Opinion: Vancouver school superintendent seeks to end learning excellence program

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center takes a look at the discussion to end the Vancouver School District’s Highly Gifted program permanently.
File photo

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center takes a look at the discussion to end the Vancouver School District’s Highly Gifted program permanently

Liv Finne
Washington Policy Center

Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Snell (annual salary $281,000) says he wants to expel students from the district’s popular self-contained Highly Gifted classes and end the program permanently.

Liv Finne
Liv Finne

Vancouver school officials indicated their view is that too many students of the “wrong” color enroll in the Highly Gifted classes, and that a high standard of achievement should be replaced with a weaker “diversity, equity and inclusion” approach related to Critical Race Theory (CRT).

CRT in public schools is based on SB 5044, the bill signed by Governor Inslee last year that requires teachers to tell students that they do not have individual intrinsic worth as human persons but must be seen as members of a racial or ethnic group.  CRT holds that students identified as white, Jewish or Asian are oppressors, and that students of other groups are oppressed.  The program raises concerns about school violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1998 Washington Civil Rights Act.

Dr. Jeff Snell, Vancouver Public Schools superintendent
Dr. Jeff Snell, Vancouver Public Schools superintendent

The proposal in Vancouver follows the 2020 decision by Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau (annual salary $309,000) to expel all students from the district’s Highly Capable Cohort, a popular advanced learning program in place since 1978.  Since then about 1,300 families have left the public system, and student learning in math and English has reached new lows, according to state scores reported in November.  Seattle lost about $28 million in state funding due to lower enrollment.

Similarly, Vancouver schools have lost some $14 million due to a fall-off in enrollment of about one thousand students.  School board chair Kyle Sproul and other members of the board are now considering whether to end the self-contained Highly Gifted program. 

It’s clear that canceling education programs that are popular with parents and work for kids is harmful and destructive.  Public schools need more ways to attract families, not create more ways to drive them away.  Students of all ethnicities want to strive for excellence.  Superintendent Snell, Board Chair Sproul and the other elected board members shouldn’t end a good learning program because they think too many of the “wrong” students signed up.

Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.

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