Gifted program defended

April 22, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Infuriated by a plan they say would dismantle "gifted-and-talented" programs at 51 Baltimore elementary schools, parents demanded last night that the programs be preserved.

Leaders of a group representing parents of about 3,000 students took issue with Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's plan to spread money for the programs, now spent only in the 51 schools, among all 120 elementary schools in the city.

The proposal would kill gifted-and-talented programs, opponents told the school board, because schools couldn't afford the teachers' salaries. Each "gifted-and-talented" teacher makes about $46,000 a year, but each of the 51 schools would receive only half that amount for gifted-and-talented programs under the superintendent's proposal.

"Our educational leaders will be risking sending the message to children with special talents and academic abilities that Baltimore City does not care enough about providing them with educational opportunities they need," said Dolores R. Churn, a coordinator of the Gifted and Talented Education Network.

Dr. Amprey told the parent leaders that no principal would be required to eliminate gifted-and-talented programs, but that retaining the teacher position would mean cutting money for other programs.

He acknowledged that would require some "hard choices," but said it's unfair to give money for advanced programs to fewer than half the city's elementary schools.

"Please stop believing that there's any kind of effort to dismantle gifted-and-talented programs," Dr. Amprey said.

"The idea is to improve the level of instruction for all our students. We have decided that many, many more of our students in this city have the ability to achieve well if given the opportunity."

But leaders of the parent group said the move to school-based management should not result in the elimination of proven programs and principals should not be forced to choose between gifted and talented classes and other programs, such as music and art. The parents said they would take their case to the City Council.

"Until [school system leaders] can show us an alternative model that has been shown to be successful, and will work in the real world . . . please don't eliminate the programs that are currently working," said Kathryn A. Carson, who has two children at Woodhome Elementary in Northeast Baltimore.

"Our children lose, and ultimately you will lose the most highly able students," Mr. Carson said.

Dr. Amprey's proposed budget, which will go to the City Council next week, includes about $2.8 million for the advanced elementary school programs next year.

The phrase "gifted and talented" -- viewed by some as elitist -- will be replaced with "advanced programs" for the "highly able."

Dr. Amprey has asserted repeatedly that schools rely far too much on "tracking" of students as gifted or slow. He says that too often proves a self-fulfilling prophecy, as many youngsters conclude they're stupid or slow even before leaving elementary school.

The controversy reflects an emotional national debate on tracking.

More and more educators believe that accurate tracking -- selecting the best and the brightest -- is difficult, if not impossible. They are supported by a growing body of research.

And tracking leads to children being labeled average or below average as mere tots, critics suggest. But parents of children in gifted-and-talented programs defend them, and many say they would pull their children out of public schools if the programs did not exist.

The school system allots no money specifically for gifted-and-talented programs or teachers to staff them in middle or high schools. But it does offer advanced courses and citywide programs for children who excel in middle and high school.

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