School funding law encourages elitism

Posted May 27, 2009, at 5:46 p.m.

Chapter 104, the rules for gifted and talented (GT) education, must be changed. This law promotes an elitist and exclusionary approach to gifted and talented education and programming. For this reason, the Bangor School Committee voted to present a resolution at the Maine School Boards’ Association fall conference in order to inform and discuss the flawed GT law with school committee members throughout the state.

At the conference, the commissioner of education, Susan Gendron, assured Bangor School Committee members Phyllis Shubert and Mary Budd that the Department of Education had never adhered to the rule that only identified GT students could be enrolled in Advanced Placement classes in order to receive GT funding. Further, she shared that there was no intention of following this old language in the future. The commissioner agreed in principle that it would be wrong to deny access to non-identified students in order for a school system to receive GT funding for the identified students.

After receiving the commissioner’s assurance that past practices would continue, Shubert and Budd elected not to move the resolution forward. However, the Bangor School Department has recently learned that its application for program cost reimbursement for the GT portion of its high school AP program has been denied — a situation that is squarely at odds with the commissioner’s assurances and one that Maine citizens should fear jeopardizes educational equity across the state.

This GT issue comes down to two questions: 1) Does AP coursework provide appropriate programming for secondary GT students, and 2) If there are available slots in AP courses, should non-identified students be able to access the courses without jeopardizing the GT funding for the identified students?

AP courses provide approved and well developed curricula aligned with College Board standards and the K-20 curricula continuum required by the state. AP is a cost-effective way to deliver programming for identified secondary students while providing the potential to earn college credit. If there are available slots in AP courses for GT identified students, then non-identified students with the work ethic to perform at the college level should be allowed access — a practice that Bangor has employed for many years with state approval and with great success. We believe that denying access for non-identified students will not serve either population well. In addition, this creates a wasteful system that under utilizes resources.

An advisory committee to the Department of Education was established to examine both GT program and finance issues. This committee found vast discrepancies in how students throughout Maine are identified and provided GT programming from one school district to another. Additionally, the committee recommended further examination of GT high school programs, which had the greatest discrepancies, and discussed at length the benefits of AP courses and providing available slots to non-identified students.

We applaud Gendron’s promotion of “broader and equitable access to college readiness opportunities for all students in grades 6-11” (Information Letter 27: Oct. 9, 2008) and her efforts corroborate educational research supporting open access to GT programs as a means of promoting academic excellence for all students, particularly those from underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds. However, full enforcement of the current Chapter 104 will force Maine school districts to eliminate broad and equitable access to the most challenging academic programs in order to preserve funding.

It is of critical importance that the Maine Department of Education recommend adoption of program regulations and funding models through the revision of Chapter 104 that allow Maine schools to meet the needs of identified GT students in Advanced Placement and Honors courses without compromising access to rigorous academic programs for students. Otherwise, the system encourages elitist programs in order to cut costs at the state level. Rigor, relevance, relationships, and college ready should be goals for all Maine students.

Betsy M. Webb is the superintendent of schools in Bangor.

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