As I gather up my thoughts from the Work Session on Advanced Learning,the two-day Equity and Gifted Education Summit at UW and more reading/research, I come away with three main thoughts.
1. Is there such a thing as a child who is gifted academically?
I ask this question because it felt to me at the Equity and Gifted Education summit that there were clearly some people in the room that didn't believe that. Not a large group but there were enough to make me notice.
Or, they may believe it but think that under no circumstances should any child go to any kind of self-contained classroom including AP classes.
I ask this question because of the huge pushback that Advanced Learning - and in particular, HCC - gets at this blog. Is that the case for some readers?
Of course, it then begs the question of gifted versus bright?
All gifted children are considered bright, but not the other way around – a concept parents of bright children have a hard time understanding, explains Andrea Mishler, who’s been a Gifted and Talented (GT) teacher for nine years. The fact that their child gets straight A’s, but does not qualify for the GT program leaves them frustrated and scratching their heads. Mishler’s district doesn’t look at grades when deciding who is eligible for the GT program. “Sometimes gifted children are such perfectionists, they won’t turn in a project for fear of the evaluation that accompanies it. Therefore they may get poor grades or appear as underachievers,” says Mishler.And, we also have the question, "Aren't all students 'gifted' in some way? I think there are many kinds of gifts but for the purposes of this discussion, we are talking about academic talents.
Often parents and educators believe a child who can read early is gifted. The truth is, her brain may have developed a bit quicker than her peers, but young kids are known for developmental leaps and stalls. Later on she may learn at the same pace as other kids, or she may continue to outpace them. Only time will tell.
What is it that makes it okay to have a child who has developed abilities in music or athletics but not academics? (That "developed" part is very important. We have all met people who are brilliant but not motivated. No talent/gift will sustain or expand or grow without effort.)
2. If there are gifted students, how should those students' academic needs be met in a public school setting?
Keeping this in mind - the goal of public education is to meet EVERY child's academic needs. However, just this past fall, some SPS staff person wrote in the Board's legislative agenda this line that ended the agenda:
Good teaching, fair salaries, adequate classrooms and class sizes are all needed to close opportunity gaps for our neediest learners.
I wrote to the Board and pointed out how odd it was for the district to end their agenda for just one group of students when the goal is to support the learning for ALL students. It got changed. But someone within the district wrote that and wanted legislators to hear that. Why?
Purely by chance, I sat with a table of teachers at the UW event. I won't say what schools but they all had valid points to make but were not all in lockstep on this issue. One teacher did say something that gave me pause. She said, "If you are on a burning ship (public education), why would you throw the life preservers to the kids who can swim (gifted kids)?"
I like to think that public education is NOT a burning ship but even if it was, isn't the goal here to save as many kids as possible? That would be my goal and I might toss the life preservers to the kids who can't swim but ALSO, find some wrecked wood to hold onto for the ones who can swim.
In short, does this have to be reduced to an "either/or" question?
But it feels like many parents believe that gifted education is giving "more" or "better" to those students. I can say the teachers at the table didn't believe that. They did not believe the teachers for HCC are better teachers. They also know that there is no special curriculum, just a faster/deeper pace.
In short, it's acceleration + challenge. To me, that is the difference between the GenEd classroom and the gifted classroom. Not the challenge but the acceleration. ALL kids should be challenged in their classroom.
The vibe I get is that while the cohort model for gifted education is widely known in the research to be useful to gifted students, that there many, including teachers, who believe there are benefits to all kids being in the same classroom.
Or, more to the point, they like it better that way.
Meaning, there is some emotional component for adults to seeing kids tracked.
That is an entirely different matter than academics. And it's not being acknowledged or addressed.
For teachers and administrators, there is also an issue that no one within the district wants to acknowledge.
If you take gifted students out of a school, there go their high test scores. It hurts the school's scores and the teachers' scores.
I asked at my table, "Well, when the test scores are reviewed, isn't the make-up of the class taken into account?" They just laughed.
Well, if your job review had one component - class make-up - that was out of your control, you might want to try to do your best to advocate for that to change.
I do not fault teachers or principals for feeling this way. But that is an adult issue. What is in the best academic interests' of children?
Then, there are the parents.
On the one end, parents of the gifted. My own experience, solely from Spectrum, is not a lot of pushy parents but pretty involved parents. The teachers at the table felt that HCC parents are overly involved to the point where their children openly exhibited stress in the classroom. But even if HCC kids were in GenEd classrooms, would that make the parents any less concerned? I'm not sure it would.
I recall one comment made in another thread, something akin to "If you aren't advocating for other people's children on the issue of equity, you should be ashamed of yourself."
I think we all, as citizens, have to choose our course on advocacy for social justice. There are ways, big and small, in how any one person can affect change. And, being a passive progressive really doesn't help. But time is a finite thing and so it is for parents.
I also think it a difficult "ask" to say to parents that they should be advocating for other people's children before their own. I believe many parents - on all sides - would say, "I can only do the best I can for my child" and frankly, I could not fault them. Raising children is tough, involved work.
But naturally, as parents in a public school district, it's important to look beyond your own school bubble. Especially if your child is in a program/activity that has inequities in it. This is not to say that parents bear the fault; the district and many boards made those big decisions on this program and knew of its inequities. I know many of us who have advocated for change for the Advanced Learning program for many years (including me) to no avail.
Why the district has finally woken up to the issue is a bit of a mystery except that it seems to have come out of a bigger, harder look at equity.
3. How should gifted education be enacted in a district in a way that is equitable?
One sad thing about that UW summit - it never got to this question. I was quite surprised to not hear about best practices or districts that were getting it right.
I did find this research that I think very succinctly gives some ideas. It's from ScienceDirect, Teaching Gifted Children in Regular Classrooms in the USA by Nadezhda Pavlovna Pomortseva.
Lastly, I hope to get back to a partially written post about my perception of how "equity" as a word and a thought is being used in this district. I truly believe that every single person who works in this district wants to see more equity in the district for all students. But I also believe that there are some in senior leadership who want to use this term to push other initiatives/directions and will wield it like sledgehammer for those who might raise concerns.
Meaning, if you aren't for their plan for equity, you are against these children. That's just not true but using that term in that manner certainly works out well if you want to marginalize others.