" category; I'd call them "impatient" or perhaps "exasperated." Which I can understand.)

The "school board" did not "simply give up." It deliberated publicly on the administration's proposed change in the LEAP admissions standards and then voted. The vote was divided, but not along lines that reflected that anyone (other than perhaps Ed Sechrest) had "given up."

All of this can be easily verified by looking at the videotape of the meeting. Perhaps it is still in reruns on the local access channel.

If the school board meetings are being hijacked by a small group of concerned parents to deal with one issue, and that issue is whether their A+++ students have ENOUGH services, then that is the school boards fault. Have the guts to end the discussion and alienate those few vocal parents for the sake of the 95% (guess) of students who don't qualify.

If Ed's opinion has changed based on sound logic and reasoning, then more power to him, I respect a person who makes those kinds of decisions. However, if he made his decision to avoid having to deal with a few vocal parents, then he has let down those who voted for him. Further, whoever is running the school board, and allowing this topic to take up so much time, is letting down those who voted for them.

Thank-you for the eye-witness account.
Are you saying that the change would have disallowed 3/4 ths of LEAP students from the program?
Does this mean that in reality only 1/4 th of LEAP students are truly 'highly gifted' and the other 3/4 ths are merely regularly 'gifted' (but very hard workers)?
If so, don't you think it's time that the school district, PAGE, and the newspapers accurately report who this program really serves? The newspapers are forever saying things like LEAP is for geniuses and LEAP is for kids who are smarter than their teachers. This seems like more inaccurate reporting on the part of the press.

The way Board meetings work is that there is a period of time set aside for public comments to the Board at the beginning of the meeting. People interested in speaking must sign up. Each speaker is given three minutes, and the Board is rigorous about enforcing the time limits. At this past meeting, people got up and spoke about a number of different issues. Four or five people complained about limitations on where hight school students are allowed to do volunteer work for credit. One person complained about the absence of African-Americans in top administration leadership positions. And a number of parents -- perhaps 8? 10? -- addressed the proposed change in admission criteria for LEAP.

A far greater amount of time was spent on the issue by the board members themselves, trying to understand the mistake that the administration reported it had made in establishing the admission criteria, and trying to understand the extent to which a particular test (the Naglieri Non-Verbal Aptitude Test) could be put to the particular screening use that the district proposes with statistical reliability.

So where is this "hijacking" people are talking about? I was there, and what I saw was members of the board trying to understand a significant proposed change in the admissions criteria for a program.

If that is true, then there was no hijacking. However, the article does say that the board members wondered aloud why they spent more time on that issue than any other.

No, Mary, it's actually a good deal more interesting even than that.

What the proposed change would do is drastically reduce the number of kids who get into the program automatically (simply on the basis of test scores) and drastically increase the number of kids who get into the program only on the basis of an undefined and standardless "discretionary" review by the district.

The administration would have implemented this change (which they call a "technical correction") without having the chance to study how the program was working under the existing admission standards. This is because the admission standards they used for the current academic year--and the ones they are already seeking to change--are themselves brand new.

Now here's the interesting part. What do you think the effect of converting most LEAP admissions from a non-discretionary to a discretionary system will be? As is true with all discretionary systems, the effect will be further to privilege those who have the resources to exert influence on the system. It will, in other words, benefit the parents who can pay for private testing to supplement their child's file, who can set up daytime meetings with teachers and administrators to argue for their child's admission, and so on and so on. It will further privilege the already privileged, in other words. The folks who can't afford the supplemental testing, who can't devote the time to the meetings and phone calls, who maybe don't speak English as a first language--they are the ones who will be disadvangated. A bad outcome, in my view, and one that I can't understand why the district would wish to pursue.

This was one of my three arguments to the board.

The other two were: (a) don't change an admission system before you've had a chance to get some data on how it is operating, and (b) don't change an admission system before talking to the LEAP teachers to find out from them whether they feel that kids are making it into the program who don't belong there.

Now the final point: why do some school board members feel they are spending more time on LEAP issues than on any other?

At one level, it's because they are. Or at least I imagine they are; I really don't know how much time the board has spent on issues other than LEAP over the past year or so.

But why are they spending so much time on LEAP? Is it because of us hijacking, insulting, angry parents who (according to Ed Sechrest) accuse the board of "lying" and "cheating" in our "20,000 emails"?

No, it's not. The main reasons that a lot of time has been spent on LEAP in the last year or so are

(a) because of a natural cycle: the district had to file a new Plan for Gifted Education with the state this past year. That happens on a cycle--like, for example, redistricting--and it stands to reason that (just as with redistricting) there'd be lots more time and attention to that issue at the peak of its cycle than at its trough.

(b) because enormously significant changes to the program have been made. Among many other significant things, the district decided to restore the middle school program, which it had abolished 6 or so years ago. There was, incidentally, unanimity on the board for restoring the middle school program, and a 6-to-1 vote for making the change this fall rather than next. When you make big changes like this, you can expect that it's going to take a while, and a fair amount of talking.

(c) because, as Neil Pedersen has frankly admitted, the concept of the LEAP program runs counter to an important component of the district's general philosophy. A good deal of talking and reflection has been necessary for the board to come around to seeing the LEAP program as a valuable resource for a community whose children's needs were not being met. And come around they did: as I said, the vote for restoring LEAP in the middle school was unanimous.

(d) because several of the community's elected representatives on the board have thought it advisable to spend time on LEAP.

Yes, to be sure, a number of us parents have attended the board meetings and paid careful attention to the discussion. Some of us have spoken our 3 minutes' worth at several board meetings over the last 18 months or so. Some parents have written letters and emails to board members. (This is not a means of communication that I personally have used a great deal.)

But to blame parents for closely monitoring the board's work, and trying to influence it through legitimate means, is to miss most of the reasons why LEAP has been a controversial and time-consuming recent agenda item.

Thanks for the clarification.
How would increased discretionary entrance into LEAP threaten nondiscretionary entrance? Is there a cap on numbers? (The program became larger this year.)

Also, I agree the scenario you describe in which privileged parents use their resources and clout to gain entrance into the program should be avoided; however, was the intent of the change to help less privileged students gain entrance?

I completely understand why you would object to someone 'voting against their conscience'. I personally would not vote against my conscience.
I suspect many things were running through Ed's mind during this LEAP discussion. It would be good for you to talk to Ed before you write him off.
The LEAP issue is emotionally loaded and complex. I've followed it for years. Powerful parents are behind it. One would have to commit oneself to lifetime community contrarian status in order to block the demands of LEAP and PAGE parents. I can't fault Ed for saying 'Uncle'.


Here's how it has worked: the district decided this past year to screen all 3rd graders for LEAP via the Naglieri Non-Verbal Aptitude Test, rather than relying on "referrals" by parents and teachers as in the past. The idea was that a subjective "referral" system for LEAP testing was potentially unfair, possibly causing some highly gifted kids not to be identified for services. It was thought that a non-verbal aptitude test would more fairly and equitably perform this function than a verbal test. The LEAP task force, which included a number of LEAP parents, were solidly behind this change. (So was--and am--I.)

Now the district wants to use the results of the NNAT in such a way that (to take the current year as an example) only those scoring at the 99.85th percentile (as opposed to the current 99th percentile) would qualify for LEAP automatically (so long as their other achievement test scores--math and verbal--meet LEAP standards). Note, by the way, that the district wants a .15 percentile difference to carry this weight, on a half-hour test with about thirty questions.

The district has never said that its purpose in switching to a smaller rather than larger "automatic admit" group, and a larger rather than smaller "discretionary admit" group, is to do one thing or another for admission of less privileged kids.

My point is that the inevitable result of a significantly more discretionary system must be to enhance the ability of better-off families to secure a favorable exercise of discretion.

My guess--and it is only a guess--is that among other things, the district wishes to exert more control over the size of the program's enrollment, and that in order to do that, the number of "automatic admits" simply has to be decreased.

Mary R. said:

"This seems like more inaccurate reporting on the part of the press."

Yep. Eric Muller has performed quite a service filling us in over the past couple of years.

I pretty much agree with Eric's rundown of the meeting. However, I think he understated the impact of the change to the criteria. Rather than having the potential to cut guaranteed admissions by 3/4ths, the proposed standards could have cut them by as much as 7/8ths (assuming a normal distribution of NNAT scores).

One thing that I would add is that, during the course of the meeting, we learned a great deal about the NNAT. The new criteria proposed by the district would require a child to fall into the 99.87th percentile (that's one in 770 children) for guaranteed placement. But, it turns out that the NNAT has neither the precision nor the reliability to accurately find such extraordinarily rare children. In other words, the new admissions criteria would have required neurosurgery, yet we would have performed the procedure with a chainsaw. It was only after some very persistent questionning (mainly from Mike Kelley and, to some extent, Nick Didow) that the district's representatives acknowledged the shortcomings of the NNAT.

The criteria absolutely need to be revisited at some point in the future. But, it was premature to create yet another set of criteria just four months after the new program was approved and before the first child even stepped into a classroom. Additionally, had the district been able to get the "small" changes it wanted, it is doubtful that it could have provided a fair admissions process with its current testing program.

The Board did the right thing and most members, I believe, did it for the right reasons. Hopefully, we can leave LEAP alone to be revisited in the not so immediate future and focus on the community's Hurricane Katrina of SAT data.

I am interested in anyone's ideas for stuff to read on this more pressing (and depressing) topic.

Well, when 20 % of the kids pass the first LEAP--meaning that 1/5th of the district is "EVER-so-gifted" then maybe they NEED to change the criteria?

Meanwhile, the new HS is HOW many years away? Not that it makes any difference in MY family's life--MY kid will have gone through 4 years in an overcrowded school. Thank goodnes "we" graduate this year.

melanie/feeling a tad...trollish this evening

Has the district actually said that they have a purpose of switching to a smaller rather than larger 'automatic admit' group, and a larger 'discretionary admit' group?

It would be good to know if the district wants to limit the size of the program's enrollment. Did someone ask this question at the meeting?

I personally think the NNAT is a waste of money. Has anyone asked the question: Were any minority students identified for the LEAP program on the basis of the NNAT who would not have been identified by teachers sans NNAT? I suspect not.

Nobody from the district has said that the district's purpose is to change the relative sizes of the "automatic admit" and the "discretionary admit" groups.
That is the overwhelming effect of the proposed change, however.
Nobody asked whether limiting the size of the program's enrollment is the district's purpose.
Mike Kelley at one point alluded to a concern that the administration had "unstated purposes" (or something like that) for the proposal. But that was the closest anybody came to actually naming the elephant in the room.

What you and Frank have written on this thread makes me ever more confused about LEAP.
It would be good to know what the reasoning behind the "small change' is.
Is it to ensure that entrance into LEAP is mostly reserved for the 'highly' gifted student? It's a question worth asking. (By definition, a highly gifted student is a 1:1000 occurrence-- a profoundly gifted student is 1:3,000,000)
I could be completely off target here, but, as described by you, it seems to me that the intent of the change may be to limit the nondiscretionary admit group to the mathematically rigorous definition of 'high' giftedness (and beyond), and to open the discretionary admit group to the more humane definitions of giftedness, thus allowing greater numbers of traditionally under-represented groups into the program through discretion.
If this is what is going on, it's a setup for many more years of vociferous complaining by PAGE parents: 'My child is smarter than that child, and she didn't get in. It's not fair!"
It's hard to have a strong opinion about all of this when I don't understand what is going on.

Again, I have a slightly different take on the change, but like Mary might not understand the exact implications. It seems to me that the discretionary admission policy would allow teachers and administrators to admit children who don't score the highest, but who are "highly" gifted. Perhaps they come from a socioeconomic class that does poorly on standardized tests, or they have a psychological issue with standardized testing. With reference to what Frank says above, if the test is not accurate enough to make an absolute boundary, then discretionary judgments will have to be made regardless.

If you could clarify, how many students will be admitted under the old rules, how many of those are discretionary?

How many students would be admitted under the new rules, how many of those would be discretionary (where does the difference between your estimate and Frank's come from)?

This thread exemplifies (sp?) what's wrong in the Chapel Hill schools. We are now off into a technical discussion of who qualifies and why for the "gifted" program and have completely IGNORED any discussion of resources dedicated for gifted programs versus programs addressing the achievement gap.

I believe that Frank has the numbers documenting the exact impact of the proposed change. Perhaps he can post them.

Mary and Robert, it is entirely possible that the purpose you posit is in fact the district's purpose.

Two quick observations, though:

(1) this would be perplexing and ironic, as the thrust of argument for several years has been that discretionary admission disfavors rather than favors the underprivileged. This was one of the main reasons the district chose a non-verbal aptitude test for its broad screening device.

(2) If it is in fact the case that only those who reach the 99.85 %-ile on the NNAT (and the 99th percentile on the math and verbal achievement tests) are the "highly gifted" who need these services, then I am hard-pressed to understand why it would be any better--for anyone--for the district to place a non-highly-gifted black or Latino student in that class than a non-highly-gifted white child or child of Asian or South Asian ancestry. Could somebody explain that to me?

Mary R.:

"It's hard to have a strong opinion about all of this when I don't understand what is going on."

For the most part, you, Robert P., Eric, and I (and countless others) are in the same boat. The questions that you and Robert posed can't be answered yet. That is why most of the parents who spoke against the proposed criteria change suggested that the district wait and learn more from the LEAP teachers. Spending 30+ hours a week in the classroom, these teachers are uniquely positioned to determine if children have been appropriately placed, if the program meets their needs, if children are struggling with the material, etc.

We might lean that Mary's suspicions about the NNAT are well founded and that it has no value for this application. We might learn that the program works for a child that is 2.6 SDs above the mean or 99.3% rather than 99.0%. I think Mike Kelley said it best last Thursday when he suggested that the LEAP program should identify and serve high academic readiness children in THIS district who are currently not well served in the regular classroom. Nice round numbers like 99% or three SD could hit the mark or could be completely arbitrary and useless.

The creation of a discretionary group is an opportunity and a problem. In the past, the admissions process was perceived to be confusing and capricious. The Task Force sought to demystify the process and make it more transparent and predictable. Having said that, I absolutely believe that there should be some room for discretion as no test or combination of tests will ever rule out all unusual and exceptional cases. However, if most children fall under a discretionary process (as would have occurred with the proposed criteria changes) the potential for subjectivity and abuse will take us back to the past problems that frustrated so many parents.

This thread had the potential to start out as a rant fest but appears to have actually moved to the high road of productive back and forth. However, at this point our discussion is a waste of keystrokes because, again, we need to be guided by actual classroom experience. What we do know is that when these kids take their SATs several years from now, they won't have a mean score that is below 900 and falling.

So, I'm still interested in reading ideas and any knowledge of communities that have successfully addressed their own achievement gap problems. It's time to "leap" to another topic.

Frank is right: I would like to know what the district thinks I can do to help bring African-American reading and math scores closer to white scores.

Do we need a parent volunteer corps in the elementary schools? Something else? I'd sign up in a heartbeat if I knew what the district wanted me to do.

There are quite a few ways the district offers for community members to help support African-American and Latino students. One of them is to volunteer as a mentor in the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program. In fact, we're looking for volunteers right now. You can learn more at

If you'd rather tutor than mentor, you can do that too. BRMA has evening tutorials. If you can volunteer during the day, the school district offers several programs. Find out more here:

So if Eric or anyone is willing to "sign up in a heartbeat," I'd love to hear from you.

I'd like to sign up, Graig. Thanks for the info! How can I contact you?

Three issues leap (pardon the pun) out to me as to why school administrators might want to change the criteria now rather than waiting for feedback on this year's program.

First, test timing. If they test in the fall, as many schools do, then they need to know the cut off criteria before the testing takes place and don't have time to collect data on this first year of the program.

Second, by having a lower cutoff rate, they are subject to higher variable costs in terms of teachers and space. Large organizations have an easier time operating when they keep their variable costs low.

Third, politically the more students included in the cutoff range the more public will be the racial divide within the district.

Nevermind; I see the sign-up links on the websites themselves.

The testing is in the spring.
I don't understand your third point; could you restate/rephrase it?


If 500 children were in the testing pool and 5% (25) are minority the racial disparity is more visible than if the pool is 250 and 13 are minority (to me anyway).

All: This comment would have been shorter if I had more time. I apologize if I hurt anyone's feeling by what I have to say.

Frank: Bear with me, please, as I continue the discussion just a bit longer.

Eric: The testing might be in the spring, but there is an optional Iowa Tests of Basic Skills that is being offered on October 15, 2005, a saturday:

The info sheet for this test states that "The scores on this test, at or above the 97th percentile, may be used for nomination evidence for the LEAP option for highly gifted students. Third grade students who score at or above the 97th percentile on the Naglieri Nonverbal Aptitude Test given in November will take a different form of the ITBS in February during school hours to determine eligibility for the LEAP option."

I'm not sure, but I think that if a child scores 99% on the ITBS this October, that she is an automatic admit. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

All: Folks, let me state my position clearly now before my own daughter takes the ITBS in October and possibly in February: I'm not in favor of a gifted program that accepts 1/5 of the student population for any given grade level (although I can certainly understand the anxiety of a parent who has a child presently in the gifted program, or the parent whose child presently qualifies, but would not if a "small technical change" were to take place).

The 99th percentile cut-off would normally make a good standard in other school systems and create a much smaller group of highly gifted children. In Carrboro and Chapel Hill, however, where area universities and medical centers employ large numbers of very smart people, we have a lot of intellectually gifted, academically-oriented children with a lot of positive home resources and encouragement. This is a good thing, and should be the basis for celebration (it should also motivate us to want EVERY SINGLE CHILD to succeed). But if we remove the top 20 percent from the student population, we have created a two-tiered system, not a gifted program.

How my daughter performs in the next few months will not change my feelings about this. It is true that if accepted into the LEAP program she will find abundant opportunities--chiefly the synergic effect of socializing with many brilliant children. Yet, she loses, too.

Her mother and I have been careful to expose her to a wide spectrum of human society and experience(save those destructive elements we avoid as well) precisely for educational reasons. No matter the insistence of some to the contrary, LEAP as it stands now has a homogenizing effect--culturally, socioeconomically, if not racially--without the balancing benefit of addressing the special needs of the highly gifted. Let's not fool ourselves: these are special needs which arise precisely because of the anomie created from vast differences in intellectual ability among children of the same grade level (this is an argument why a highly gifted child in a school system lacking in highly gifted children SHOULD be placed in a gifted program, and why it would be innappropriate for a school system full of highly gifted children to even have a gifted program, save one that addresses the special needs of the profoundly gifted child. Again, it comes down to percentages within a given community.)

I also wanted to say this publicly so that if my daughter does not qualify for the LEAP program, there won't be cries of "sour grapes".

This all begs the question, then: What would constitute an acceptable percentage of the student population to qualify this as a true gifted program rather than two-tiered segregation? Certainly 1-5 percent seems more acceptable to me.

In my last comment, when I said "anomie" I meant "alienation".

Sorry, the English language is sometimes devilishly difficult for a foreigner like me.


"This all begs the question, then: What would constitute an acceptable percentage of the student population to qualify this as a true gifted program rather than two-tiered segregation? Certainly 1-5 percent seems more acceptable to me."

David, that 1-5 percent is pretty much the range we are talking about. The program is not pulling 1/5 of students out of classrooms. The 20% figure is a pool of children that are offered the opportunity to take the additional achievement testing for LEAP.

Glad to hear your daughter is taking the ITBS in October whether you intend to use it for something like LEAP or not. It's great that the district offers it because I believe it offers more useful feedback on a child's progress than the EOG.

Would you explain how LEAP is culturally homogenizing?


Thank you for your gracious correction. It's been a long day and I got sloppy with the facts. We've had this discussion before and somehow I had forgotten. Humble apologies.

I retract my argument that non-LEAP classrooms suffer from the loss of top pupils, but I maintain that a gifted program that accepts 7% of a grade level (which I believe is the correct figure for last year's third graders) is not a gifted program in the “special needs” sense.
The purpose of a gifted program is not to provide a “bright kid club,” but rather to address the special needs of children whose cognitive abilities are so spectacular that they have trouble functioning in a classroom of standard normal distribution. With “estimates of “giftedness” at about 33% for the district,” as you mentioned before, shouldn't the phrase “special needs” mean more than the top quarter of the top third? The slice is too generous to have real value. Put another way, “the child of 160+ is as different from the child of 130 IQ as that child is different from the child of average ability”. On the strength of that logic, which I have no reason to doubt, we could accommodate a LEAP program (IQ 130-145, or if you prefer 2-3 standard deviations above the mean), a Super-LEAP program (IQ 145-160, or 3-4 standard deviations above the mean), and even an Ultra-LEAP program (IQ 160+, or greater than 4 standard deviations above the mean). Sounds pretty silly to me, too. I would have just the Ultra-LEAP program if I had my way.

My point is two sides of the same coin: the children are not sufficiently differentiated in our school system to require a LEAP program, and that it doesn't make much sense in having a gifted program as inclusive as LEAP in a school of right skewed cognitive distributions.

Again, I do agree with your statement, now that I have revisited this argument in light of the correct numbers, that “Regardless of who is right in this ongoing debate, there is no need to fear. Only about one-half of the children who could qualify for LEAP actually choose to attend the program. Also, with estimates of “giftedness” at about 33% for the district, there are plenty of these children to provide the hypothetical benefits of their presence to each and every classroom.”

That, at least, comforts this father.

We discussed the "cultural homogenization" point before too. LEAP isn't. It is the opposite.
Does it represent a narrower socioeconomic slice than the typical classroom? I'm not sure, but I'd guess that it does. It's not the upper-class club that some imagine, and there are families that struggle financially, but I still imagine the mean income in a LEAP classroom is higher than in a non-LEAP classroom.
But is is not culturally homogeneous. It is the most culturally diverse classroom my daughters have been in at any point in their school careers.

What does culturally diverse mean to you Eric? Racial or a combination of racial and socioeconomic?

I find these "more-diverse-than-thou" arguments silly for two reasons.

1. First, no matter how much exposure to diversity you report for yourself or your children, someone can always counter that it is not enough or it just doesn't count. I'm sure it is just a matter of time before someone points out to me that my daughter has never been in class with a left-handed, Native American Mennonite who has ADHD, Lyme Disease, and a prosthetic limb and lives at 33% of the poverty line.

This is a sucker's game. The only way to win is to run the game yourself. I could easily make an argument that my children are exposed to more diversity than most people's kids. I can reel off a pretty impressive list of races, ethnicities, pathologies, ideologies, pathological ideologies, religions, nations of origin, economic circumstances, and favorite ice cream flavors.

2. Second, if diversity and egalitarianism are your Holy Grail, you live in the wrong place. With a highly educated and affluent population, and kids who are largely college bound and score an average of almost 1200 on the SAT, this is not a diverse community. Certain types of people choose to live here and, not surprisingly, tend to look more similar than different. Chapel Hill does not stand out because of our diversity or egalitarianism. Rather, we are unique because we lack it.

If diversity or egalitarianism is your thing and you want this in a school system, your best bet is to add just a few minutes to your commute and move to one of the nearby counties. You can save money on housing and property taxes and your child can be exposed to the "Real World" that people leave when they move here.

Don't get me wrong, I value and enjoy the bit of diversity that we do have here. And, it will never hurt my feelings to see more of it. But, I think it is ridiculous to try to score moral points in some diversity game when our presence here in the "Southern Part of Heaven" betrays us.

Terri, don't ask me: ask David. He wrote this:

No matter the insistence of some to the contrary, LEAP as it stands now has a homogenizing effect–culturally, socioeconomically, if not racially–without the balancing benefit of addressing the special needs of the highly gifted.

"Culturally" and "socioeconomically" were separate items on David's list, from which I inferred that he was talking about two different things.


What do you make of the following factual statement:

"The military has a culturally homogenizing effect"?

Would you be thinking that this meant the military has an effect of reducing racial or ethnic diversity?

I hope not, because the military is without doubt one of the most diverse institutions in existence.

No, more likely you would say that this statement informs us that participation in the military creates by coercion a uniformity in the "development of the intellect through training or education" (def.3a).

Notice that this interpretation of "culturally homogenizing effect" requires an understanding of the military's training practices to be able to differentiate it from other possible meanings. This is an important point as you will later see.

The point of my "culturally homogenizing" statement is that participation in the LEAP program has the effect of creating by coercion a uniformity in the development of the intellect through training and education.

The coercion in this case isn't pushups, or drill sergeants yelling in your face, or drill and ceremony. It is something much more nuanced and much more dangerous.

Certainly I can't be the only one who believes that there exists the possibility that the smartest and brightest in history who have created monumental advancements may have done so, among other reasons, because of early childhood isolation from their intellectual peers?

look at these historical facts:

* Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read.

* Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school.

*When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything.

* F.W.Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21. But his employers would not let him wait on a customer because he "Didn't have enough sense."

* A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he had "No good ideas"

* Caruso's music teacher told him "You can't sing, you have no voice at all."

* Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.

* Verner Von Braun flunked 9th grade algebra.

* Admiral Richard E. Byrd had been retired from the navy, as, "Unfit for service" Until he flew over both poles.

* Louis Pasteur was rated as mediocre in chemistry when he attended the Royal College

* Abraham Lincoln entered The Black Hawk War as a captain and came out a private

* Fred Waring was once rejected from high school chorus.

* Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade.

Ok, now ask yourself, What would a gifted program have done for these noted achievers?

I mean, would Einstein have formulated his theories of relativity if he had attended LEAP? Is it possible that he would not have achieved so much if, as a child, he had taken part in a gifted program?

I don't know, and maybe many parents with children in gifted programs don't care whether their child is an original thinker or just really smart. Maybe many of them don't know the difference.

But there's another problem in Pleasantville, and if you're the squeamish type, stop reading now.

It is true, Frank, that our children have matriculated into a largely homogenous community as well as a fantastic school system. But rather than jump with joy at having traded diversity for academic rigor, or exit society and head to the Mosquito Coast with my progeny in tow (or just move to a nearby county as you have suggested, but that's not an exciting option, now, is it?), I have chosen to question the true meaning of cultural diversity.

Isn't the diversity of the mind just as important if not more so than the diversity of our skin colors or the languages we speak and the customs that we practice in the privacy of our homes?

What is the loss, the broadly defined educational loss, when life experiences are blindered by the expectations, the inputs, and the many social constructs of a homogenized, pasteurized, Grade A community?

We're not there yet, thank God, but as I peer over the fence at Cary, I feel a frisson of fear as we seem to edge closer to the brink, waiting for the narcotic of that Stratfordian existence to kick in and drown us all.

Wobegon has its dangers, Eric. I hope you see them.

Well, Frank…would you suggest we hang a sign that says, “Welcome to Chapel Hill. We're elitist and we like it that way. Please don't bother to live here unless you're willing to sign on.”

Now, Frank, I know that you and hardly anyone else really feel that way!
Most of us are truly disturbed that our community is out of balance.
In my opinion, this extraordinarily confusing LEAP program is just another small way in which we further throw our community out of balance.
I personally would like to see the LEAP program reserved for the 1:30,000 child (or at least the 1:1000 child). I have real problems with discretionary admittance. It opens the program to abuse and may fill the LEAP classrooms with 1:100 children who are driven by a need to shine and please. The danger with LEAP is that it further draws us into a two tiered system and perhaps beyond.


I agree with everything you say. But I don't think that LEAP alone can be charged with the cultural homogenization we see occurring here in south Orange. The high demand for LEAP and other gifted services is a direct outgrowth of the wealth found in our community. Low and middle income folks don't live here in any large numbers anymore; we're being run out of town by the high cost of living.

While I appreciate your perspective on this issue as a father, I would really like to hear what you, as a candidate for BOA in Carrboro, would do to help reduce the income disparities in our community. Do you have any ideas for economic development or land use planning that might have a direct impact on eliminating cultural homogenization, thus decreasing the volume of demand for gifted programming within the schools?

Peter, you haven't been following all I've said. I believe in AG education, but not delivered ala LEAP--- unless truly necessary.
Point taken--- 1:30,000 is perhaps even too exceptional for us. I'll concede 1:1000 is more cost effective....

Interesting nom de plume, Mr Wiggin. Perhaps I should have chosen "Valentine" for my screen name--but I prefer writing under my own.

One wonders why you choose to identify with Peter rather than Ender?


The comment by "Peter Wiggin" has been removed pending verification. Our apologies for publishing it prematurely.


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