We recently discussed the condemnation of meritocracy in education as racist by one of the top officials in the San Francisco public school system. This position has led to calls for the termination of advanced or talented programs across the country, including New York City. Now Boston has followed a hiatus in the continuing education program for its fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students. These measures, I believe, will make our public schools less diverse over time.Although I regard the small number of minority students in such programs as a serious problem, I have long spoken out against efforts to eliminate the programs or to set up quota systems to correct this problem. Students of all races benefit from such programs. While there is significantly less diversity, the best solution is not to delete such programs but to work harder in the earlier grades so that minority students perform excellently (and ultimately have access to such programs). Still, according to the WGBH and some conservative websites, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius is calling for a year-long suspension of enrollment in the Advanced Work Class, both because of the pandemic and because of “equity concerns.” Cassellius said, “There is a lot of work that we need to do in the district to be anti-racist and have policies that give all of our students a fair shot of equitable and excellent education.”
However, in contrast to the district as a whole, the Boston system faces a sharp contrast in the racist composition of the program. The district is 80 percent black and Spanish, but 70 percent of the programs are white and Asian. However, if these gifted students are denied this option, education or diversity policies will not be promoted. Greater diversity is possible, but the focus should be on helping minority children perform excellently despite the often adverse conditions in the community or at home.
Talented programs and elite academic schools are designed to enable students to achieve their full academic potential with other students working at the highest levels in math and other disciplines. It is often difficult for such students to achieve this potential in traditional settings. Teachers need to develop their classes as a whole in the subject areas. This often means that academically gifted children are held back by traditional curricula or lesson plans. These students may actually underperform due to boredom or the lack of challenging material. Many simply leave the public school system. In addition, students tend to perform better when students make progress at a similar level. Teachers can then focus on a lesson plan and discussions tailored to students with a similar level of proficiency.
These concerns should be particularly acute in Boston, where 40 percent of students have been chronically absent.
Eliminating such programs creates a false “justice” by dumping the best performing programs. I don’t think that promotes true diversity. To do justice to educators like Cassellius, these programs exhaust manpower and money. However, one touchstone of a public school system is that children with different needs and backgrounds can perform well. The minority of white and Asian students in the district reflects in part the exodus of such families from public schools due to distrust of commitment to such policies. Suspending these programs will, in my opinion, only accelerate such deviations.