More space in schools’ gifted programs: and idea whose time has come?


by David Safier

A few weeks ago, I proposed that TUSD open a second campus of University High School, for a number of reasons. More out-of-district students are applying to UHS, which is good for TUSD, but when the current school reaches its limit, some of those students will have to be turned away. The court-ordered deseg plan mandates that the District "increase the number and percentage of traditionally underserved students enrolled at University High School, with particular emphasis on African American and Hispanic students," which will crowd the school still more. And it would be a positive step to bring a campus of UHS to another part of Tucson so students in that area can feel like it's more of a neighborhood school and won't have to be bussed across town to get there.

Today's NY Times has an article about a similar idea being proposed by Christine C. Quinn, the Democratic candidate for NY City mayor: open up the gifted programs at all levels with a focus on greater outreach in low-income areas, adding 8,700 seats over a nine year period.

Ms. Quinn said the city’s elite academic programs had become havens of privilege that for too long have shut out such students. She said she hopes to persuade the Department of Education to make the changes by September.

“Our gifted and talented programs in no way, shape or form reflect the diversity of our city,” Ms. Quinn said in an interview.

According to the article, 67% of students in the District are Hispanic or African American, but they make up only 27% of the students in the gifted and talented programs. The numbers at UHS are amazingly similar. About 26% of UHS students are Hispanic or African American (the stats don't list a single Native American student), yet those students make up well over 60% of the district's population.

I looked over the UHS entrance requirements. They're a combination of a student's GPA and his/her score on an entrance exam. So far as I can tell, there's no allowance for teacher recommendations or slots for at least a few of the top students from each middle school. With a bit of flexibility in the entrance requirements, UHS can become more inclusive, and the growth can help fill classrooms in a second campus. Some of the money budgeted for the District's deseg efforts can be targeted to help some of the newly designated students make a successful transition into an unfamiliar academic and social atmosphere to assure greater chances of success.


  1. The deseg plan also mandates increased participation of African Americans and Hispanics in GATE (gifted and talented) programs. TUSD has several self-contained GATE middle school programs that send the majority of their students to UHS. But those kids also attend their neighborhood high schools. In addition to giving students more opportunities to go to UHS, it would be great if they had similar opportunities for challenging programs at local schools. That was what MAS did. For example, Curtis Acosta is a former UHS teacher, who took that same rigorous approach to the MAS curriculum. Also, Tucson High has done very well with its Science and Fine Arts magnet. Not only are the honors and AP classes popular, but there are some very challenging and interesting science classes, beyond the basics. (I’m somewhat skeptical about the real educational value of some science and social studies AP courses. It seems like a lot of cramming content.) I think UHS is great for the kids who are a good fit for that model. But that shouldn’t be the only game in town for ambitious students.