The HGM: The Data

September 23, 2019

Non-HGM Data


The survey for non-HGM students received 51 responses. 70.6% of non-HGM respondents were SAS, 15.7% were Zoo Magnet, 5.9% were HEA, and 7.8% did not belong to any particular program. 37.3% of the respondents were labeled gifted, 21.6% were highly gifted, 7.8% were high ability (not gifted but very close to gifted), one respondent was neither gifted nor high ability (2%), and 31.4% said they didn’t know their identification. The non-HGM survey was where I experienced the most limitations. I did ask my non-HGM friends to spread the survey around, but I don’t know very many non-HGM students, and most of the ones I do know are SAS. Because over half of non-HGM respondents were at least gifted, the population of respondents may not accurately reflect the overall non-HGM population in NoHo. I would have loved to reach more students from other programs besides the SAS, especially the HEA and the regular section, but I hardly know any regular students, and I don’t know anyone from the HEA; if I do, I probably assumed that they were SAS. 

Out of all the current HGM students, 101 of them submitted responses. Having often heard people say negative things about the HGM (the conversation on Friday wasn't the first time I'd heard someone rant about its problems), and having received mostly negative responses on my Instagram story, I had expected the survey responses to be more polarized. Instead, the results seemed to indicate a larger number of students who were relatively satisfied with the HGM. (tbc)

The survey for HGM alumni generated 52 responses, which interested me the most. An alumnus from 2017, Mariel N., shared the survey on Facebook, to which Mr. Maine responded, “A one-time stat teacher has to point out possibly insurmountable issues with nonresponse bias.” Nonresponse bias is basically a phenomenon in which respondents differ from nonrespondents in ways that significantly affect the outcome. For example, some people just don't have time to respond to a survey. While I tried to ameliorate this issue by releasing the survey during winter break, many alumni still have busy jobs during the holiday season. Additionally, people are more likely to review something if they either really like it or hate it. Thus it was no surprise that alumni responses were far more polarized than current student responses. While the responses may not reflect public sentiment, I treated them as customer feedback. Any feedback provides valuable insight into people's experiences with a particular service and can help the service improve, regardless of how many people feel the same way. 


Most questions asked the respondent to mark a number on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree.” You can view all the data here.


Several short-answer responses also expressed a great deal of criticism. Most criticism discussed overly rigorous coursework, lack of a social life, mental health, and segregation from the rest of the school. 

Inequality in the HGM


Some people do not think gifted programs should exist because they believe everyone deserves equal treatment. What they don’t acknowledge is that because not everyone has the same ability levels, people need different things to achieve their potential. In the article “Launchpad for Superachievers,” a Time article about Walter Reed IHP, “Some people think democracy means being absolutely equal and having the same curriculum for each student. But in a real democracy, we owe to each individual the opportunity to develop his talents to the utmost.”


And that’s the problem—while the HGM might provide these opportunities to individuals who would not have succeeded otherwise, some non-HGM students may not have a similarly proportionate level of resources because more resources go to the HGM. And that may be influenced by other societal factors, such as race--a common subject brought up in criticism of the HGM, according to Mr. Bradbury.

“I would not send my children to the HGM program. The ability to live happy and healthy is much more important than the ability to excel at academic subjects. A balance between the two is possible, but it is not present in this program. I would also like to highlight that the original purpose of magnet programs was to racially integrate...Instead of embracing integration, the HGM keeps their students in segregated classes from the poorer minority students. The HGM boosts NHHS scores and status, but does not promote diversity as its purpose intended,” one 2005 alumnus wrote.


The history of magnet schools is rooted in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. Students who didn’t live in the surrounding area could still enroll in a magnet school, thus bringing together students from different neighborhoods, which were often vastly different in terms of racial demographic. But because the civil rights movement had not fully eliminated racism on the cultural level, white parents would voluntarily keep their children out of forced desegregation by moving to a suburban district or putting them in private schools--a phenomenon known as “white flight.” To ameliorate this situation, several magnet programs would focus on a particular area of the curriculum. The Zoo Magnet is one example of a magnet program with a particular focus. Other magnets were designed to have a more general focus, such as gifted programs like the HGM. Yet the issue of segregation still prevails. The problem with having a program within a school is usually that the students in the program will mingle with each other and not with the general population. While many HGM students come from immigrant families, the majority of the HGM are white or Asian (including South Asian). The rest of NoHo contains far more non-white Hispanics and blacks.

I'm sure the HGM today would love to have a more racially diverse student body, but this requires changes that extend far beyond the program’s capabilities. Gifted programs often rely on recommendations from teachers. Teachers are more likely to recommend white or Asian students for gifted testing and may show bias against Hispanics and blacks. One of my alumni friends from the SAS class of 2018 told me that he didn't know if he was gifted because racist administration and teachers in his elementary school didn't give his testing results back. This bias can cause Hispanic and black students to act out; teachers and administration may harshly punish the students instead of addressing the root cause and providing appropriate resources. The prevalence of low income and lower education levels among Hispanics and blacks also means that many of them simply aren't aware of their rights and available resources. More racial diversity in gifted programs would require implementing anti-racist practices in education, as well as providing special resources and identification practices to minority students.


Now, I couldn’t talk about resources provided to the HGM without Friends of the HGM, the HGM’s organization of parent volunteers. FHGM helps fund our field trips, different textbooks for some classes, technological resources, tutoring, events, and clubs. I think part of this is that the HGM student body is smaller, so the ratio of money (and thus resources)  to students is a bit bigger in the HGM than in the rest of the school. We are also able to take more AP classes than non-HGM students, and some AP classes are also exclusive to the HGM for the most part. AP classes are usually for upperclassmen, but by the time we are juniors, most of us have already taken at least three AP classes in total. Part of the reason we’ve taken so many AP classes by graduation is that some AP classes are required. We’re required to take AP World History as freshmen, while the SAS, for example, generally does not permit freshmen to take AP classes. Colleges want to see high schoolers taking the most rigorous classes at their school. According to Ms. Gonzalez, colleges don’t differentiate between different programs. That means that SAS kids are up against HGM kids as well, not just other SAS kids, and so it affects college acceptances. Add to that the white and Asian-dominated racial demographic of the HGM, and what do you get? More resources helping the more privileged, inadvertently reinforcing societal power structures. This is not to say that I don’t think we should have these resources, but it is unfair that we get more access to them than everyone else does.



Non-HGM Responses


It was to my slight surprise that most of the non-HGM respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the statement “The HGM should exist, even if I am not a part of it.” When asked to explain why, they wrote that people who need more challenges should be able to have a program that meets their needs. But it does make sense, considering the rest of the results. Out of the 51 non-HGM respondents, 30 were gifted or highly gifted (combined). 16 didn't know their identification. Only one respondent reported no giftedness. When asked to explain why, most respondents gave the same reasons. “I believe it should continue because it allows those who are academically gifted to reach and use their full potential. And it accommodates their ability to learn quickly,” one person wrote.


Others explained that the HGM brings prestige and elevates the school’s reputation. It is important to note that the prestige from the HGM was also a reason some respondents did not support the program’s existence, as they expressed concerns about the HGM receiving too much attention compared to the rest of the school. “It’s too much competition. The only reason North Hollywood is distinguished as the #1 public school in LAUSD is solely because of the Highly Gifted Magnet. It's almost as if every other program is excluded and the HGM is given priority over everyone else. Administrators treat the HGM students like royalty whereas they treat most of the other students like complete shit,” one respondent explained.


Tension Between Different Programs


Which brings me to my next point: the first complaint from many non-HGM respondents talked about feelings of superiority in the HGM. Mentions of superiority complexes were also far more common among HGM alumni than among current HGM students. Superiority in the HGM (or the perception thereof) has several factors. I didn't enter a gifted magnet program in elementary school thinking I was better than non-gifted people, but once the non-magnet students started being mean or annoying to me, I did start to think I was better. That feeling didn’t get any better in middle school, although I did make a few friends outside the HGM. One non-magnet kid in PE pushed my classmate to the ground and yelled profanities about the HGM. I don’t know why they acted like that towards us. Maybe they were jealous. Or they may have projected the stereotype of the aloof, self-absorbed nerd onto us from the very beginning. Clearly there was some miscommunication here. Whatever the case, I entered high school feeling very distrustful of non-HGM students. Then there’s the fact that many of us have just grown accustomed to praise, which apparently continues via the preferential treatment from school faculty. And as one non-HGM respondent wrote, “[HGM students are] usually great, smart people. But the fact that condescending ideas are spread around, coupled with the fact that HGM students don't seem to be exposed to either home school or HEA students (and Zoo Magnet and SAS to some degree) is harmful both to their development as college-ready students and as decent human beings. HGM is a great program, but there has to be more integration to get rid of the bullying and the sense of entitlement above their peers.” 

Prejudice in society stems from an evolutionary instinct to categorize. Non-HGM students often behave, talk, and dress differently from HGM students (although there are many exceptions). Here are some examples. From my observations, more non-HGM students more accurately reflect current fashion and beauty trends in their appearances. Zach A., an SAS 2018 alumnus, says, “I’d say that people in the HGM [generally] don’t really care as much [about fashion trends]; they dress casually and comfortably.” Both HGM and non-HGM students can be immature. But while more non-HGM students behave like the average rebellious teenager, rambunctious HGM students reflect a greater interest in memes, making their own memes, and incorporating existing memes in HGM life—we even have r/HGMmemes, a subreddit started (and mostly dominated) by the class of 2022. And I'll admit it: these differences have made me view many non-HGM students as less approachable. Being involved in our social justice club, Empower, doesn't prevent me from having prejudice. I feel nervous when I talk to a non-HGM student I don't know (with the exception of Zoo Magnet), as opposed to an HGM alumnus or a fellow HGM student that I have never talked to. But I've found that once I got to know them, they weren’t so bad after all. Fewer opportunities to interact means fewer opportunities for the two groups to understand each other, thus reinforcing misconceptions and animosity.


The non-HGM responses remind me of a common argument favoring gifted education. According to this argument, gifted students may develop arrogance in a regular classroom; exposure to gifted peers in a gifted classroom humbles them because they realize they aren’t actually the smartest. This is true for some, but it can also work in reverse. Before I was in a gifted program, I didn’t think lowly of my classmates if something came more easily to me because I understood they were the norm and I was not. Years of attending the HGM caused me to forget what “regular” actually looked like; there was a disconnect between what I knew and what I felt. Even though I knew we were really outliers, as suggested by the name of the program, I still felt like the HGM standard was the norm and everyone else was not. So I scoffed when other people were still learning things that we’d learned long ago, or when they couldn’t understand a “basic” idea. The HGM certainly broadened my perspective because I got to know other smart people and their ideas, but paradoxically, it also narrowed my perspective.


Of course, one of the  components of gifted education is separating gifted students from non-gifted students. When gifted students mix with non-gifted students in academic classes, they may start getting bored because the teacher often has to focus on those who are struggling. Here’s the thing. Students should prepare for the inevitable interaction with people with different ability levels, whether that’s in the workplace or college. HGM students who opt for honors courses receive more exposure to those outside their program, but most HGM students usually choose an AP class, perhaps because of pressure from peers and parents and increasing competition to look good to colleges. Sure, clubs exist, but HGM students often attend clubs that have few non-HGM students, if there are any.

As the first post in this series mentioned, a few non-HGM students occasionally get into HGM classes. “Looking back, I am grateful I sort of had my feet in both camps, because it allowed me to have a greater understanding of both sides,” Zach told me. But such non-HGM students often reflect a minority. When asked how relations between HGM and non-HGM students could be improved, one non-HGM respondent wrote, “They should involve themselves more in extracurricular classes with normal class kids instead of [killing themselves] with work. Interaction is key.” Non-academic classes can be a good way to expose HGM students to the rest of the school. Being in orchestra, for example, helped me realize that there were far more friendly non-HGM students than I had originally thought. Band allows even more interaction across programs because of band camp and frequent rehearsals after school. But some don’t play music or can’t adhere to the rigorous schedule of band. Many HGM students do not take classes with mostly non-HGM students due to pressure from parents to take more challenging classes, scheduling conflicts, and required HGM classes. Some non-HGM respondents suggested that the HGM host more events open to the entire school. It’s a good idea, but it requires a lot of time and money. That leaves clubs as the best bet for integration. Clubs, even if they have an HGM sponsor, are still open to the rest of the school (with the possible exception of Vector). Furthermore, clubs, even academic clubs, offer more opportunities to get to know others on a more personal level because they're more flexible. Classes generally limit socialization; most interaction between non-HGM and HGM students is academic-based. To help increase non-HGM participation in traditionally HGM-dominated clubs, members should advertise in non-HGM classrooms and ask ASB to spread the word on social media. For example, The Magnitude, the HGM’s literary magazine showcasing student writing, is now trying to branch out beyond the HGM. This is an easier task if there are already non-HGM members, as they can help spread the word in their classes.

I think reducing tension between HGM and non-HGM students requires that we exercise more mindfulness as well. Most respondents “strongly disagreed” with the statement “I feel superior to non-HGM students” in the survey for current students. It’s possible that there are far more students who feel more superior to non-HGM students but did not respond. However, it is also possible that certain words and behaviors are interpreted as feelings of superiority. As I’ve said before, when someone doesn’t grasp the material as quickly, gifted students may express frustration because they need to move at a faster pace. Some of my friends often say something along the lines of, “The others didn't get it, but it literally wasn't even that hard!” In my Calc AB class, there's this one kid who understands concepts much more quickly than the rest of us, which poses problems for him and the class. “Everyone here is so stupid,” he once remarked. I understand what he's going through. Frankly, it's clear he needs much more intellectual stimulation than what the HGM currently offers; he told me he almost got into CSULA's Early Entrance program for young gifted students who are ready for college-level work (this is the one Mr. Maine went to). And I too have been in the same place many times. But come on now—we're in high school! We're old enough to have a basic understanding of the impact of our words. Was it unfair to me that I was in a class that couldn't go at a faster pace? Yes. If a gifted student needs something more challenging, they should talk to their teacher or counselor. But is it an excuse to take out frustration on other students in the meantime? No. As HGM students, we must constantly remain cognizant of the fact that what is ridiculously easily to us may be harder for other people, and act accordingly. Just because some people find it harder doesn't mean they're stupid. For those who need more help, it is very discouraging to hear someone talk about how easy it is or how stupid people are.



  1. Non-HGM Data:

  2. r/HGMmemes (please contribute, as it has been dead for a while):

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