Seattle Public Schools cancels gifted program 'cohorts' for equity reasons

Many parents within Seattle Public Schools are flabbergasted by the district's decision to shut down 11 schools dedicated to highly capable learners. 

They include three elementary, five middle schools, and three high schools. The "cohorts" at these schools keep the students together so teachers can focus on their advanced needs.  

There are hundreds of students learning at these schools, far above their grade level.

According to the district's website, starting this fall, all neighborhood schools will start to incorporate highly-capable students.

The district's plan is to completely phase out "cohorts" by the 2027-2028 school year.

The website says students will not be separated into "cohorts" and will go to neighborhood classrooms in order to address "historical inequity." 

Typically, these schools have more white and Asian students, and other races are underrepresented.

Fox News previously reported that the school district's gifted program was among the least diverse in the country.

Parents at Cascadia Elementary say progress has been made in recent years with more enrollment of underrepresented kids into their school.

Mom Simrin Parmar says she wholeheartedly supports the goal of equity, but she believes the move will make things worse, not better.

"It will not help those kids to just cut the program wholesale. We weren’t servicing enough of them. You don’t help by cutting the program. What we should be doing is identifying more children from underrepresented groups that aren’t getting a fair shake in the testing and doing more to fix that and providing these services to more kids across the city," Parmar said.

She says the district should look to expand diversity within the gifted program.

"They are thriving, they are learning so much. They are curious and they are being pushed" Parmar said.

Parmar also says the HC model serves kids of all different backgrounds and challenges.

"I can say there are children who will test gifted academically but then again they have other learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, other related more serious disability" Parmar said. 

"If they do this, it will be the bell curve getting ignored and watering down the teaching," parent Eric Feeny said.

The district on its website promising the program is not over, that it will get better.

"All teachers will provide teaching and learning that is delivered with universal design for learning (UDL) and differentiated to meet the needs of students within their grade level," the website said of the decision. 

But there are still so many unanswered questions on how the district will provide that differentiated learning in real time with one teacher. 

"I think the district consistently under-communicates most of its initiative, partially because they don’t have the bandwidth," Feeny said.

From a budget perspective, parents also say the changes don't make sense. Parmar says it costs the district around $7,000 per Cascadia Elementary student, which is about 50% less than many neighboring schools.

"SPS is scrapping all HC programming and replacing it with empty promises, zero plan, and zero funding. I’m sad to watch so many families leave the public school system, but I can’t blame them," Kiley Riffell said on social media. 

Riffell has two daughters who attend Cascadia. She says it's been a game changer due to an emphasis on innovation and a deeper level of instruction.

Unless there are significant resources pumped into every classroom, parents say teachers will be overburdened with large class sizes and dramatic differences in academic needs.

"Until you have a better system, don’t give out a fake system or half solution," Feeny said.

Many students who are already in the HC program will be able to continue on with higher learning for now. The district's decision is not immediate but it will impact current kindergartners.

FOX 13’s request for an interview with Superintendent Dr. Brent Jones or anyone else with the district has gone unanswered.

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