Expert on gifted education calls U46 programming ‘exemplary’
By Emily McFarlan firstname.lastname@example.org April 24, 2012 8:46PM
Updated: May 26, 2012 8:14AM
CHICAGO — Last month, Judge Robert Gettleman questioned how a school district putting Hispanic students it considered proficient in English into a gifted program solely for Spanish-speaking students was not segregation. That would mean Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided, Gettleman said at the time.
But Carolyn Callahan said Tuesday Elgin School District U46’s Spanish English Transition School Within A School (SET SWAS) program was “significantly” different from the case in Brown v. Board.
SET SWAS students choose to be part of the program, said Callahan, a professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. They also mix with other students at their schools for classes outside the core curriculum, such as art, music and PE, as well as lunch and recess.
“It’s language-based, not race-based,” she said.
Callahan, an expert witness on gifted education for U46, began her testimony Tuesday in the racial discrimination lawsuit against Illinois’ second-largest school district.
Phase One of the suit alleges U46 discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in overcrowded schools in its 2004 school boundary plan. Phases Two and Three allege U46 did not offer black or Hispanic students access to gifted and advanced programs, or appropriate help for English Language Learner students.
Gettleman has declined to rule on Phase One without first hearing Phases Two and Three, and he has not yet responded to a motion made last month by U46 attorneys to make a decision on the ELL claims.
On Tuesday, Callahan called SET SWAS “an exemplary opportunity” and disputed testimony last month by Donna Ford, which U46 attorney Maree Sneed of Hogan Lovells said had characterized the program as “segregation.” Ford is professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Specifically, Callahan said she reviewed at documents from the district and visited gifted classrooms at every grade level, as well as two high school academies. She then evaluated the district’s gifted program for a report first written in June 2009 and revised in February 2010 according to the standards and recommendations of the National Association for Gifted Children and National Council on Measurement in Education.
The expert witness said a separate SET SWAS program was appropriate for gifted students who had recently exited or still were part of ELL programming. Those students need the language skills necessary to discuss “higher level content,” she said.
Teachers and students in the fourth-grade SET SWAS classrooms she observed used more Spanish than those in sixth, she said, preparing students to transition to an English-speaking School Within A School classroom in middle school.
Callahan also said the tests and other procedures used to identify students for the elementary SWAS and SET SWAS programs were consistent with recommended practices and not “culturally biased.” She said the same for the Gifted and Talented Academy at Elgin High School, although she said she would not treat the district’s other academies as gifted programs.
And minority enrollment in both programs increased between the 2002-03 school year and 2008-09, she said. In that time, the number of Hispanic students in gifted programs at all grade levels increased from about 10 to about 27 percent, she said. Meantime, about 45 percent of all students enrolled in U46 were Hispanic.
“The population of Hispanic students enrolled (in gifted programs) was closer to the population of all students than I see in most districts,” Callahan said.
The number of students who are black in U46 is “very small,” but it also has seen a “small increase over time,” she said.
Plaintiff attorney Stewart Weltman of Futterman Howard Ashley & Weltman challenged the expert witness whether the percentage of black students in SWAS really was representative of the population of the district. That number was 0.6 percent in 2002-03 and 1.2 percent in 2008-09, Weltman said.