All Kids Are Gifted

Guest Post by Alan McSurely
Originally published as "School board right to end ‘segregation,'" a letter to the editor of the Chapel Hill News.

Several letters and at least one News & Observer column by Rick Martinez have explicitly attacked the NAACP and, by implication, Valerie Foushee and Elizabeth Carter of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board, for our efforts to provide equal educational opportunities for each differentiated (and gifted) learner in our schools. These attacks suggest an organized effort to racialize this initiative.

A new member of the school board has been most vocal in asserting this racialized position. Mike Kelley has set up a phoney “either-or” situation that pits white families who want the best for their kids against black families who also want the best for their kids. He and his allies have trotted out the old racist argument that the only way educators can really challenge “smart” white kids is to segregate them from the “dumb” students of color. That racist position was outlawed in May 1954 when the Supreme Court rules that segregated education was, by definition, not constitutional.

Our school board is right, constitutionally and pedagogically, to liquidate new forms of segregation that are more oppressive to children of color than the old dual systems. The new form sets up two schools under one roof — one for white and Asian kids who have been labeled “gifted” in certain aspects of our culture and the other school for equally gifted kids who have not yet figured out how to play the academic game. This is as unconstitutional and pedagogically unsound today as it was 50 years ago.

I have taught middle school kids, been a juvenile court counselor, taught educational psychology at Antioch College and have been a community educator for 45 years. Like every parent, I want the best for our gifted” child who is enrolled in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. I expect her teachers to follow the best pedagogical research and practice such as is found in the 1999 report “How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice,” national Academy of Sciences, at

All kids are gifted, Mr. Kelley. Keep that in mind. And our teachers can draw out their individual gifts by being sensitive to their differentiated learning styles. That’s what the majority of our school board, the Supreme Court and the NAACP want.

Alan McSurely is a civil rights attorney and an officer of the Chapel Hill-Carboro NAACP.


Well I never heard of Rick Martinez, but a quick Google search informed me that he lives in northern Orange County and that his wife works for the John Locke Foundation. Also, that Mr. Martinez considers public transit a "fetish," is opposed to smart growth, and thinks teachers are overpaid. Are you basing the statement that "Mr. Martinez is a member of the community he is speaking about" on his last name, or do you know something I don't?

But anyway, so what? I think Mr. McSurely's points are clear, why not discuss them?

I thought the below article in Times was quite interesting. Kinda of explains where and why the idea of closing the gap was buried.

"How important is your racial identity to you? Researchers long thought it wasn't that crucial to whites. But a groundbreaking new study on whiteness and race relations by University of Minnesota sociologists shows that whites in the U.S. are far more conscious of being white--and the privileges it brings--than was believed.

The survey is packed with fascinating findings, some surprising (a stunning proportion of whites--77%--say their race has a distinct culture that should be preserved) and some less so (whites view their role in the social hierarchy more benignly than blacks and Hispanics do). Whites are more likely to say prejudice and discrimination put blacks at a disadvantage than to say those factors contribute to white advantage. And they are much less likely than nonwhites to attribute inequality to bias in the legal and educational system.

What to make of all this? Though whites in the U.S. believe there remain advantages to being white, they don't necessarily link those advantages with blacks' disadvantages. This hinders racial reconciliation, says co-author Douglas Hartmann: "Whites have invented subtle ways to convince themselves that race isn't a problem in America." Blacks do see more racism in society than whites but, contrary to stereotype, seem disinclined to blame the system for their individual disadvantage. In fact, they are more likely to attribute it to individual causes like a lack of hard work--77% did so, compared with 62% of whites. "We think of U.S. minorities as less engaged in American individualism," Hartmann says, "but they are maybe more so." "

"The idea of closing the gap was buried?" When? Where? By whom? Here in Chapel Hill? Every BoE candidate (elective and appointive) in recent memory has identified the achievement gap as a top priority, and that's what Lincoln Center says too.

I think the us of the race is increasingly a barrier in making progress toward increased social justice. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that I am aware of that there are different human races. This was a myth dreamed up by European socialogists a century ago which we refuse to proactively repudiate. In my view the very word race when applied to humans should have a negative connotation b/c it creates a sense of seperation and difference that by its very nature makes some groups or cultures feel superior or inferior. That is not to deny cultural differences and disparities and the need for affirmative action but basing it on racial differences just perpetuates the myth of race, in my opinion anyway.

The "achievement gap" and "affordable housing" will be major themes of campaigns for decades to come.

One of my favorite campaign memories is when Stick Williams' wife was running for school board promising to eradicate the "achievement gap" while her husband Stick, a Duke Power exec, spent a great deal of time promoting the status quo economy which is at the root of the problem.

Mark, I was very familiar with that campaign and the local papers reported "Her goals include reducing class sizes, providing more school governance committee training and support, and focusing on English as a second language resources." I never heard her or anyone else be so foolish as to claim that if elected, they would eradicate the "achievement gap."

In an Oct. 1, 1999 election forum, each of the candidates addressed the gap and what they might offer in the way of solutions. Each candidate had ideas but none of them said that they could eradicate it.

Eric.... you might think about looking at the 2003, 2004, and 2005 report card on minority student achievement. Avoid the summary and "staff-highlighted" boxes....follow the data.

This is particularly troubling when you consider that % of African American student in this district has decreased. So, we are losing students, but the gap has either stagnated or increased.

Let's think about a few items in your Lincoln Center reports/priorities....oh, and I could site many more examples; but I don't want to clog the airways.

1) Civics/Economics (a course that must be passed by all students) - 41% proficiency for African American students. Consider.... this translates (in our district) into a handful of students. Consider... if you look at the actual students taking the tests (African American students repeat this course at an alarming rate), so the 41% includes students taking the course and the test more than once.

2) CHCCS is being compared in the "Lincoln's Center" reports to "sister districts". Interestingly, they are no long comparing our district to other "much poorer" districts (as was done in 2003). So, we are supposed to feel great about the fact that CHCCS ranks 24 in the state. Poorer districts (with much higher population of African American students) rank well above us. CHCCS has ALWAYS been ranked in the top 5 for white student performance.

3) East High School achieve 82% proficiency in Chemistry for African American students in 2005. Their benchmark for 2006 was 82% (in other words, no improvement was required). They reached 82%. but, look closely at the numbers. The actual population of African American students taking chemistry went down.

4) 2005 found more African American students recieving honors/awards at graduation. Even you will admit... that this comes from the hard work done and emphasis on achievement with these students over their earlier years (2002-2004). I shudder to think what that particular number will look like in 3 years.

Closing the gap will take years of committment and work. But, that's is exactly why you have milestones to determine if you are making definitive progress. Look at table 3 of the district's outcomes for high school profiency, only 3 of 10 benchmark goals that related to African American students. And one of those goals is suspect if you really look at the numbers.

There is a difference between "saying something is a priority" and "making a priority".

For another perspective on the achievement gap, I encourage you to ask the district for data on the Focal program. The Focal program is for children, starting in grade 3, that have been deemed to not have full capabilities. I've had several long and circuitous discussions with staff trying to understand the criteria used for assigning students to this program; the students options for getting out once 'tracked'; and some idea of the future opportunities those children face outside of school. I've found nothing on the district's website and the closest I've come to any details on the program from the state website is a description of the occupational studies graduation requirements. But those requirements do not by any stretch of the imagination tell the entire story.

And after spending months asking for the racial and gender distribution of program participation, I finally gave up. One of the top administrators did tell me that *if* they kept data by race, she was sure they wouldn't look very good.

It's a hidden program and it deserves some sunshine. My hunch, after looking at similar programs in other states, is that if this data was available, it would go a long way toward explaining the achievement gap.

"Even you will admit ..."


You are arguing that the district is not having enough success at closing the achievement gap. I agree!

I thought you were arguing something different; in your first post you said that people had "buried" the achievement gap issue. I read the word "buried" to mean that you thought district officials were paying no attention to the issue, and shoving it out of sight and off the agenda. I have not seen district officials do that at all.

I just read in the Chapel Hill News that - among other funders - Progress Energy and Blue Cross Blue Shield are contributing money to help narrow the "achievement gap". Apparently this association is fine withe the school system & I suppose fine as well with the NAACP.

Is this a wise relationship to enter into considering that PE & BCBS are powerfully involved in other aspects of our society and that their involvement is controversial at best and harmful to some degree? Does their involvement come with a price - i.e. will it be harder for local officials to criticize what they do becuase of this arrangement?

I would assume that to some, any corporation that was willing to share in a $2.5 million endeavor to help five local school districts would be "powerfully involved in other aspects of our society and that their involvement is controversial at best and harmful to some degree."

Seems like Capital Broadcasting, SAS, Progress Energy, Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina, and the N&O are and will be criticized irrespective of what they do in our communities. If local officials find it hard to criticize them, I'm also sure that others would pick up the slack.

I think that our local officials will have no difficulty making legitimate and deserved criticisms and not just criticisms of those entities because they exist.



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