Posted by: JanF | October 19, 2010

“Bright Flight”, Extortion … and Messages

Today we are caught between a rock and a hard place. Here…let me… push it…a little. Yikes! It simply won’t budge. A real dilemma.

Something that has troubled me a lot about public education is the notion of “gifted and talented” programs. These are generally curriculum set up in school districts to encourage and entertain children who have been deemed “gifted” by some criteria…either a test or a pushy parent.

I added the pushy parent part because I see them occasionally in my school district. No teacher is smart enough to teach their child, their child will be ruined if they are “kept back” with the other children, and, more importantly, nothing is good enough when it comes to their children.

Full Disclosure: I am a parent and I want the best for my child.

Further Fuller Disclosure: I did not have the “advantage” of a gifted and talented program at any of the schools that I attended and yet I managed to graduate with high honors from a major university.

I understand parents wanting the best possible outcomes for their children. I want the best for my child. I also see in this “wanting” the teensiest bit of vanity because the fruit of their loins must necessarily be as brilliant as they are. I have the advantage of less bias because my child has none of my DNA (except perhaps Mitochondrial Eve) since she is adopted and any academic failure on her part would not be taken as a personal defect on my part.

At a time in history when we barely have enough money to pay teachers, cover the utility bills for the school building and buy paper for the copier, it seems odd that we would be having a discussion about gifted/talented programs. But it is exactly because of the current money crunch that we need to have this discussion. Educational resources are finite. Any resources redirected to one program means fewer for another program.

Here’s the dilemma:
1. Kids who are “gifted” need to be motivated to pay attention in class because the material may seem too easy to them. If they aren’t motivated, they will fail to achieve their full potential.
2. Kids who are “mainstream” need teachers and textbooks. If they don’t have these things they cannot learn the basics to survive in our society.

In Madison, some students staged a silent sit-in last week to protest changes in curriculum related to gifted/talented.

The parents of the students identified as “gifted” complained to the school district that their children were not getting their needs met. An audit was done by the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and it was recommended that these students be offered more advanced courses to keep them motivated. Turns out that having these advanced courses may mean fewer elective courses would be available for the rest of the students.

From the article, here is the school district’s rationale for the changes:

to discourage students from leaving the district through open enrollment by offering more academic rigor, and to address parent concerns about opportunities for “talented and gifted” students

In a nutshell, the parents of “gifted” children are threatening to take their children out of the school district if their needs are not met.

Sigh.

At a time when Americans are falling behind more and more in core subjects like math and science, we need to bow to the will of a group of parents who want “more and better” for their children at the expense of “just barely enough” for everyone else’s children? And they hold the cudgel of moving their children out of the school district (“bright flight”?) if they do not get their way. (In Wisconsin, the open enrollment policy means that children can enroll in any school district they want to if there is space and their “education dollars” are split between their home district and the district they are going to).

I don’t have an answer. If I was raising Einstein would I be angry that I could not have him take an Advanced Placement course? I don’t know. All I know is that I did not suffer from being educated the same way my age peers were and I wonder if this is actually a solution in search of a problem.

And one more thing. If you separate the “gifted” from the “mainstream” you are sending an awful message to both groups. To the first you are saying that the circumstances of your birth are more important than the common good. And to the second group you are saying that you must defer to your betters.

Sounds suspiciously like more privilege for the privileged which is a decidedly non-progressive value.

(A version of this was originally posted on 10/19/2010 at BPI Campus)

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