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School Issues: Un-Gifting Neighborhood Schools

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: Un-Gifting Neighborhood SchoolsPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Back in 2012, local media reported that Columbus City Schools had been steadily losing gifted students. In the 2006-7 school year, 25% of the district’s students were gifted. By 2012, the gifted numbers had declined to only 16% of the population.

It looks like the district may need to brace for another exodus.

One of Columbus City Schools’ most popular programs for gifted children has been ECLIPSE. The program gives fourth and fifth grade gifted students exclusive classrooms, and is one of the most sought-after programs in the system.

And while last year’s Gifted Task Force had plenty of recommendations regarding identification, testing and professional development, it offered zero suggestions for altering ECLIPSE.

Hence, parents were blindsided when they learned this week that the district is making big changes to the ECLIPSE program. In fact, the program will no longer be available in sixteen neighborhoods; ECLIPSE will now be offered at only five schools. A school like Forest Park will be losing its ECLIPSE program, it earned a B value-added rating on the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) report card. The highest value-added rating for gifted services achieved by the five remaining ECLIPSE schools is a C, which was earned by Gables

And when it comes to schools such as Winterset Elementary, the district didn’t just eliminate the ECLIPSE Program, CCS cut out all gifted services. According to the ODE, Winterset has 71 students identified as gifted: comprising 24% of its school population.

Gifted children can opt to travel outside their neighborhoods and across town for education. Students at Winterset have been assigned to ECLIPSE programs at Burroughs, Oakland Park, and Stewart: are all lower performing schools, according to ODE data. And while 24% of Winterset’s students have been identified as gifted, only 4% of Burroughs students have the same identification. Perhaps the influx of gifted students will improve the schools’ performances on standardized tests.

As the news was released this week, parents were given a ten-day time period to decide whether to send their children away to one of the five schools in Columbus with ECLIPSE programming. It’s difficult to pinpoint a motivation for this sudden reduction. According to proficiency test scores, the gifted population had been performing very well for the district:

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Concerns have been raised that the change violates the equity policy (pdf) of the school system. The policy outlines requirements for the district to provide services to schools in accordance with needs. In particular, parents question whether the system has failed to “provide differentiated resources to schools based on the educational needs of students.” This failure is cited when schools with high populations of gifted students lose ECLIPSE and/or gifted services.

Meanwhile, parents of gifted children have begun to organize and demand district responsiveness to family concerns. The group is seeking a reversal of the reduction, and it’s planning a boycott of the upcoming Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAAs).

Gifted students typically contribute test scores that benefit the school system in terms of ODE ratings. According to spokesperson (and parent of a gifted child) Christina McMenemy, “If withholding test scores by refusing the test is the only way we can make them listen, then it’s what we need to do. They seem to value our kids’ scores, but they don’t value the rest of the child.”

McMenemy is also an activist for Parents for Real Education Reform. She says the group will offer guidelines for joining the protest and OAA boycott this week.

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