Friday, April 19, 2024

Students who want to keep the the district’s Intensive Studies Program despite district restructuring have cause for hope.

First, the 25 or so sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who hoped to save the program by gathering 1,000 signatures in rallies over the past week did even better than expected, collecting enough names of people who back the advanced-learning program to exceed that number, organizers say.

The names are to be presented at Tuesday’s meeting of the School Committee, along with more public comment that will expand upon the student, parent and expert testimony heard at the committee’s Oct. 18 meeting.

It will give committee members plenty of talking points as they head into a Nov. 19 roundtable on academic challenge, say parents such as John DeLancey, who has a seventh-grader at the Kennedy-Longfellow School. While critics of the program say it unfairly groups kids (in fact, the program has open enrollment) and is elitist, DeLancey notes that’s certainly not the case for his daughter’s school, which is “not elitist at all — in fact, it’s mostly immigrants and people of color.”

Another factor boosting hopes and giving committee members fodder for discussion at the roundtable was an astonishingly well-timed article in The Wall Street Journal. The Saturday item, posting only hours after students such as 12-year-old Mary Gashaw wrapped up their signature-gathering at City Hall and Central Square, bore the headline “Brightest Stall, Low Achievers Gain on Tests.”

The story, by the Journal’s Stephanie Banchero, leads off by saying, “national focus on the lowest-achieving students has helped boost their academic performance, but it has left the country’s brightest young minds behind, prompting calls to rethink how schools teach top kids” — that is, scores for the top-achieving 10 percent are stagnating or dipping.

The story says:

“There is this myth that gifted and talented children will be fine on their own,” said Jane Clarenbach, director of the National Association for Gifted Children, a nonprofit advocacy group. “But I think history is showing us that this is not true, and we now have a crisis in this nation where our top achievers are being ignored.”

Proponents of gifted education say a preoccupation with the lowest performers has relegated the most promising students to unchallenging classrooms. They point to the 1990s effort to “mainstream” gifted students who previously had been taught in separate classes, and to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, which put intense focus on the lowest achievers.

Cambridge Superintendent Jeffrey Young has said no decisions have been made on whether to retain the program. A review of it that is under way is only coincidentally taking place during the district restructuring known as the Innovation Agenda, he said, and what shape instruction for advanced learners will take is subsequently unclear.

When the committee moves to new meeting space at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School is also unknown. For now, meetings continue to be held at City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square.