Erika Sanzi has a post on her personal blog which has also been picked up by Citizen Ed and Fordham celebrating the addition of a middle school gifted program in our neighborhood middle school. Of course, from Sanzi's point of view, this is a foreign, benighted realm into which she rarely, if ever sets foot, except perhaps while slumming for good Cambodian food or visiting a charter school, so the whole thing is a bit annoying, and I left some comments!
It is nice that in a couple years, my child may be able to walk to Roger Williams instead of getting on a bus to Greene or Bishop to get a more challenging middle school experience, but it is not as if those programs exclude students from south Providence. This is similar to the error in your post about Rhode Island’s PARCC scores that forgot that Classical High School has 63% of its students eligible for free and reduced lunch and is majority minority. Clearly low-income and minority students have been challenged and succeeded in Providence Public Schools for a long time.
It is also not accurate to assume that this side of town has not had other innovative, challenging programs in its public schools. They just usually haven’t been called “gifted” programs and had selective enrollment, and they haven’t had much political or public relations muscle. The advent of No Child Left Behind wiped out a whole swath of programs — for example Fortes Elementary was known nationally for both its very early laptop initiative and their in-school local history museum, until NCLB hit, and the same school that was a model yesterday was “failing” today, and promptly gutted.
Of course, middle schools are and pretty much always have been a huge issue all over the city, so creating an additional magnetic island is probably not a bad thing, even if it doesn’t help the rest of the middle school problem much.
Finally I would question what seems to be an implicit assumption that people from other parts of the city won’t be sending their kids down here to the Roger Williams advanced academics program if it becomes successful. It is right off 95!
Also, can we mention the demographics of Nathanael Greene Middle School, the school which has hosted the district middle school gifted program for decades? It has 72% of students eligible for free or reduced lunch and is 92% non-white. The elementary school in that neighborhood — which is NOT the East Side — is 93% free or reduced lunch and 91% non-white. So the entire premise that bringing a gifted program to a low income neighborhood is new for Providence is false.
The fact of the matter is that adding a new, unproven "advanced academics" program to the neighborhood middle school which doesn't exactly have a great track record presents a real dilemma. It would certainly be convenient, and we would prefer to support such an effort through the participation of our children, but at this point who knows if it is going to take, and by the time you get to middle school, the cultural isolation of a neighborhood like this becomes a bit more of a concern. If students in the new Roger Williams program end up being isolated from the rest of the gifted streams of students from the rest of the city, that's a serious risk.