One of the most contentious issues in public education is “gifted” services and whether there is too little or too much attention placed on academically strong students.
When I visited the classroom of a Milken Award winner, the teacher noted that he had only 17 students in his “gifted” class while he had 27 in his “regular” class. In his affluent community, there was little difference in the abilities of most of the students in the two classes. In some cases, a point or two on some test kept the kids out of the gifted level.
Did it make sense, he asked me, to have such a difference in class size?
My own kids, by virtue of their brilliant father, score well on standardized tests and have been in “gifted” programs where they are pulled out for a class or two. (My system does not do the extensive pull-out that many others do.)
My own preference would be that schools would move kids, regardless of the gifted label, into the class that best suited their abilities. So, a strong sixth grade math student would move into a seventh grade class. A gifted artist in seventh grade would move to eighth grade art. A strong third grader in Spanish would take Spanish with fifth graders.
I also think that one factor overlooked in gifted evaluations is sheer determination. It is interesting for me to see that several of my older children’s pals in gifted classes either did not go to college or failed out. (And they are not backpacking through Europe or building orphanages in Guatemala. They are living at home and looking for work.) But they also have friends who never made the “gifted” cut who are in medical school or studying economics in London.
In fact, I have a friend whose son did not quality for gifted services until middle school, yet he graduated No. 1 in his very competitive high school class, attended an Ivy League college and was accepted by six medical schools. It was always clear to me that this child was extraordinarily bright and academically gifted in math and science, but somehow did not make the cut in elementary school.
I prefer that we get rid of gifted labels and instead make classes more fluid, moving students into higher grades when they show great aptitude. I also think that my two older kids would have done fine in a three-year high school framework. With the surge in online classes, more Georgia high schoolers could finish in three years. (That was one of the suggestions of the “Tough Times, Tough Choices” report on k-12 reform, and I think it was a great one.)
All of this is to lead into this good piece by a parent who has one child in gifted services and one who is not. She was confronted this year with a tough choice, whether to allow her son in the gifted program to go to Disney for a week-long trip:
In the middle of a worldwide economic crisis and a district-wide CRCT cheating scandal, Atlanta Public Schools decided that packing up “gifted-and-talented” students for five school days next month and heading to Florida to visit amusement parks was a bright idea.
One of those days will be spent in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and another at Epcot: $450 per person for students, paid by the parents. I was unable to uncover how many taxpayer dollars are kicked in, but at a minimum those teacher’s salaries for that time.
The school bus doors opened last week to squealing children. My two sons got off the bus, one with blue eyes and the other brown. My “gifted” son held a permission slip and my “not-gifted” held his head low from shame: “The Challenge kids get to go to Disney World and I don’t.”
As his mama, I heard: “I’m not worthy of going to the happiest place on earth with the smart kids.” Shame on the adults who came up with this idea. Openly inviting a select group and not others on a vacation encourages bullying and ostracizing. I chose not to allow my “gifted” son to attend the trip. Instead, I am putting the money towards Ipads to enrich learning for our entire family at home.
When are we going to stop teaching kids to feel inferior in American schools? If you think segregation no longer exists, try taking a closer look at our classrooms.
Remember Brown vs. Board of Education, which concluded, “To separate [some children] from others of similar age and qualifications … generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone….”
As a result of my capable, “not-gifted” boy’s exclusion from the 60- some percent of his class who attend the full-day, pull-out, gifted-and-talented program, he has come undone. He cries when he used to not. He agonizes over homework, afraid of errors. He dislikes school. I will forever loathe those responsible for changing my boy.
I thought we knew better than to socially and economically sort children in 2011.
Are the teachers saying “cast members” from the dated Epcot theme park are more capable of teaching rigorous content to advanced students than they are?
Or is it that our exceptional students really aren’t that exceptional and don’t need extra challenges. Perhaps, it’s simply that we want to separate and give those already advantaged a special treat for being so above average and rich. Maybe they just don’t care or haven’t give it much thought.
Hopefully, those decision-makers allocating Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top grant are thinking clearer. From the U.S. Department of Education: “Race to the Top winners will help trail blaze effective reforms and provide examples for states and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they too are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come.” I hope so.
Come on, Georgia. We can do better than a theme-park education, and all our children deserve more.
No child should be invisible, “gifted” or “not-gifted.”
Consider raising the bar for all students and treat everyone as a high achiever. Then, see what happens. Researchers at Duke University developed a truly bright idea aptly named, Project Bright Idea, that did just that with tangible results.
They performed a five-year study of 10,000 students in the early grades who were all taught in “gifted” classroom.
The result was that 20 percent or so of the students taught with techniques used in gifted classrooms were eventually identified as being academically and intellectually gifted by their districts.
Compare that to only 10 percent of a control group of similar students taught in regular classrooms meeting the gifted criteria. Seems worth looking into, but Tinkerbell ain’t gonna make it happen with her fairy dust.
A child’s elementary experience can and should be a happy one. The Disney slogan this year is: “Let the memories begin.” I pray my “un-gifted” child doesn’t remember these feelings of inferiority and deficiency he’s learning at school.
Most certainly a far cry from Walt Disney’s 1955 dedication speech proclaiming Disney as the place: “Youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”
Ah, there’s that word again, challenge. If only the APS Challenge program could be so inclusive and inspirational.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog