Crayons for the gifted

Rory of Parentalcation has moved to Alaska and decided not to have his son tested for the gifted program at his new school. He thinks it’s a waste of time.

His experience last year in South Carolina was a waste of time. He colored more posters in his gifted class than he did in art class.

Only one Anchorage elementary school offers acceleration; the rest provide “enrichment opportunities that incorporates (sic) universal themes with classroom learning in alignment with the district’s standards and goals.” Rory sees enrichment as a way to make sure the smart kids don’t get too far ahead.

His son’s first assignment was to make a fire prevention poster.

A commenter suggests a “just say no” response to “crazy crayola projects.”

I put a post-it note on the assignment with a note that kindly says “I’m so sorry, but (child’s name) won’t be completing this project. Instead, he/she will (insert age-appropriate assignment here, like writing a short paragraph on fire prevention, for example). If you would like to discuss this issue, don’t hesitate to call me. Thanks!” Then I call other parents in the class and ask them to do the same thing.

Apparently, the Crayola curriculum is annoying a lot of parents.

About Joanne


  1. Many years ago when he was in first grade, my son was placed in a “gifted” reading program that met three times each week. In ten weeks, the group read one book with one sentence on each page that he could have read in kindergarten. But after each class, he brought home a picture that he had drawn in class. We pulled him out of this time wasting program.

  2. This year, I have taken it upon myself to teach my 5th grader 6th grade math at home in the evenings. She’s miles ahead and can handle jumping over some math facts. However, I wouldn’t be able to do this if the school hadn’t had a good curriculum in math that emphasized facts, fractions, and word problems. Even as the 5th grade math teacher is starting new concepts, she’s still quizzing and re-quizzing the kids on their basic multiplication facts. 🙂 Awesome!

    When I proposed this to her teachers though, I was met with blank stares.

  3. wahoofive says:

    Mollo, you’re digging yourself in deeper. What are you going to do next year when she’s bored with sixth-grade math because she already knows all of it? You’d be wiser to teach her some other subject that they won’t get to in school, like symbolic logic or plate tectonics or ancient Greek history — otherwise, you’ll be committed to supplementary teaching the next seven years.

    At the risk of being flamed as a bigot, I’d suggest that schools are always going to have a tough time accommodating bright students because by and large, teachers (and administrators) weren’t super-achieving students themselves — they were the ones who got A’s and B’s by working diligently on their assignments — so they don’t instinctively know what such students need. When I was in the gifted program in elementary school, they basically took us on field trips to museums and the like; that’s better than coloring.

  4. Yikes! When I was a kid, the teachers thought that gifted classes were a waste of time, so our teachers had to show that we were learning something. They picked a theme (inventors, a culture, etc) and we wrote reports (with bibliography) starting in first grade. It was invaluable practice when I got to term papers! We also did come fun and interesting things (logic puzzles, experiments, etc).

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    Honestly, I grow tired of parents who complain about gifted programs and the slow pace of classes. As a parent of two struggling students I would expect these parents to do what I do, offer appropriate materials at home. Public school don’t exist to meet all the specific needs of individuals. Stop expecting it and take responsiblity for meeting the educational needs of your children. I suggest private school or homeschooling if your local ps is inadequately meeting your child’s needs.

  6. Our goal, that is, its her goal too, is she’ll take and place out of 6th grade math. Because of the homeschool craze in Texas, Texas Tech University started it’s own ISD. It allows students to enroll in whatever classes they want, get materials, send in homework for grades, and receive official state recognition for their completed classes. Because of this, Tech also offers state recognized placement exams.

    I’ve already cleared this with her counselor and spoken to the GT coordinator. The GT coordinator sad my child would have to take two math tests, 6A & 6B, at the end of the year and score a 90 on them. I mentioned the Texas Tech placement exams and she admitted that those are the ones the district uses! Now I can have her take the tests at her leisure and re-do them if she doesn’t get a 90.

    The tests are only $30 and can be administered by a teacher or librarian.

    I think if every GT parent realized how easy it was to help their child get ahead, more would be willing to dedicate the 30 minutes a day that I do now.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    Wow, reading what Mollo and Stacy say, I wonder why they’re sending their children to school at all, when they have to do the teaching at home. Might as well homeschool and skip the timewasting public school part of the day.

    I’m a homeschooling parent, but I do have the perhaps naive notion that public schools exist to satisfy the educational needs of individual students, and that a school that doesn’t satisfy the education needs of its students is a failure.

  8. Stacy in NJ says:

    Cardinal Fang:

    I do homeschool. I do it because my very high performing ps was unable to meet the needs of my children. From our experience, our school did fail our children. Or, I should say, our school was satisfied to let my children fail. I think you’re naive in your notion. Public schools exist to meet some of the educational needs of some of our students and to pretend that they’er meeting the needs of the rest.

    I really don’t blame the teachers or administrators. The systems are so ridge the flexibity that is required to satisfy the needs of high or low performers just isn’t possible.

  9. About the post-its saying that the kid won’t do a poster but instead will do something else: as a high school teacher, I’d probably give your kid a zero for what was assigned. If that’s cool with you, then more power to you. You’ve still taken a stand and your kid has learned from it.

    I want to be clear: a parent who called to discuss their concerns with me who wanted to develop an alternative that met whatever objectives or goals were assessed by the poster would certainly be accommodated. But for you just to unilaterally make the call wouldn’t mean that I felt obligated to accept it as a replacement in my grading, nor do I think that my supervisors or BOE would direct me to. I don’t know enough about elementary school grading to know if this even has to be a concern with lower grades.

    I don’t do a lot of posters or content-light creative stuff anyway, but what I do, I do because I need to for one reason or another.

    Here’s the thing that parents sometimes don’t understand about some of the crap that gets assigned: often the curriculum either demands or strongly suggests it. Other times, it’s the administrative culture of the school to make teachers use “balanced assessment” which on some campuses translates as fluffing the grades up with crap that’s easy to do.

    If you object, talk to the teachers but also follow up with the higher ups so that whatever is driving this particular trend will be meet with counter pressure to change the system for the benefit of all kids. If you strongly object for your own kid, home school and control all your kid’s assignments. But it’s probably counter-productive to try to approach public schools as an a la carte service.

  10. Stacy in NJ says:

    NDC, The post-it suggestion was for a fire prevention poster that was assigned in an elementary gifted program. I doubt that grading would be an issue.

    It’s unfortunate that parents (and their children) can’t approach ps as an a-la-carte service. Perhaps not in individual classes but within the system as a whole. Sometimes the menu stinks.

  11. NDC,

    High school is a whole different animal due to that little thing known as tracking.

    Parents who finally break down and let it be known that they’ve had enough aren’t looking for an a la carte education for their child. I take you don’t have kids in the “project years” yet.

    When the project assignment comes home, the first thing you have to do is read through several more directions than is developmentally appropriate for your kid, and spend several minutes explaining exactly what the directions mean and what has to be included. You will be amazed at how clueless your child is about the assignment and you will spend a half an hour just trying to make sure he/she understands what is involved.

    Then you have to drive all over town looking for all of the correct paper and adhesives and doo-hickeys that your kid needs for said project, but doesn’t have a clue how to use. Explaining how to cut boards and measure paper and write summaries of books (when he may or not be able to write at that time) will take up a good portion of the evening along with the inevitable tears of frustration. The kid might cry, too


    ‘Cause diaramas aren’t just pretty scenes in a shoebox. One must write a summary on the side and the cast of characters on the other side. The title has to be on the top. It all must be in ink. All sides must be colored and/or decorated. Paper must be measured, cut, and glued to all sides of the box, a skill not many 7 year-olds can do without help. And that’s just the outside of the box.

    The occasional project (with developmentally appropriate directions) is fine to most parents, but that’s not what’s going on. Teachers are using bulky time-consuming projects like daily lessons. They feel they’ve succeeded when a good portion of the class comes in with something to show, not realizing the horror that went on the night before.

    At least by high school, many teens can get their own supplies and handle glue. They can also take it up with you if they feel it is too difficult. Grade-schoolers don’t have this capacity.

    So, when they come to you not knowing their math facts or how to write, you’ll know why.

  12. Uh, make that a di-O-rama.

    Preview is a good thing.

  13. Dear NDC,

    You wrote:

    “Here’s the thing that parents sometimes don’t understand about some of the crap that gets assigned: often the curriculum either demands or strongly suggests it. Other times, it’s the administrative culture of the school to make teachers use “balanced assessment” which on some campuses translates as fluffing the grades up with crap that’s easy to do.”

    This is possibly the saddest thing I’ve ever read… With all the moaning about “teaching to the test” and “standards-based instruction” (and the statistics on university students in remedial English classes), it’s positively mind boggling to think that teachers/administrators would waste precious time and effort in academic classes to do poster projects. I have yet to bump into a state exam that requires any skills that can be uniquely assessed by an art project as opposed to a piece of writing or other scholarly endeavor.

    The fact that even you admit these artsy projects are “crap” (twice!) should be evidence enough. Not only should parents protest, but good teachers like you should join the chorus against curricula that include these time-wasters.

    By the way, I’m Cheryl vT, the parent who responded to Rory’s post in Parentalcation. The fact that my kids have never received a zero for their alternative (i.e. written) assignments leads me to believe that the teachers who assigned the crazy projects knew in their hearts that they were “crap.”

    And your suggestion that a phone call to the teacher would be good is well taken. I’m non-confrontational by nature, and figured that if a teacher had a great reason for assigning a poster on a novel, for example, he or she would call or send the post-it note back. So far, that’s never happened either…

  14. Wow… drama.

    For the record…

    My son did the art project (I capitulated), but I didn’t give him a one iota of help and he only used items we had laying around the house. Blogging it, helped me vent my anger.

    The poster was assigned to his regular class (remember he isn’t in the gifted program). Anyone who argues that a poster is acceptable graded homework for any class besides Art, shouldn’t be a teacher.

    I also have a struggling student, so no lectures.

    It’s my right to complain about the gifted program because…


    p.s. I do provide extra tutoring to all FOUR of my school age kids, as well as taking care of our baby (thats right, 5 kids), ensuring their regular homework is done, cooking dinner while my wife is at work, taking my own online classes, keeping the house clean, blog, taking kids to track meets and church youth groups, and doing a little work at home from my full time job as a Master Sergeant in the USAF. (No, I don’t know how I get it all done)

  15. Stacy in NJ

    I agree entirely that schools do not exist to meet *all* the specific needs of individuals. But if they don’t exist to meet the specific educational needs of individuals, what do they exist for? And why should anyone pay taxes to support a school system which doesn’t meet its students’ specific educational needs?

    If parents are responsible for meeting the educational needs of their children, not schools, then we should shut down the schools and pay parents directly for their services. I don’t see any reason to pay money to an institution that doesn’t bear any responsibility for providing services.

  16. Why yes, Rory, I feel better already.;) I’m just glad that era is over and done with.

    Actually, I wish I had just refused, but I didn’t realize that I could without getting the kid in trouble.

    The gifted program my one son was in did a lot of projects and coloring, but they seemed to be working on more sophisticated things than the regular classroom, so I didn’t mind so much.

    Plus, the teacher made it a point to work on the projects in school.

  17. Stacy in NJ says:

    Rory, Sorry for the confusion regarding the regular vs. gifted poster asssignment. 🙂

    Tracy, I completely and totally agree with you. Why, indeed.

    Any parent of a gifted or struggling student who relies on the public school system to meet the educational needs of their children is, in my opinion, very naive.

    Parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s educational outcomes. That’s just reality. If your public school system meets their need, God bless. I’m happy for you. If it doesn’t and you choose to fight the system, hoping it will change and accommodate in time to positively effect your children, again, God bless. But, expecting any ps system, structured in the rigid manner our current system is, to meet the incredibly varying needs of all students is ridiculous. We need more choices: charters, vouchers, subsidized private and homeschooling.

  18. Andy Freeman says:

    If public schools aren’t meeting the needs of kids outside the middle, why are they getting money for those kids? Shouldn’t we give the money to an organization that will meet their needs?

  19. The GT program is stagnant right now as “they” are trying to come up with a better approach. My daughter’s fourth grade teachers took it upon themselves to assign the GT students two papers, one each semester, with a poster and presentation. This was mainly done at home but any report is done this way.

    My biggest beef is that the regular 4th grade was not assigned a paper at all.

    My son is in fourth grade this year and they haven’t bothered to do anything about GT at all, not even classify the kids at GT because of this “reorganization”.

  20. My point was mainly that parents often think that teachers have more control about what is taught and assigned than teachers really do. Some aspects of courses are determined for them, and the curriculum that we are directed to teach actually includes many things that will never be tested by the standardize test we give.

    If you teach in a school that expects high engagement activities even if the content is a little light, if you want to get good evaluations, you better go high engagement, rather than sticking with tried and true, but potentially “boring” content.

    If you teach at a school where the kids are expected to enter the fire safety poster contest, then you have to have your kids do fire safety posters or accept the idea that you deliberately choosing to antagonize the people who evaluate you. It depends on the school and the personality of the principal whether things like this will be an issue. It’s unlikely that someone who thinks the fire safety poster is crap will penalize a kid for wring a paragraph instead, but it’d be wise to know what the teacher intended to do first and to realize that you probably can’t compel the teacher just to grade the replacement assignments you elected to create for your kid.

    Many teachers do think some of the project type stuff kids are asked to do is junk, but it doesn’t change the expectations on them to require them, and they need parents to do more than opt out. They need parents who will try to change what’s required at the level that expectations are set. I know that there’s a tendency to think that parents should just take what they want for their kids from the public schools since they pay taxes, but that’s not actually how it should be. We all pay taxes, and we need a system that delivers the education that would benefit all kids. Good citizenship really requires more that a selfish interest in just what is good for your kid in the moment.

  21. Stacy in NJ says:


    I think good citizenship requires that teachers be vocal in objecting to crap poster projects, instead of acting like ass kissers, so they don’t upset their bosses. I think good citizenship requires teachers to shine light on the stupidity of systems that require inane projects instead of fobbing the job off onto the shoulders of parents.

  22. As a child, I was in various gifted and talented programs, and I hated them. It was like a penalty for being smart. We were pulled out of class to study some separate topic at a basic level, like astronomy or architecture, or brainstorming solutions to a hypothetical prison in space. There was additional homework from this program. At the same time, we had to do the same work as other students, in classes far below our ability level.

    I much preferred the model finally available in junior high school and high school, with honors classes covering the same topic, but at a higher level of learning. As an added bonus, those classes featured students who didn’t treat high performing students badly.

  23. When I was in the G&T program in elementary school, I knew it was just playtime for those of us who got our regular assignments done quicker than everybody else (this was in Georgia in the 80s). We did learn stuff like how to play chess, and do logic puzzles, make animated films, and other fun stuff.

    But it seemed to me like it was to keep us from bothering everybody else. Fine by me — it wasn’t boring. When we got to middle school, it turned into an actual advanced reading class, but it was pretty much mental recess before that.

  24. Stacy,

    I think teacher DO in fact resist projects and methods that they think are crap. But they are limited in their power to resist them.

    I know it’s popular here to assume that teachers are wildly empowered by their unions, but that hasn’t been my experience.

    If I don’t teach the curriculum that I’m given and don’t use the methods that I’m directed to use, it’s pretty easy to fire me.

    It’d be straight up insubordination.

    I didn’t mean to give the impression that teachers should just pretend to play along with any old junk that came their way and the burden needed to be carried just by parents.

    But the desire to simply use the public schools for individual gain falls a little short of what trying to give all students a good education would accomplish.

    But thanks for the great attitude there in NJ!

  25. Stacy in NJ says:

    “I know it’s popular here to assume that teachers are wildly empowered by their unions, but that hasn’t been my experience.”

    Sorry, I just don’t agree with this comment.
    I think Joanne, and many who comment here, have a intimate knowledge of the limits of union/teacher power.

    “I didn’t mean to give the impression that teachers should just pretend to play along with any old junk that came their way and the burden needed to be carried just by parents.”

    I’m glad to hear it, because your eariler comment gave just that impression. So, what have YOU done in your classroom to limit crap poster like projects, while replacing them with more meaningful reading and writing assignments?

    “But the desire to simply use the public schools for individual gain falls a little short of what trying to give all students a good education would accomplish.”

    I guess here you’re implying that I, or other commenters, are using the system selfishly without regard for other peoples children. As a parent who volunteered entensively in my childrens’ classroom, and worked with the specialist within our school, to try to meet the needs of my kids, I find your comment ridiculous. I made the decision not to sacrifice my children so that the system could be “improved” for all children? So, call me selfish. I also pay over $12,000 yearly in property taxes to schools my children not longer attend.

    Quite probably the reason that the percent of people homeschooling grows at about 10% yearly, is because parents no longer want to engage with a system that seems to be ever more removed from reality and exists to perpetuate a bizarre idea of “educated” while graduating illiterates. Or, not graduating them, I should say.

    I find it selfish when teachers use the ps system as an safe employment vehicle.

    “But thanks for the great attitude there in NJ!”

    You’re welcome. Perhaps you’ve earned it.

  26. I haven’t earned it. And just because this is one of my pet issues: do you have any idea how many people without kids in school or even without kids at all pay school taxes? What’s your point there? Congratulations for paying the taxes that you are obligated by law to pay.

    My point is that if parents simply try to approach school and individual programs in a “take it or leave it way” schools aren’t likely to get any better. There’s absolutely no incentive really for the gifted programs using the “crayon curriculum” to change if they don’t understand that people are opting out and why they are. Even attaching the post-it note to the project does nothing to get the teacher to reevaluate assigning such a project in the future.

    The power of unions varies from state to state, and I’d be surprised if teachers who willfully refused to teach what and how they were directed to teach would stay employed even in the states where unions have tremendous power. But I know they wouldn’t stay employed in my district. (While my state has unions that you can join, they have no power of collective bargaining, so they don’t have much power. Basically, it’s an option teachers explore to get more insurance than the districts or the other professional association in the state provide.) I sincerely doubt that teachers any place have the option of insubordination just because they think they know better than their employer about the curriculum and methods.

    If you really think about it, I doubt you really believe that public school teachers electing to do what they want to despite what they are directed to do by their employers is really a great idea, and yet that’s what you seem to be suggesting here.

    Suppose I decide that I think a particular special education modification for one particular kid is crap. Should I simply refuse to meet the IEP in your world-view? Would it be toadying to follow the law? But it is toadying to follow the policies of my district and my employment contract? Should I just honor federal laws or is the state legislature adopted curriculum also binding? What is the standard you think should be used to determine when insubordination is warranted?

    As far as what I do to limit the crap, I try to avoid doing anything that’s pure fluff. If I assign a creative project in the name of “balanced assessment,” I sincerely try to evaluate the academic content more than any other aspect. If there’s an expectation that the kids enter a contest of some sort related to my class, I only offer extra credit rather than requiring an entry. If the school is thinking of implementing something new that I think is a bad idea, I speak up. I serve on local curriculum meetings when I get the chance and try to keep the crap to a minimum and the standards high. Beyond that, I understand that I work for the local board of education and that they grant school level administrators the authority to evaluate how well I’m teaching what they’ve directed me to teach. I understand that unless they are asking me to do something illegal, immoral, or against the code of profession ethics, I’m expected to defer to their authority.

    Honestly, when you read about the stuff that dropping educational standards, is it usually the teachers who are behind it? My experience is that it’s first the colleges of education and then followed by the way districts implement school improvement programs. The teachers aren’t typically the people behind the idea of just pushing kids though the grades whether they’ve learned anything or not or figuring out ways to fluff the grades up with projects.

    When parents object to this stuff, they should try to take their complaints to the level at which the decision is made so that the system will change and that might improve the system overall.

  27. I want to apologize for taking such an accusatory tone. I think most parents making comments here probably do follow up with their concerns, participate in public school board forums and try to influence public school policy in the right direction.

    But it often seems like teachers are viewed as all powerful and it’s kind of baffling considering what the experience of being a public school teacher is actually like for me and my colleagues.

    StacyinNJ, I apologize for trying to be sort of a smart ass with you, but it seemed like you were assuming a lot about what teachers could and couldn’t do that flew in the face of common sense and my experience. But maybe things are that out of control in New Jersey. I have no idea. Anyway, I apologize.