Defining equality down

In North Carolina, Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district is eliminating advanced classes in the name of equality. From Misanthropyst comes a Raleigh News & Observer column by Rick Martinez:

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board voted to eliminate advanced language arts courses next year at two of its middle schools. This comes on top of dropping similar classes for sixth-graders this year, and plans to eventually eliminate all eighth-grade advanced language arts courses. Peculiar moves, given the district’s history of being one of the best, if not the best, school systems in North Carolina.

. . . District officials say advanced courses lead to “tracking,” or grouping of students by academic ability, which can lead to high expectations and extra opportunities for gifted students. Conversely, they believe tracking can doom non-gifted pupils to low expectations and exclusion. So instead of teaching high-performing kids in accelerated courses, the board has adopted the one-class size fits all, equality-based theories behind differentiation.

The local NAACP had complained that most students in advanced classes are white and Asian. Instead of preparing black and Hispanic students for more challenging classes, the district is holding back everyone.

In elementary and junior high, we had no advanced classes. Everybody was lumped together. I coped with the boredom by reading surreptitiously in class. I literally read every fiction book in the elementary school library by the middle of fifth grade, in addition to averaging five books a week from the public library. In high schools, most classes were tracked. It was wonderful. But it did cut into my reading time.

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Comments

  1. Alex Bensky says:

    In other school activities certain students are doomed to low expectations and feelings of being excluded. I’m referring, of course, to students whose athletic ability is not high enough to make the teams. Further, this discriminatory tracking provides opportunities for the athletically gifted that are not available to less physically talented students.

    Joanne, I hope you will continue to follow this story and provide the information and links when the district decides to be fair to all students and extend the principle of equality to its teams. I’ll be waiting eagerly.

  2. Parents should sue.

  3. “… one-class size fits all, equality-based theories behind differentiation.”

    So much for diversity. We’re ALL the same. Except on the playing field or at universities, where we can segregate ourselves in color-coded dorms and major in Oppressed Group Studies ™.

    Seriously, can someone explain to me why this policy is called “differentiation”? It’s Orwellian in its twisted semantics. I can describe it in three letters: LCD. Lowest Common Denominator.

  4. differentiation: a Calculus term. Of course the usage here has nothing to do with Calculus, but it makes the bureaucrats sound smart.

  5. Thanks, Bart. Haven’t touched calculus in fifteen years, so I’ve forgotten it all.

  6. Differentiation is the edujargon term that means adapting teaching to meet all student needs. It’s used most often in regards to instructing gifted students.

    As a teacher of GATE, or G/T kids, I’m a strong advocate of accelerated and separate programs. Highly intelligent students deserve as much instructional adaptation as do special needs kids, but much of the public doesn’t want to hear that. We’re a culture that’s wary of too-smart folk.

    But lumping all abilities into all classes is the new trend in education. Combine that with pressure to teach clearly defined, singular standards so that all kids can bubble in the same items on the same tests, and you have the McBushification of Mcschools.

  7. Joe in NM says:

    “McBushification of Mcschools” I like it.
    But schools do not need to accept the federal money. If you do not take the fed money, you are not required to adhere to the dumb federal regulations. That ends your problem with Bush. Don’t take his money.

  8. Can you say “Harrison Bergeron”?

  9. That’s right. We should devote all of our resources into the “stupidest” kids. That’ll pay off in the end.
    (sarcasm for the clueless, but not too much sarcasm)

  10. jeff wright says:

    I come from a generation before the special programs for gifted students. My generation and preceding generations attended schools without benefit of any of the special stuff—other than the constant haranguing from school counselors about underachievement. The people who run this country (and the rest of the world, for that matter) grew up without benefit of the special programs. Nobel Prize winners didn’t have those programs, nor did the giants of literature. Eisenhower didn’t have them, MacArthur didn’t have them, nor did Nixon, Kennedy or Clinton. How about Lincoln? Parenthetically, you may not like their politics, but these folks were truly gifted.

    Actually, I’m in favor in the special programs for gifted kids, but it occurs to me that, historically, most above-average individuals just went out and got what they needed, maybe in school, but also, and importantly, on their own. That’s the hallmark of a good mind: survivability, adaptability and flexibility.

    IMO, if a kid needs the ministrations of a public school teacher to reach full potential, that kid may not be so gifted as his/her parents might want to believe. What happens if the kid’s smarter than the teacher? Also, IMO, if a kid totally relies on school and isn’t out there inhaling knowledge and experience from multiple non-school sources, that’s not a gifted kid.

    Truly smart people are easy to spot. And I’m not talking about the prodigies in college at age 15. I’m talking about people with IQs of 130-140+. These people will survive whatever mishandling they get from the schools, especially if they’ve got decent parents.

    From a utilitarian standpoint, and given a zero-sum budgetary environment, it may be that scarce resources are best spent in somehow getting the vast herd of kids who’ve grown up with no intellectual stimulation up-to-speed. There are a lot more of them than there are of the gifted kids and they are the ones who will somehow have to get decent jobs and help support us in our old age. Given demographic realities (ratio of workers to retirees) and what I’m promised from social security, I don’t want to have to rely on hamburger flippers. I also don’t want my gifted daughter to have to pay fifty-percent of her salary to FICA.

  11. …preceding generations attended schools without benefit of any of the special stuff—other than the constant haranguing from school counselors…

    I don’t think Eisenhower or Truman had to worry much about school councilors. Wasn’t Lincoln self-taught?

    Also, I thought there was a difference between “advanced placement” and “gifted programs.” Advanced placement implies faster progress, quite possibly with less consumption of resources per unit of progress. When I think of gifted programs, I think of silly make-work enrichment programs back in the 60’s (I don’t know what the term encompasses these days).

    From a utilitarian standpoint, it should be preferable to move each student through the system as fast as practicable. If you have a severely gifted student capable of completing the necessary coursework in half the usual time, why wouldn’t you want to let him do so, so that he can move on and be a burden on some other system?

  12. “Advanced Placement” classes enable students to get through college more quickly — if they can pass the AP exam. High schools don’t save money on AP and often lose money because the classes aren’t filled with 35 or 40 students.

    Because of the way schools are funded, there’s an incentive to keep kids in school — if they require no special services — not to move them through more quickly. That is, the taxpayer may prefer that kids graduate early but the high school will lose money if it loses students. It’s a marginal cost thing.

  13. Sure, there weren’t any gifted courses back in Eisenhower’s day, but then again, the standard public school curriculum was much more rigorous. Based on my experience as the parent of 3 kids in the gifted program, I’d say their gifted classes come close to that level, but not quite. It’s hard to make a comparison because today’s teaching methods are so different.

    The fact is, too many resources are devoted to the low end of the spectrum and not enough to the high end. You’re never going to get the bottom half of the bell curve to enjoy Shakespeare or do calculus. Why not tailor their curriculum to practical skills and basic literacy, while allowing those who want to pursue higher-level coursework, and can benefit from it, to do so? Sure, not having taken college-prep courses in HS can close some doors for you, but that’s what community college is for.

    And to the person who made the Harrison Bergeron reference, right on!

  14. jeff, you named some gifted people who came along before the GAT programs and so presumably didn’t need them. There may have been lots of gifted people who could have accomplished great things but their talents were undeveloped because they did need those programs. It’s to the advantage not only of people like that, but also of the rest of us, that they get what they need. Society needs every speck of talent it can muster, in my humble opinion.

  15. While the discussion here about the pros and cons of AP and “gifted” classes are certainly worthy of debate, Martinez’s column talks about a cynicism far greater than budgetary concerns. I think the real story here is that the NAACP and minority parents have written their kids off.

    They’ve said in effect that only white and Asian kids can be smart. And since that’s wrong, white and Asian kids shouldn’t be able to learn at a higher level. This is wrong on many levels. If they’re so concerned about the kids’ “self-esteem” how is the best salve to say, “Since those ‘other’ kids are so much smarter than you will ever be, we’ll change the rules so that no one will achieve–just like your dumb ass.”

  16. John Thacker says:

    “McBushification of Mcschools.”

    I take it, SuzieQ, that you don’t know anything about the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools. Not only is it certainly the most Democratic area in the state of NC, but this isn’t the first time that they’ve shut down tracking courses in an effort to boost the worse students. They’ve done it several times before, all predating Bush.

    There are several plausible ways to try to improve teaching quality: efforts to measure how well the children learn, and taking actions based on that; efforts to improve the quality of teachers; efforts to improve the method of instruction (such as through scientific studies of various curricula and methods); and efforts to introduce competition between schools, letting successful schools grow and new schools start to replace failing ones, and failing ones reform in the face of declining attendence.

    The teachers’ unions oppose all of these things. They oppose most vigorously the methods that have the greatest scientific backing behind them. (Parents do their part as well.) Just as most parents fight for the best education for their own child, damn the rest, teachers’ unions fight for the comfort and working conditions of their own members, regardless of the effects on education. Sometimes that fight helps education; sometimes it retards it.

  17. jeff wright says:

    Everybody who responded to my post made excellent points and I don’t disagree with one of them.

    However, my real question remains unanswered: where does the money come from? Recall that I do not disagree with having the gifted courses, but I also know that, with finite resources, tough choices have to be made. From an overall societal standpoint, we have to somehow get the dullards to the point where they can make a meaningful contribution. Otherwise, we will continue to fill prisons, support other peoples’ children and watch U.S. competitiveness dwindle. I don’t want an ever-decreasing minority paying taxes in this country and I don’t want to see jobs going off-shore. I also don’t want the overall tax burden for schools to continue spiraling upward.

    My point was and is that if someone has to suffer, gifted kids are better equipped to survive. They are the ones who really need the services of the schools—which are inevitably oriented towards the lowest common denominator—the least. The real answer lies in vouchers. Then, parents of gifted kids would have some real options. So would teachers who are genuinely qualified to teach gifted kids.

    I was especially struck by Rob’s comment regarding minority attitudes towards their children. That, unfortunately, seems to be all too true. Vouchers.

  18. Because of the way schools are funded, there’s an incentive to keep kids in school — if they require no special services — not to move them through more quickly.

    Sounds like the “bright but disruptive” kids had it right all along– they have every incentive to act up and be generally as much an irritant as possible, in order to change the economics of the situation. And I’m sure that’s exactly what many of them are doing, on some level. The trick is not to become labeled “behaviorally challenged” and put back in some Special Ed meatlocker, where the school actually would receive additional funding.

    There will never much improvement without first fixing the structural problems that create such perverse incentives– both for students and for the education establishment.

  19. Sure, there weren’t any gifted courses back in Eisenhower’s day, but then again, the standard public school curriculum was much more rigorous.

    Actually, I think many of those people went to one-room schools.

    The real answer lies in vouchers.

    Amen to that, but vouchers merely allow innovation and true “differentiation”. So in that sense they are not the ultimate answer, but quite possibly the only real means to an answer.

  20. Sorry, that was me.

  21. > You’re never going to get the bottom
    > half of the bell curve to enjoy Shakespeare
    > or do calculus. Why not tailor their
    > curriculum to practical skills and basic
    > literacy, while allowing those who want
    > to pursue higher-level coursework, and
    > can benefit from it, to do so? Sure, not
    > having taken college-prep courses in HS
    > can close some doors for you, but that’s
    > what community college is for.

    Yikes! symptomatic of past 20 years of slide in schools and economy. Folks, the bar is being raised world-wide. writing off the median, or turning community college into remedial schools is a (continuing) recipe for disaster on several levels.

    If NC were arguing for broader access to AP (or other higher standards — my smaller midwestern high school never had any AP) … and smaller classes so that students who were excelling could push themselves, then maybe part of a step forward. (but article alludes otherwise)

    there are also cases where one can be ahead in Math and not in language (or vice versa) but track is for all or nothing.

  22. Bob Diethrich says:

    a personal story about the benefits of trackign. I am 38 and when I was in school we called the advanced classes “accelerated.”

    I was in accelerated classes in 7th grade, goofed off and got dropped out for 8th. 8th grade English was like being thrown into Hell for a bright, inquisitive person like myself; 35 kids from people like me all the way down to the future criminals, and a teacher who was 55 years old and counting the days. I received no intellectual stimlulation, but I worked hard and made it back to accelerated English for 9th grade.

    Throughout my school career any heterogeneous class was always taught to the lowest kids and I was bored stupid. There was not one test in any of these classes that I could not study for during the twenty minute bus ride to school. I coasted through high school without breaking a sweat.

    I paid the price though, as I got to a fairly good college, having learned nothing about time management, study skills and self-discipline. When I failed out after a year and a half, reality hit home.

    I am now a high school teacher and I am quite honest with my kids about what will be expected of them in college. I don’t let them slide through and I don’t let them slide with shoddy work.

    If I paid taxes to that school district in North Carolina then teh “FOR SALE” sign would be on my house tomorrow.

  23. jeff wright says:

    Thanks for your post, Bob. You validate my reasoning. In fact, your experience parallels mine 20 years earlier. You made it and are a productive member of society, without a whole lot of help from the schools. We all paid the price. Good on you.

  24. Bob, do you teach any mixed ability classes, or are you in a position where your classes are tracked? (I understand that tracking is often de facto in high school…. I just don’t get those classes to teach.)

  25. dave'swife says:

    Peter was allowed to go to any grade level that challenged him in elementary school. But the instant he hit middle school- an Inter’l Baccaulareat (sp) porgram, no less – all that nonsense came to a halt. The entire 6th grade took 6 weeks to read and do projects on a 4th grade level novel. That novel was used b/c the story took place in the country the class was studying. Lesson learned- you can be as smart as you want but you’re only going to get so far before we yank your butt back w/ the masses.
    Yeah, we’re still pluggin’ away, looking for a school. All the charters are full and I refuse to play a lottery just to get one boy in and the rest not get drawn. It looks like the charters are on a roll, at least here in the western part of the state. There are only about 4 in the area there. I don’t think people will move, tho there may be some who vote with their feet like us. I just think schools that offer a decent alternative will become very popular. I hate that it’s happening but if it means good things for other types of schooling, well that can’t be all bad. Those who can find a way to do better, will do so. Unfortunately, I can easily see this mess moving in our direction even as we paddle furiously to get away.

  26. So the local NAACP complained that most students in advanced classes are white and Asian. Would the NAACP acknowledge this fact. I remember reading an article about a study on parental grade expections broken down by race. Asian students did not incur parental wrath unless they scored lower than an A-, caucasians a B- and blacks/hispanics a C-. Can you see a correlation between expectations, grades, standardized test scores, advanced courses and race?

  27. Bob Diethrich says:

    Jeff and Rita thank you for your kind comments.

    Rita, I teach in an affluent high school and I teach two types of classes. There is Pre AP World History and Academic. Since Academic is everyone who is not in Pre AP (or Pre AP/GT…another teacher) I guess you could say I teach a mixed group. Of course all my 504s, speds and a few ESLs are in that group.

  28. Walter Wallis says:

    As soon as a student’s time is more profitably spent elsewhere he should get elsewhere. To hold someone in school beyone the point of diminishing returns benefits no one but teacher’s unions and law enforcement.
    Perhaps we should keep kids in school until they can run the 4 minute mile?

  29. People endure all kinds of abuse while growing up, and most of them manage to become productive members of society. But that seems an awfully low target.

    Aside from the psychological harm of what amounts to sensory deprivation and of long-term adversarial relationships between kids and their educators, I’m also thinking lost potential, lost time, reinforced poor study habits, etc.

    Time spent sitting eyes-front through an unneeded lecture, or working through unnecessary exercises, simply can’t be made up. There are only so many years available for education before a young person needs to start producing and living a ‘normal life.’

    Rather than being made up, lost time or potential may actually be amplified later in life. To draw an analogy from ski competition, a racer may slip and recover near the top of the hill, losing only a fraction of a second at time of recovery. But because of lost momentum, this discrepancy can grow to a second or two at the finish line.

  30. writing off the median, or turning community college into remedial schools is a (continuing) recipe for disaster on several levels.

    Which may be true. It is, however, the way that Germany does things. The German tradition of secondary schooling actually includes entirely separate high schools for those who will go to university education and those who are already tracked to vocational school.

    Perhaps the recent performance of the German economy speaks against such things, though.

  31. I think you misunderstood my comment about community colleges. I was a victim of the “cream rises to the top” educational philosophy that Jeff Write advocated here. My elementary and middle schools did not offer any gifted and talented program. The best we got were tracked reading groups and access to a foreign language and algebra in 8th grade. I was bored out of my skull and my grades showed it. I did take AP History and English in high school, but overall my grades were terrible and I had totally lost my love of learning. After 2 years in a dead-end job, I enrolled in community college. I had WONDERFUL instructors who loved their subjects and actually enjoyed teaching. In a lot of ways it was better than going to Big Name University, where you’re taught by TAs and never even see the professor. I am a huge fan of community colleges and I think they give a tremendous boost to people who were stuck in lousy high schools or who didn’t take advantage of their opportunities earlier in life.

    My other point, though, is that letting the bright kids fend for themselves is a tragic waste. High intelligence and emotional maturity do not always go together, and a lot of these kids are emotionally damaged by their time in “mixed ability” classes. The slower kids feel threatened by the brighter kids and they make the bright kids’ lives a living hell. Bright kids also often lose their natural curiosity and love of learning. Sure, most of them will become productive members of society, but how many of them could have done extraordinary things had their abilities been nurtured early on? As the United Negro College Fund used to say, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

  32. I agree with Bart and Robin.

    I’ve never thought it was OK to waste anybody’s time, even a six-year-old. Sometimes it’s inevitable that you have to wait in line, or wait for other people to finish a test. But systematically throwing away hours and hours of a kid’s time by making her sit in a classroom going over things that she learned backwards and forwards two years ago is just wrong.

  33. There are discussions of this on a website named OrangePolitics.org, which covers Chapel Hill politics. I am currently reading through a thread on this decision: http://www.orangepolitics.org/archives/000132.html.

  34. jeff wright says:

    Robin, you misunderstand me. I don’t advocate the “cream rises to the top” philosophy. It’s affected me all of my life and I resent it all to hell. So I don’t advocate or defend it. Oh, no.

    What I do advocate is reality. Reality is that we don’t have enough money to take care of every kid’s individual needs and that the gifted people are far more able to make their own way through life than are the others. And, inasmuch as there are far more of the “others” than there are of the gifted, when choices have to be made—and they do—society has no recourse but to come down on the side of the “others.”

    That’s the way it is and I agree with it because of the old “greater good” philosophy. Sure, some gifted people suffer in that they don’t reach full potential, but suffering here is relative: they won’t be in prison or on welfare and we won’t be paying for their upkeep. Maybe they’ll turn out to be teachers or mid-level managers instead of world-class scientists, but they’ll still be productive members of society—paying taxes, raising families and and all of the other mundane middle-class stuff. But they won’t be out hitting people over the head at ATMs.

    Intelligence is a blessing. Those who have it enjoy an enormous advantage. They are far better equipped than their less fortunate peers to develop themselves without all of the help. That’s why I say that if we have to make choices, then the path is clear. Further, as I said in an earlier post, truly gifted people get a lot of their education outside the schools anyway, so, IMO, the contribution the schools may be able to make is open to question.

    It may be that—as has been suggested—the answer lies in just letting gifted kids leave early if there’s not much more they can learn in the public schools. This is especially true, now that testing is all the rage. Hey, if a kid can test out of high school at age 15, why not parole him early? Then, he and his parents could decide on an appropriate course of action for HIS future. Think of the development potential if a kid could leave high school and spend a couple of years on directed self-study before entering college.

  35. And yet, Mr. Wright, in this particular case, to judge from the threads at OrangePolitics.org, some claim that some 25 to 40% of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school population qualify for the advanced classes. At that point, we are not speaking of a few kids, but a significant chunk of the student body as a whole. We may even be speaking of those kids who do their homework. I don’t live in North Carolina, so, at a distance, it is hard to know.

    Some of the parents who left comments on those threads claimed that the advanced classes had higher student-to-teacher ratios than the other classes. Given that all teachers would need to be reschooled in new educational strategies, and that classroom materials must be changed, a change from the present system will be more expensive than remaining with the status quo.

  36. jeff wright says:

    > And yet, Mr. Wright, in this particular case, to judge from the threads at OrangePolitics.org, some claim that some 25 to 40% of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school population qualify for the advanced classes.

    Well, Julia, at first glance, I’d say that this district sounds like Lake Woebegon, where all of the kids are above average. However, upon reflection, 49% of a given population sampling could be “above average,” which might mean IQ of 101 and above. So, if this district uses this kind of definition, their district may actually not be all that hot. So one of the things we have to do is determine how school districts decide that kids are qualified for “advanced” classes.

    By definition, 25-40% of any population cannot be defined as “gifted,” which is what I’ve been talking about. As I understand it, “gifted” is ordinarily reserved for those with IQs above 130-140. Then you’re talking about ten percent or less of the population.

    It occurs to me that, as a result of the overall shoddiness of the schools and the nature of many of the students in the “normal” classes, a lot of above-average, but not gifted, kids are being categorized as “advanced.” It also occurs to me that a generation ago, there would have been no perceived need for such kids to receive special treatment. I hate to say it, but as a taxpayer, I’m not sure I want to pay a lot of extra money for kids with IQs of 110 to go to special classes.

    What I’d like to see is a situation where all kids can live up to their potential, whatever it may be. And then I get back to vouchers. If your kid has an IQ of 110, he/she should not be in classes with gifted kids. OTOH, he/she should not be in classes with future criminals. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to find a decent school for your kid where he/she focus on doing what he/she was meant to do?

    It seems to me that if you’ve got undesirable teacher/student ratios in “advanced” classes, your standards for “advanced” may be too low. Further, you may have an issue of teacher quality.

    Bottom line: to me, these new wave “advanced” classes probably don’t really accommodate “gifted” students. There just aren’t that many of them. And, as I’ve implied before, I question whether the normal teacher education system can produce sufficient numbers of teachers qualified to deal with “gifted” students.

  37. It seems to me that if you’ve got undesirable teacher/student ratios in “advanced” classes, your standards for “advanced” may be too low.

    Too low for what? Too low for the advanced classes to be rejected on the grounds that they consume more resources than the bottom tier classes? Jeff, are you saying that you think the “advanced” classes (your quotes) are providing a worse education for above-average students than the lower-tier classes? Or are you dismissing them on the grounds that they aren’t elitist enough?

    I don’t know about Julia or the others, but none of my comments here were specifically directed toward gifted students. I was thinking of any student whose ability level is significantly above (or below) the target level being taught.

    Nor do I buy the ‘triage’ argument, that society is best served by diverting all available resources toward the lowest common denominator. There has to be some kind of balance. I think all of the students deserve roughly the same amount in terms of resources spent (except for obviously ‘special needs’ pupils), but would gladly accept slightly less for advanced students on the grounds that they should require less hand-holding. But that assumes that the money is spent effectively on behalf of each group.

    I agree with your position on vouchers, but this position doesn’t seem consistent with the view that all available resources should be spent on the lowest achievers.

  38. As and old guy (54) who went through a pretty good school system, I believe that tracking/no tracking is a read herring. As several people have observed schools used to demand a certain level of academic achievement for all all students. A major reason why this won’t fly anymore is often parents can not accept the fact that their child is not “special”. Rather then telling parents that their children are C students, a perfectly acceptable grade, the curriculum has been dumbed down to ensure parents and children feel good about themselves.

  39. jeff wright says:

    > Jeff, are you saying that you think the “advanced” classes (your quotes) are providing a worse education for above-average students than the lower-tier classes?

    Bart, IMO, it’s difficult to accurately gauge the quality of the education provided to above-average kids. Not the quality of the kid’s overall education, but the quality of the service provided by the school. This is principally because the higher the kid scores on the above-average continuum, the more important his/her own efforts become, and the less important the schools’ input may be.

    I don’t know if above-average kids are getting an inferior education. However, it seems to me that if a kid is in a class with a teacher student ratio of, say, 1:40, the school’s contribution to the kid’s overall development is less than if the ratio were 1:20. At least that’s what the teachers’ unions and the legislators say when they tell us we’ve got to get those class sizes down.

    My hypothesis, and it’s just that, is that if sufficient numbers of children are deemed to be “above-average” and thus deserving of special attention (read extra resources), then it may be that the bar is set too low. In this respect, Jerry may provide a clue. Are standards so watered down that misleading numbers of kids, especially in wealthier districts/schools are now being viewed as “above-average?” I don’t know, but I do know that the texts I used in teaching grades 7-8 (math, language arts, social studies) are not as challenging as those my daughter used 20 years ago or that I used back in the dark ages. So define “average.” And good luck.

    Triage? Nobody likes this term. However, it’s inevitable when you have finite resources. I don’t want to see significant resources shifted to “advanced” classes when the lower-tier classes are screaming for help. Why? Self-interest. Experience tells us many of our future societal problems spring from those lower-tier classes. There certainly is an argument the other way, i.e.., that if we triage the one way, paradoxically favoring those who may need help the least, we more fully develop the upper-tier and can feel very good about ourselves. We also satisfy the most vocal of the parents. OTOH, what of the lower tier, which we’ve essentially abandoned? Have you checked what it costs to keep someone in prison? Welfare costs? Etc., etc.

    Yeah, triage sucks. But what are you going to do? Double taxes to take care of everyone? No. Political reality intrudes. Furthermore, take a look at the per-pupil costs of the Washington, D.C. schools. More money hasn’t helped them. Truly above-average and gifted kids are rarely in the public schools there. And finally, they are getting a limited voucher program. Yes, vouchers are truly the answer. Give the parents of above-average kids an option that doesn’t include over-crowded “advanced” classes of perhaps suspect quality, taught by teachers who may not be fully equipped to deal with such a student population. Speaking as a parent, this may also serve what many view as a worthy goal, namely getting one’s child away from undesirable influences.

    Full circle: Many above-average—and certainly gifted—kids suffer when forced to remain with under-achievers. Intellectual development suffers and a child’s frustration may manifest itself in emotional problems. So, yes, they need special attention. The question is, where? Unfortunately, if we can’t get vouchers and they have to stay in the public schools, they may just have to bite the bullet—as they always have—for the greater good. Sorry. Nobody likes to hear that. I don’t like to write it. But it’s reality.

  40. I own a home in a high school area that has the median home cost of 250,000.00 The incidence of dual parent families is approximately 87%, the average education of parents is graduate level.
    (Spring, Texas a suburb of Houston.)
    Would anyone doubt that children from successful educated and concerned parents would be anything but the same?

    It is possible for a school to have a high percentage of GT students. It’s all about the community. And the parents.

  41. Steve LaBonne says:

    For the people who think this somehow isn’t really a problem, I have two questions:
    1. Why is it OK to cater to unusual ability in athletics, but not in what school is supposed to be all about, academics?
    2. Why is it OK for the smartest students, and only them, to _not_ receive the education they need? We don’t accept that (at least in principle- actual performance of course is another matter)for disabled students, minorities, etc.- the gifted are the only identifiable class of students for whom, according to some people, leaving them by the wayside is OK.

    I don’t get it.

  42. Mark Odell says:

    jeff wright wrote: So, yes, they need special attention. The question is, where?

    If the question isn’t rhetorical, the answer would appear to be: Just about anywhere else. I might suggest independent study &/or homeschooling. Also, I seem to recall hearing of programs for high-school students in community colleges which, if they’re not, should be open to all comers, and not just AP/”fast-track” students pre-screened by HS administrators.

    Unfortunately, if we can’t get vouchers and they have to stay in the public schools, they may just have to bite the bullet–as they always have–for the greater good. Sorry. Nobody likes to hear that. I don’t like to write it. But it’s reality.

    If so, it’s only because those-in-power have made it so — which tends to point one towards the actual source of the problem.

  43. I don’t think there has to be some carved-in-stone dichotomy between funding the low end or funding the high end. They’re managing to do both in the public schools around here.

  44. “That’s the way it is and I agree with it because of the old “greater good” philosophy. Sure, some gifted people suffer in that they don’t reach full potential, but suffering here is relative: they won’t be in prison or on welfare and we won’t be paying for their upkeep. Maybe they’ll turn out to be teachers or mid-level managers instead of world-class scientists, but they’ll still be productive members of society—paying taxes, raising families and and all of the other mundane middle-class stuff. But they won’t be out hitting people over the head at ATMs.”

    That doesn’t really make sense. It’s the really bright ones that make or break your civilization. That’s where the technology comes from to drive the cost of living through the floor, to come up with cures for everything under the sun, to make it possible for normal people to live in luxury without too much effort, and to come up with all the wonderful inventions that we’ve been promised over the years.

    Resources that challenge them, get them in the habit of working for their grades and their honors, and train them in the habits that lead to maximum achievement pay off a hell of a lot, for all of us. We’ve got tons of smart people that have gotten into the habit of coasting through life, and we’re missing out on the wonders that they could have created.

    “Hey, if a kid can test out of high school at age 15, why not parole him early? Then, he and his parents could decide on an appropriate course of action for HIS future. Think of the development potential if a kid could leave high school and spend a couple of years on directed self-study before entering college.”

    Or better yet, let him go to college, finish at 18 or 19, and get his life started. No need to stall him just because we’ve developed the unfortunate habit of insisting that our teenagers take on the role of children.

    In fact, if we hold out the prospect of early release with emancipation if the kid wants it, I’ll bet you’ll get everyone’s best possible performance. On the other hand, you might also get parents actively interfering with the educational process if successful completion means the kids aren’t under their thumbs anymore. On the gripping hand, you’ll get kids using their powers of deception and subversion to learn and excel instead of merely to have sex and take drugs, and maybe put forth even more effort.

  45. Anonymous says:

    > It is possible for a school to have a high percentage of GT students. It’s all about the community. And the parents.

    Absolutely. There are many Lake Woebegones around the country. And if they operated in a vacuum, funding their own schools, etc., without any connection to their city or state, then everybody would be happy. Unfortunately, court decisions have outlawed the formerly common practice of wealthy districts running their own show, although there are some interesting exceptions. What HAS happened, however, is that the best and most experienced teachers have migrated to such districts, thus leaving the “bad” districts with the least experienced teachers. This results in the wealthy districts being able to offer oodles of GT classes, while the poor districts, although they pay lip service to it, can’t really get their act together when it comes to their best and brightest kids. For that matter, they don’t seem to be able to deal with their worst kids, either.

    So, by law, just as I am paying for the shoddy education the kids get in the poorer districts, I’m paying for the rich kids as well. O.K. That’s the way it’s done. But it’s resulted in discriminatory outcomes. I don’t want to pay extra money so privileged kids can get a leg up on attending Harvard or Yale instead of a state university. I want the extra money to go to poor kids, so that they might be able to bootstrap their way out of their unfortunate circumstances, get a decent education and do something with their lives. With a major caveat: I don’t like the current public school regimes and their foolish focus on teaching everything but academic subjects, so I want to see some serious rigor in the system. Otherwise, I say blow it up and start over. Give everybody a voucher. High-level academic schools for some, great trade schools for others. A sound education for those in the middle. Free enterprise for all.

    And, yeah, the sports thing is ridiculous. Nothing sadder than an 18-year-old surrounded by 50-year-old groupies.

  46. I think this discussion has given birth to a false dichotomy. There isn’t a split between funding more challenging courses and funding courses for the kids in less challenging courses. It doesn’t sound to me as if the advanced programs at these particular school districts cost more money. If anything, they may cost less. Harder textbooks don’t cost more than easier texts, and I wouldn’t assume that the teachers who teach the more academically challenging courses were more capable, nor that they were earing more money.

    What really bothers me about this new policy is that it sets a barrier to all student accomplishment.

  47. Triage? Nobody likes this term. However, it’s inevitable when you have finite resources.

    I never said I didn’t like the term. I just said that I didn’t buy the argument. Under triage, you amputate the leg of a patient who is bleeding to death from a mangled foot before helping a patient with a cold. Under the Chapel Hill model, you amputate the legs of all patients equally.

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  1. Honors Classes

    Joanne Jacobs has a post on referring to an article about the Chapel Hills NC school board doing away with honors or accelerated classes in their middle schools. If I lived in Chapel Hills, and was the parent of a