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.


My Orange County students at Guilford (none were in my classes at Harvard) were representative of the spectrum at Guilford.

Almost all of my Guilford students clearly had learned some core writing skills before they entered my classes. So I would say that they *are* learning something in school. But my point was that nearly all of them could still use work mastering the basics of a short expository essay.

This sampling of my CHCSS & Friends students at Guilford is really too small to be meaningful from my Guilford perspective. And I have no idea how they represent their respective high schools.

As for all my students' history and geography knowledge from high school, well, I've been less impressed, except with self-selecting history buffs who learned more from T.V. than classes.

"For the past nine years, I have been teaching college, especially composition, at Harvard and at Guilford College. Despite the loads of AP courses on their transcripts, very few of these undergrad students have mastered even the basic five-paragraph essay."

It sounds like you are saying that the best students don't really learn very much in school. Do you find this to be more true, or less true, of children coming from this particular county?

"There is a very distinct criteria for defining a child who needs gifted services" says gloria Faley.

Well, HOORAY! I am glad somebody knows that.

Let Chapel Hill Carrboro City schools begin to use such a criterion then. And let them begin today. At the moment, we say that children are gifted if they can score very high on a test designed to test whether children are failing. The EOG will never tell us who is gifted.

The first step in designing services for the gifted children is to find out who they are. Our revised gifted services plan does NOT give us any means of doing so.

Our revised gifted services plan is a sham.

A report from the trenches....

At Durham's Jordan High School in the 1980s, I took four AP courses. We learned the material, and in three of those courses, we learned and practiced how to write a five-paragraph essay.

For the past nine years, I have been teaching college, especially composition, at Harvard and at Guilford College. Despite the loads of AP courses on their transcripts, very few of these undergrad students have mastered even the basic five-paragraph essay. They do, however, tend to be very flexible thinkers. I have had to work hard to give them some structure that they should have received in high school, where both structure and flexibility have their places.

Excessive academic pressure has been cited as a reason to limit AP and similar offerings. Here's an alternative idea: Cap the GPA per course at 4.0, instead of 5.0 or 6.0. Back in the day, colleges did a fine job distinguishing between applicants of similar GPAs but different course challenges. Selective colleges may try to scare school systems into bonus GPA systems ("Your best students might get overlooked...."), but that is a cost-reduction measure by the college admissions offices, who would rather not have to look much beyond raw data. Let them do their own work, and let our high school students cool off the race to 6.0 (or whatever it is).

Some teachers are better than others at encouraging all that flexibility and creativity. But the fact remains that an empty mind has no building blocks to create with. There is a huge body of existing knowledge which must be embraced in order to reach the leading edge. I am sorry that Terri sees objective testing as a defect. I understand that not every child does well on an timed test, some would do much better with less time pressure, say a portfolio-based approach. But that is no reason to throw out the whole AP system.Perhaps she wants to start pushing for an IB program, or some new one I've never heard of. I see the name 'AP' as guaranteeing that the course content has been created and reviewed by renowned scholars, and cannot be watered down at the whim of an instructor or school district. This acts as an external certification of course content, rather than just a comparison with other schools within the district or state. We cannot operate schools on the hope they are excellent, we need to measure and compare the course quality against the best national standards, just as we measure the student achievement.

As regards 'simply' going to UNC: My son is pushing hard to get permission to take a math course at UNC in senior year, and probably will, but I certainly would not have allowed it soph or jr year. The difference in age, and the lost time getting back and forth between two campuses are my reasons. He knows people at HS, and they know him, and look out for him. That would be lost on a huge college campus. Perhaps Terri does not realize that with taking the most (but even so none too) advanced courses at middle school, it is quite possible for a student to be ready for certain of the AP level courses in soph year.

I think that the new non-tracked middle school approach of differentiated instruction cannot be used as the only approach at a high school level, when the differences in accrued factual knowledge and investigative skills become about as wide as they are in the workplace. Some people hate tracking because they feel it is used in a racist way, but calculus demands you be fluent in algebra, and that is just not the case for every HS student. Similar arguments in science, foreign language, and even English are left as an exercise for the reader.

Frank makes my point about AP courses (probably unintentionally). I see them as rigid because they rely so heavily on frequent, objective testing. Of course that's a generalization, and to be honest, I have no direct experience with local AP instructors. I do have experience with AP instructors from other districts and with incoming freshmen who don't have the academic discipline needed to be successful college students--despite great GPAs.

I believe the current statistic is that adult Americans will change careers between 5-7 times. That requires creativity and flexibility as well as a good sense of how to manage their own learning. In my experience, AP courses do not encourage creativity or flexbility in thinking. They also do not prepare high school students for the independent thinking they are required to pursue in good college courses. Since we live in a college town, why aren't our high school students who want advanced courses simply taking advantage of UNC?

Good points, Matthew.

With news of US jobs being exported, this is not the best time to de-emphasize academic excellence. When I started my business in 1996, it never occurred to me that I would use vendors outside of North America. However, I am now getting calls and offers from offshore vendors that are pretty attractive from both a cost and quality standpoint.

When I was growing up in a farming area, I was told that the world needed us because we excelled at agriculture. Later, the message was that the world needed us to manufacturer their stuff. Well, the world can grow its own food and make its own stuff as well as our stuff. There are plenty of smart people all over the globe that can take any of our jobs. We cannot stand still.

I am stunned at Terri's statement that she believes AP classes are undesirable. My oldest son has been in many of them, and the concepts he studies , and the homework assignments, are my worst nightmare: just like the tough work I did in college. Tough, but actually intellectually stimulating. Ouch, how dare our public school system try to be as good as the private prep schools...Don't go ballistic Terri,I know you didn't say that,but Moses Carey did last year, during one of his pro-merger attacks on the CH/C schools.

I have noticed the fact that there is frequent testing, which gradually builds in structure and number of minutes toward the goal of performing a test virtually identical to the AP exam in exactly the same number of minutes. I don't feel there is 'too much' of this, because they don't seem to be more often than once in 2-4 weeks, which is fairly similar to the test schedules I had in college. A test is the act of examining an idea/question, and answering it to the best of your ability by a fixed deadline, which is certainly useful in the world of work. As long as the subject of the test is the curriculum the student has been asked to study, it is useful.

As for the 'rigid structure', does Terri mean that she would prefer to use a different text book than the one chosen by the school, or that a class doesn't cover exactly the same material she has seen in college courses of the same name, or that the students should chose the topics to study? Short of our HS being able to offer a full university catalog worth of courses, I will settle for at least one course in every major field. My strong preference is that it would follow a text by an expert author. The teachers at HS level are not always expert in explaining every single college-level concept, nor is every college professor, so a good text is an important resource! I certainly needed it!

Getting back to the supposedly racist nature of offering advanced courses, my son assures me there are plenty of students doing poorly in AP Environmental Science, so the school administration could not have been too too restrictive. And likewise in AP Chem (last year), and AP Calc, etc. I did watch that movie that came out years ago which depicted a teacher motivating a group of (mostly Hispanic) students to take an AP Calc course. Some came from behind and did well, some dropped out. We can only offer equal opportunity, and support like after-school tutoring, we must not enforce equal performance by banning excellence.

I know that any child is allowed to enter any HS course for which they have the pre-requisites, so long as the parent signs the course selection form. The teacher is not allowed to reject the student. Hope and hard work is allowed, but it does not guarantee success.

Thanks--I knew we'd talked about some of the different criteria--but wasn't too successful when hunting for them.


Please keep in mind that the elimination of the certain courses that were only at Phillips and Culbreth. Also, keep in mind that these courses were not part of the gifted program.

There is a very distinct criteria for defining a child who needs gifted services. However, placement into these course (that were eliminated) for students were not very clear. Very often, a child was placed in these programs based on subjective data. This was harmful.

If you are interested in the AG program, then you might be interested in knowing that the BOE began looking at how to improve that program several years ago. That refinement process was defined as part of the curriculum alignment work.

Over the next several months, a AG report will come before the board.


You seem to have picked up the numbers that I tend to see -- either 130 or 132. Some commonly used IQ tests have standard deviations of 15-16 points so the cutoff you cite would place a child two standard deviations above the mean (IQ=100). According to my old stat manuals, this should put 2.5% of children in the "gifted" category. A common "gifted" figure I see for national estimates is 4 percent -- perhaps this is because a child might be categorized as being gifted by making a verbal cutoff, math cutoff, or through some non-verbal measure (where the IQ tests use some composite measure).

Criteria include performance, tests, and parent/teacher input. Frank McBride identified 2 standardized tests; in previous discussions a parent advocate promoted the Raven test; parental input is identified in the CHCCS criteria as is teacher recommendation; overall performance is used in some places--2 grades above grade level; etc. To create an IEP, some states require psychological testing which I *assume* also provides useful input. I believe there was also a discussion about a district in Virginia in another thread about that district's criteria.

Terri--what ARE the "non Chapel Hill" criterium for giftedness? I did an online search--and the only definitive number/assesment I could come up with (and I don't know the site well enough to assess it's accuracy) was minimum IQ of 130. IE--130+ = gifted. I know there are different assesments for giftedness aside form IQ...can you point us to a reputable site that discusses them?


Actually, according to a friend with a 6th grader at Phillips, thee are still 6th graders taking pre-algebra at Phillips. SO--really, all that has CHANGED is the LA courses. Or so my neighbor claims. My kids are either in colege (freshman) or HS (sophomore) so I amout of the loop on a personal basis.

ANd the Culbreth program has been gone for years...I'm sorry if I confused people.


If Mr. Meyer is correct, then it would seem the district is the culprit for confusing the difference between gifted education and advanced courses. I have not come across any literature that supports including those kids who are meet the 'gifted' criteria (using non-Chapel Hill standards) in a differentiated classroom.

The math curriculum has not yet been re-aligned. Only advance language courses have been eliminated.


"Barely half of all black, Hispanic and Native American students who entered U.S. high schools in 2000 will receive diplomas this year, according to a new report that challenges conventional methods of calculating graduation rates." (this link expires next week!)

The Urban Institute report, referenced in the Washington Post article above, can be found at

There is some misinformation and some missing information in this thread.

-The only changes being made to middle school classes is to remove advanced classes in 6th grade language arts and math at Culbreth and McDougle Middle Schools. 7th and 8th grade classes will continue to have different levels (i.e. 8th grade students can take algebra or pre-algebra). Also McDougle and Smith middle schools have never had advanced classes in 6th grade.

-There are multiple reasons for this change. The racial predictability of enrollment in advanced classes is only one. Trying to decrease the high pressure environment of our schools is another major reason.

-The Tier 1 program was severely scaled back many years ago. It does not exist at Culbreth or any middle school. It only exists for one classroom of 4th and 5th graders at Glenwood Elementary. More information on the schools' gifte programs can be found here:

-Many people have expressed concern about the 100 drop in African-American SAT scores. Dr. Pedersen addressed it very directly at the recent school board planning conference. BTW, the drop came only in the most recent year, after several years of gains.

-Clustering is not just a racial practice. The schools cluster students in many ways, including academic ability (tracking, advanced classes, etc.), special needs (learning disabilities, etc.), and language (ESL students, bilingual classrooms). The school district has begun to cluster groups of students of color together after seeing the negative impact of racial isolation on such students. In my experience, African-American and Latino students were hurt by this in two ways: One they hated being the only or one of the only students of color in their classes. Two was that they would end up in classrooms with teachers who were not culturally competent.

My children did most of their education in a Montessori classroom, with all ability levels well served with the same teachers, in the same classroom, with the same materials available to all. One is extremely gifted academically; the other one is very bright in some areas, and struggling hard in others. Both of them were better served by matriculating in an inclusionary atmosphere than in a segregated one.

The gifted one is now in all the advanced courses in CHCCS, the other in "regular classes" and I would take them out tomorrow and put them back in Montessori if we had a secondary school in the area. Neither of them are being challenged to their limits, encouraged to "stretch," or learning much from their peers.

The difference is not in segregation/inclusion or advanced/remedial/gifted ,etc. It's a difference in educational philosophy and teacher training. it is possible to serve all children very well without so much "labelling" depending upon the approach taken by the school and the teacher.

D&D--you asked why AP courses are being retained. The answer is that the high school curriculum is not being reviewed. The phase out of advanced coursework is for middle schools only. If you are wondering whether I support AP coursework in high school, the answer is absolutely not. AP courses are too test heavy and do not prepare students to do college work because they are too rigidly structured; they also promote overly competitive behavior; and they are a form of tracking.


Children applying for Tier One take the Metropolitan Achievement Test (MAT7) and the Ross Test of Cognitive _____. (Can't recall exactly). Rising fourth graders need a composite score of 1300 on the MAT7 and a 65 on the Ross for admission; for fifth grade, the cutoffs are 1350 and 75 respectively. I don't know if there are math/verbal minimums within the composite MAT score or not. Also, there might be some sort of appeal process or the option of using alternative tests (WISC, perhaps).


You are correct that Tier One is not for everyone. Many who qualify elect to stay at their home schools. The occasional child gives it a try and chooses to go back to his/her home school. However, for those who attend, the benefits of this unique and valuable program greatly outweigh any drawbacks. My son is far happier than he was last year. I also believe that having this peer group, and being able to experience acceptance for who he is, has actually improved his ability to cope (as you would say) with other types of kids.

Of course, the greatest strength of Tier One is that it has the amazing ability to make Chapel Hill parents stop complaining.

D&D--AP courses are high school. The current discussion is about middle school.

So. Segregation is okay for teens?

Actually, unless they've changed things significantly, the tier one kids do NOT spend much class time with the "regular" kids. A friend whose eldest went through Tier 1 at Glenwood, and the Culbreth Tier 1 program has told me that she would NOT have her kid in those programs if she had it to do again. She thinks it isolated him from the general school population, and gave him unrealistic expectations of the way the world works. In other words, he didn't learn how to "cope" with people who didn't catch on as quickly as he did. She felt this made his transition to HS more difficult. In fact, she kept her other (equally gifted) kids in their "home" schools.



I know next to nothing about Education. Would you explain for me the difference between Gifted education and advanced coursework; and how gifted education is possible without something resembling what advanced coursework sounds like?

If the idea is to get rid of advanced coursework, why are AP classes being retained?

After all, what's the racial makeup in those classes?

And if they're okay, why can't other courses be retained, too?

Gifted education is for the rare child (approx 5% of the total population) who has intellectual abilities far in advance of the normal child, such as doing math more than 2 grades above grade level. Each district should have criteria they use for identifying a gifted child, using a combination of test scores, teacher recommendations, and parental requests. I have been trying to find out what criteria CHCCS uses, but am still searching. There is a program here called Tier 1 in which a child must test out (special test, not a general use one) to some level on math and language, but I haven't figured out if CHCCS requires the child to test out in both or just one in order to enter the Tier 1 program (thanks to Tracy Burger for this info). These kids become their own peer group, although I'm sure they are still involved in some of the general population activities. By contrast, advanced coursework is still considered grade level--just advanced grade level.

I have a great deal of sympathy for the parents of truly gifted children. IMHO, they deserve the same range of services provided to the lower performing special needs kids. I do not believe that providing gifted services is a form of tracking as long as the identification criteria are rigorous and explicit (and not culturally biased).

On the other hand, advanced coursework pulls kids out of their peer group--privileging them over their peers based on (primarily) standard test performance. Since white/Asian kids are known to test higher than minority kids, there is no way of saying the kids are tracked into the advanced courses are smarter than their peers or if they are just more adept at working within the system.

Please understand that I don't advocate holding any child back from reaching their potential, but advanced coursework is not a solution that I am comfortable with. Differentiation in theory should create an environment in which each child is encouraged and enabled to work at an individual pace, however, in practice, I think it is insufficient since it puts all the burden on already overworked teachers. I feel like if we could agree to distinguish between gifted and advanced, both at the citizen level and the school administrator level, that it would be a first step toward finding a resolution to some of the animosity.

One more time let me say.....gifted education is not being eliminated. Advanced coursework is. There is a distinction. Gifted education is intended to support a very small portion of the population, such as the individual Barry Winston uses as an example. As long as these terms are thrown about as interchangeable, this discussion is going to keep going around in circles.

The mnre things change, the more they stay the same. When I was in grammar school, 100 years ago, all school systems operated on what was called the "convoy system." The entire class moved at a pace no faster than the capabilites of the slowest student. There was a kid in one of my classes who was clearly what, today, would be called "gifted." He was unchallenged, bored, and a constant trouble maker. He died at 14 in a prank gone tragically wrong. I still wonder whether, properly guided, he'd have won a Nobel by now.

Is there any serious distinction between the elimination of classes for the gifted, political correctness, and the message of the highly lauded "Forrest Gump": dumb is good, smart is bad?

Do those in favor of maintaining or expanding advanced or "gifted" programs have any suggestions they'd like to make about how best to address the achievement gap between Black/Latino kids and white/Asian kids? Aside from blaming parents of color and resorting to cultural stereotyping, that is.

Or are bad parents the only thing standing between Black kids and "gifted" classes?

Interesting essay by Martinez. I suspect, however, that he would not like the end result of asking all the tough questions. I believe the answers would reveal that we have real problems related to racism and classism that are inherent in our economic system (capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich, low wages, ruthlessly Darwinian ethic, etc.). The schools are being asked by, among others, the overseers of this flawed economic system to make the problem go away, to mask the effects of our economic system on low-income people who live with meager pay and all that that implies in terms of stress, fractured family life, personal growth, etc. That is why this problem is like the Whack-a-Mole game and will continue to be addressed for years to come with Blue Ribbon Task Forces, "differentiation", whatever - the buzzwords will change but the problem will remain.


I haven't followed all the details of honors in the system here.

My oldest child is only 5 and I think the academic treadmill starts too competitively too early as it is...

Please enlighten me.

When I was in school, honors classes did not start until 8th grade with some but few honors classes in 9th and 10th grade.AP classes were generally 11th and 12th grades but there weren't formal prerequisites to them.

Can someone explain when honors starts here in the system and for which grades they will be removed??

Also, are there requirements for AP and when do these requirements start???

Here is the Martinez Column:

The News & Observer

January 29, 2004

Facing challenges at school

Author: Rick Martinez

Edition: Final

Section: Editorial/Opinion

Page: A15

RALEIGH--Sometimes the elusive quest for equality gets in the way of meaningful progress for minorities. The latest example is the educational theory of "differentiation" as adopted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district.

Under differentiation, students of all abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds are taught in the same classroom in order to provide equal access to quality instruction for all. While that sounds great in theory, in practice differentiation has a dark side that impedes achievement and limits opportunity. Consider the scenario that's playing out now.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board voted to eliminate advanced language arts courses next year at two of its middle schools. This comes on top of dropping similar classes for sixth-graders this year, and plans to eventually eliminate all eighth-grade advanced language arts courses. Peculiar moves, given the district's history of being one of the best, if not the best, school systems in North Carolina.

Why is Chapel Hill eliminating highly desirable accelerated courses? District officials say advanced courses lead to "tracking," or grouping of students by academic ability, which can lead to high expectations and extra opportunities for gifted students. Conversely, they believe tracking can doom non-gifted pupils to low expectations and exclusion. So instead of teaching high-performing kids in accelerated courses, the board has adopted the one-class size fits all, equality-based theories behind differentiation.

Despite the board's best efforts to keep discussion about differentiation focused on academics, the debate has become centered on race. And no wonder. It's hard to miss that the overwhelming majority of students enrolled in advanced courses are white and Asian.

This lack of racial diversity caught the attention of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP. It helped convince the board that accelerated classes were creating separate and unequal education caste systems which deny minority students equal educational opportunity. That's a polite way of saying advanced classes are racist.

That theory may have been valid back in the bad old days, but this isn't the 1950s. If there's a significant disparity in the number of African-American and Hispanic kids in advanced classes, I'll bet the mortgage it's because of individual ability, accomplishment and preparation. Not race. Chapel Hill-Carrboro is hardly a hotbed of white supremacist ideology.

However well meaning, the school board has joined with the NAACP in a racial coverup. Differentiation is a not-so-subtle attempt to blur academic disparities between white and Asian students and their African-American and Hispanic classmates. So-called academic equality is achieved by holding gifted students back instead of lifting up low-performing students.

That's why the NAACP's opposition to advanced classes is so disappointing. It would be more courageous and beneficial to ask for a frank and honest assessment detailing why African-American and Hispanic kids are so underrepresented in gifted classes. Political correctness should not prevent the asking of hard questions.

For example, why is it our children have equal access to libraries, yet minority kids read fewer books than their white classmates? Why are minority kids among the highest consumers of television?

Minority leaders must have the courage to raise these issues within our community, not just push school boards to eliminate accelerated classes. That doesn't narrow the achievement gap. It only accommodates it. Differentiation doesn't provide equal educational opportunity. It just lowers the academic bar and limits our potential.

What the minority community needs now more than ever is a new breed of leadership that breaks away from the tired and increasingly irrelevant philosophy that depends on social institutions to solve our problems.

We need leaders with the guts to tell us that true affirmative action isn't a government program -- it's reading more to our children. It's taking them to Monticello. It's turning off the television. It's sitting down with teachers and asking what it's going to take to get our kids prepared for advanced courses.

Public policies such as differentiation, although well intentioned, ultimately limit minority children. Why should we settle for equality when we can be advanced?

Some thoughts/questions after reading the McSurely letter and other similar editorials/letters/postings over the past two months.

1. Another Board of Education member who was elected last fall expressed skepticism about the practice of differentiation. She also voted against eliminating the advanced middle school class (language arts, I think) in the January vote. Why have Kelley's detractors declined to stalk her on the editorial pages of the Chapel Hill News? Chivalry? Fear of backlash?

2. If programs that assist struggling or at-risk students have racial/ethnic demographics that do not match the district's demographic profile, do these programs indicate institutional racism? Should they be eliminated?

3. The School Board voted 4-2 in January to eliminate an advanced class in Culbreath and Phillips. However, other advanced classes are still in place (I believe). If so, is the entire School Board guilty of promoting institutional racism for failing to quickly eliminate all of these courses?

4. According to the Chapel Hill News (2-15-04), African-American SAT scores in the district have recently dropped an average of 100 points. I have heard only one person** express concern about this. Other than that, no anger or outraged letters and postings? Is this very tangible and substantial problem being buried because, as it occurred pre-Mike Kelley, we dare not bash someone or put an ideological spin on it?

**FYI - That one person expressing concern was Mike Kelley.

I do not know Mike Kelley, it was the context of race card in this discussion that upsets me.

Says our friend Melanie: "I realize that it SEEMS like everyone in this system thinks there kid is gifted, but there ARE bright children out there with out-of-touch, uninvolved parents. Would you institiute an identification system for those kids? Not all gifted kids are Parentally Identified Gifted..."

I have never noticed that most people think their kids are gifted. On the contrary, parents, in the main, are extremely honest about their own children's abilities--and the preponderance of children are not gifted. There is a certain tendency to deny giftedness, as a matter of fact. Parents very often don't WANT their children to be gifted. Who would???--giftedness comes with all kinds of trouble, not the least of which is exploding on this board right now.

The new system we are using now in middle schools -of heterogeneous grouping/differentiation (instruction tailored to each child at that child's level, no matter in which classroom that child sits) is most damaging to the children you mention here : bright children out there with out-of-touch, uninvolved parents. These parents are not going to come to school to fight for the child's educational needs. A lot of those children have parents who are not yet well-connected in our society and who are not comfortable advocating for anything.

There is NO WAY of recieving gifted-level instruction in a hetorogeneous classroom unless the teacher knows the child needs it. But teachers happen to be extremely unlikely to identify giftedness--they know who the high-achievers are, but they have no idea whatsoever who is gifted, for the most part.

Our new system depends on the parent to fill this gap. Often, It is only because a parent complains that the teacher knows about the needs of the child. Even then, it takes a lot of advocating and time going to meetings with enrichment specialists, principals, gifted directors, and even the superintendent . You can't just get gifted-level instruction for a child unless you go through hell to insist upon it. And even then, it is unlikely the teacher will have the resources to deliver the needed instruction, or any TIME left in the year to do so.

Some may chime in here to claim that their 99%ile child got great instruction at one of our middle schools. But the fact is that MOST 99% children are not gifted. Therefore, such a comment would be meaningless in this discussion. We are talking about gifted children----NOT 99th percentile children.


If gifted programs are open to all gifted students regardless of skin color, there is no "institutionalized racism" as you are claiming. If perfect vision is color blind, then stop looking at everyones skin color in the advanced classes. We are all the same. Skin color and race should not matter. All the profiling sounds more racist to me than having advanced classes.

Gifted kids deserved gifted classes. Kids who are struggling deserve special attention. Kids with disabilities deserve even more special attention. None of this is designed to be institutionalized racism. It's called meeting peoples needs.

You have a right to believe otherwise, but when you start calling people racists because they want gifted classes available, you are losing credibility by the second.



Please re-read what I wrote. I didn't call anyone a racist. I have taken great effort in previous discussions on OP to distinguish between racist practices, such as tracking, and people who are racists. If I were to call you a racist, it would mean I know something about you. Instead, I asked you to clarify your earlier statement. It was unclear to me whether you were upset about Mike Kelley's name being used or whether you disagreed with the basis of Mr. McSurely's argument that advanced standing courses are a form of segregation/institutionalized racism.


If I knew exactly how to implement such a thing, or could outline how it would be put in practice, I'd be in another line of work and making a lot more money.

My post was more of a thought experiment than anything else, the experiment being: what would happen if you assigned authority to an entirely different group?


Terri, I hold no brief at all for the specific criteria that are currently used for admission to the Tier 1 program. I would be entirely open to arguments that (a) those admission criteria ought to be changed or broadened in ways that would permit larger African American and Latino enrollment, and/or (b) the district ought to create new programs and curricula to serve the special needs of students blessed with other sorts of giftedness (e.g., social, leadership, artistic, musical, athletic, to name a few) than the sorts currently recognized and privileged.

But the problem I have with Mr. McSurely's article is not its use of names. The problems I have with it are two: (1) I don't think the fact that the district has programs for gifted children reflects institutionalized racism. (2) I think the attribution of racism to Mr. Kelley and the suggestion that he "and his allies" support a return to Jim Crow is scandalous.

Intersting thought, Mr. Murrell. How, exactly, would you implement such a program? I love the idea in theory--can you outline how it would be put into practice? And what would you do for the kids who are gifted but un-identified by rtheir parents? I realize that it SEEMS like everyone in this system thinks there kid is gifted, but there ARE bright children out there with out-of-touch, uninvolved parents. Would you institiute an identification system for those kids? Not all gifted kids are Parentally Identified Gifted...

Interestingly enough, at the HS I went to, there were no pre-req's for the AP courses. If you had the cojones to take them, you gotto take them! You also got to FAIL them, if you were in over you head...but the responsibility was on us.


I have come to the conclusion that the only way to make things fair _and_ workable is to take the power to differentiate away from schools and give it back to children and their parents. That is, if a child wants to be differentiated as "gifted" or whatever word we're using today, then they ought to receive the corresponding instruction. Any class/group should be open to any student asking for admittance.

Frequent parent/teacher/student meetings ought to be used to assess whether the student's educational program has proved effective, and how it might be tweaked to better serve the student, but the ultimate decision ought to be the student's. This also means, of course, that the student (and parents) would assume the consequences of their decision, to include poor grades and frustration if the class/group moves too fast, but that's life. Tests and teacher recommendations might also be used, but only as aids to the child/parent's decision.

As it is now, I believe that a parent/child's request is treated as only one factor in the decision of how to differentiate (and later, track) students, with the ultimate decision being made by the school and the system. After some research, I believe that's exactly backwards.

This wouldn't fix every problem, of course, but it would help move us past the institutionalization of the problem by giving decision-making authority to the people for whom the decisions have the most consequence. Lingering problems would expose other deficiencies in the system, but at least we could cross off one culprit.

Todd and Eric, Are you upset by the use of real names in the article or do you disagree with the contention that separating out one group of students, most of whom are white or Asian, for additional instructionis a form of institutionalized racism?

There is an interesting article on the front page of today's New York Times about how shrinking education budgets and the No Child Left Behind Act are spelling the demise of gifted education programs all over the country. You can find it at, and a few comments about it from me on my blog at

I think the Times article would have made a better springboard for discussion here than Mr. McSurely's vicious attribution of racism to Mike Kelley "and his allies." (I say this as someone who has never even met Mike Kelley.) I was speechless when I saw Mr. McSurely's letter in the paper on Sunday; his suggestion that support for existing gifted programs in the district equates with support for the regime of Plessy v. Ferguson is so hyperbolic and mean as to defy rational response. How a person can walk into any of our schools and describe the situation today as "more oppressive to children of color than the old dual systems" from the pre-Brown days is just beyond me.

And I'm stunned that the editors here at thought this near-libellous screed worthy of republication as a guest post. I thought the guidelines here said we were supposed to "criticize ideas instead of people," and "play nice." How does the republication of Mr. McSurely's letter conform to those standards?

As noted in Al McSurely's letter, Rick Martinez is a columnist for the N&O. My search of the N&O's archives does not turn up the column in question. The N&O does not appear to archive columnist's writings, but perhaps someone more adept with searching archives wants to give it a shot? The search function is on the front page of the N&O's website:

The link between a Rick Martinez column and Mike Kelly is unclear to me. It almost appears that mention of the column was just some flimsy pretext for launching a personal attack.

To the best of my knowledge and recall of Martinez' columns, he does think of himself as Hispanic. I did not realize he lived in Orange County. Maybe he'll join the discussion.

Regardless, as pointed out, McSurely's points are clear and the letter really becomes interesting with the second paragraph.

Mr. McSurely,

Thank you for your letter. This issue has been discussed at length through this forum and there appears to be a feeling among the parents who have responded that children who have been in the advanced courses will be losing something valuable in their education. How do you respond to those parents? Since these curriculum changes were introduced, I have been convinced that the racially divided response is caused or at least faciliated through a poorly conceived implementation plan. Do you or others within the NAACP have any suggestions for ways in which these changes could be implemented so that non-minority parents do not feel that their children are being penalized?


Calling Mike Kelley or anyone else who is for advanced eduction classes a racist is simply name calling. When someone starts a debate by calling the other person a racist, it's a serious charge. In this case, it is complete BS.

Mike Kelley does NOT call for advanced classes for white kids. He calls for advanced classes for all kids who would benefit from them, regardless of skin color. You are making a HUGE leap.

If there is any racism left in our school system, it's called "racial clustering", something I would guess Mike Kelley is against.

"And our teachers can draw out their individual gifts by being sensitive to their differentiated learning styles."

Okay, Ruby.... let's discuss the above point. What can we do to be sensitive to the learning styles of the some 40 pecent of children in the system who are advanced learners?

Have tried to find that martinez piece, but that was in a good while ago and I don't seem to be able to access it. Would someone please post it? My recollection of it is very shady and unclear, but I am sure that since Mr McSurely cites this information, that it is crucial to this discussion and that we ought all to read or reread it.

I would like to see the Rick Martinez letter to the editor mentioned here, reprinted here as well, please. Mr. Martinez is a member of the community he is speaking about (hispanics) and this makes his remarks completely unpatronizing and useful.

SkyWriter--why not post the link yourself? I looked in the CH News and didn't find a letter by Rick Martinez.



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