Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Child Left Behind

An article by Sam Dillon in today's New York Times cites a study that supports something many parents of gifted students have suspected for a long time: since the onset of No Child Left Behind, low-achieving students are improving at the expense of high achieving students. Click the link above to read it for yourself.

I was very happy to see this article in today's paper. Not that I'm happy with the findings, but it's nice to see something that looks like proof of a situation that parents and teachers of gifted kids have been talking about for years. I think the philosophy behind No Child Left Behind is admirable -- bring up the performance of poor and minority students who have not been treated fairly by the system. That absolutely needed to be done and I'm glad that it seems to be working, at least according to this study. But why does someone always need to be left out? When No Child Left Behind was enacted, Illinois (and probably other places as well), drastically cut funding to gifted programs because they needed the cash for federally mandated programs to help the lower end of the spectrum. How could higher performing students not suffer? This is, to me, yet another indication that more advocacy is needed at all levels. Advocacy for gifted kids in their own schools to get them the curriculum they need; advocacy at the level of the school system to get working programs in place; advocacy at the state level for funding for gifted kids; and advocacy at the federal level to get new educational laws passed that help all children, not just some of them. Don't lose the ground we've gained with the lower performers, but it's time to bring the higher performers up to speed.


Jeanne said...

And speed is of the essence! When I talk to parents about why my son needs, really needs, the gifted program, I like to emphasize the speed at which he can learn. That de-emphasizes the "he's smarter" bragging that irritates folks, plus it is one of the main issues for his education. A bright child who can learn at his own pace is a child who doesn't get bored and lose interest in school. (And in our school system I often have to add that a bright child who is overused as a tutor for the slower learners is a child who almost inevitably gets rewarded for acting out.)

harriet M. Welsch said...

Agreed! And I really like the emphasis of speed over smartness. Individual pace is crucial. Ideally, all students should get to work at the pace that works for them. But practically, that's not really how schools work and in most cases, it requires a lot of intervention to make it so.

Speed is the thing that is frustrating me most and is actually the thing that seems hardest for the schools to implement, at least in the younger grades where the students are generally not as capable of focusing in on their own work without a little outside assistance and are less likely to be their own advocates.

There are two ways in which we've encountered problems with speed. The first is the organizational issues the school has, which has meant that AJ got little or no differentiated work for the first several months of the year for both last year and the year before (K and 1st grade) because it took that long for the teachers to catch up with the class and figure out what to do. I have tried to be more proactive for next year, but because the school doesn't assign students to classes until a couple of weeks before the new school year starts, there is only so much we can do in advance. So even with the efforts I've made thus far, there is a good chance there will be a lag yet again this coming year. This is, as far as I am concerned, completely unacceptable. First conferences in November is way too late to get on board with these students and at that point, we had a lot of undoing to accomplish with AJ. I'm sure our school is not alone in this. I don't see it changing anytime soon -- it's not that the schools don't want to, it's just that they're not set up in such a way that this process is in any way efficient, so it's up to the parents to get in there and make sure your kid gets what he or she deserves. I go into every school year assuming the teacher knows absolutely nothing about AJ. This is, fortunately, not usually true, but it is true that the teacher doesn't always know all the things she should. My solutions: talk early and often to the teacher and put everything you possibly can in writing.

The second problem we have encountered with speed is caused by speed itself, namely that if he moves too fast through his differentiated materials, he's left twiddling his thumbs. His teacher this year was good about catching it, but in a class with 27 kids, several of which had special needs of one sort or another, there is only so fast that she could react. I've tried to address this for next year by working on a curriculum plan that the classroom teacher, the gifted teacher, and we parents are all on board with. This way we can help each other instead of working at cross purposes and hopefully AJ will waste less time. I'm also working on getting AJ involved in some online courses through Stanford, which I'm hoping can be implemented at school rather than at home (although probably at our expense) in order to give him something he can do at his own pace when the classroom materials run out. But there may be a technology barrier. We shall see.

The issue of tutoring has not been a problem this year for us (his teacher was exceptionally sensitive to his social issues), but it has been in the past -- when he was 3, his preschool, without checking with us, had AJ go around to all the classrooms and read to the other kids. AJ loved the attention and it was supposed to be inspirational for his classmates, but it made me very uncomfortable when I found out about it. Now he has much more of a love-hate relationship with that kind of attention. When he reads out loud to his friends (which they all did in class this year), he mimics the halting style of the typical first grade reader instead of the fluid, nuanced and dramatic style we get at home.