Detroit’s main school district could soon dramatically expand offerings for gifted students in its latest bid to woo back families who have fled in recent years.
Under a proposed policy to “develop the special abilities of each student,” the district would start screening all second-graders for giftedness as soon as next year. A school board committee took a first look Tuesday at the policy, which could undergo changes before a vote by the full board.
Exactly how students would be identified hasn’t been decided. But according to the policy, the district will consider students gifted if they have abilities “above their peers” in three categories: academic strength, creativity, and leadership.
Students who meet the standards will be able to take special classes just for gifted students, according to the policy. The district says its goal is to create gifted classes in all subjects — including reading, math, science, social studies, and electives.
The move is part of first-year Superintendent Nikolai Vitti’s push to restore special programs that were cut during years when state-appointed emergency managers controlled the district. Vitti said the cost-cutting moves had driven families from the district, which shrunk by more than 100,000 students — or two thirds of the student population — in the last two decades.
“Quite a few students have left the district who are identified as gifted because the district was not providing gifted services, so I think this is also a way to recruit students back from charter schools and suburban districts,” he said.
By trying to appeal to families of gifted students, Detroit is also wading into a national debate about separating students by ability. Gifted programs can be a popular option for parents whose children test into them, but in many communities, they also tend to exacerbate racial and socioeconomic segregation.
In Detroit, the programs could also face another challenge: a well documented teacher shortage that could make it difficult to staff the new classes. According to the proposal, teachers would need to have special certification to work in the gifted program.
Vitti said the district is putting together a plan to create a pathway for teachers to get their certificates.
“There are a likely limited number of teachers who have gifted certification, but that’s something we would work on,” he said. “A teacher could provide the services and work through courses to gain that certification.”
The district policy lists several goals for students in the new programs: academic growth; stimulating curiosity, independence, and responsibility; developing creativity and a positive attitude; developing leadership skills; and exploring different career options.
The initiative would also help the district comply with federal education law, which requires districts to understand and work to improve the achievement of all students, including ones considered gifted.
If the board approves the new initiative, Vitti and his team would start putting it in place. That work would include deciding exactly how to screen students and creating the program’s curriculum. The first gifted classes could launch in the spring of 2019, according to district officials. Eventually, Vitti said, he’d like to create three art schools for gifted children.
Read the full proposed policy below.