Keeping the smart kids down

Florida middle-school students are taking high school-level courses in search of an academic challenge, reports the Orlando Sentinel.  But the practice may be stopped because white students are more likely than Hispanics or blacks to choose advanced classes.

*At Lee Middle School in Orlando, 93 percent of the kids who take high-school geometry and 77 percent who take Earth-Space science are white. Meanwhile, 29 percent of all Lee students are white.

*At Maitland Middle, about 10 percent of the kids taking high-school-level Algebra I Honors and Earth-Space science are minorities. But almost 40 percent of the school’s total enrollment are minorities.

Denying motivated students a shot at higher-level courses wouldn’t help average and low achievers. But it would disguise the large disparities in achievement.

The Sentinel, which seems to have started this controversy, says scholars think middle school should be “nurturing,” not academic. (But let’ s not nurture the aspirations of the smart kids.)

Tracking students by ability (or performance) is out of favor — and possibly illegal, writes the Sentinel.

In some districts — including those in Georgia, Texas and Massachusetts — (tracking) led to action by federal civil-rights agencies. In New Bedford, Mass., the government forced officials to limit tracking in several junior highs.

 I think letting  students try advanced classes is quite different. from assigning them to no-hope remedial classes.

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  1. > Denying motivated students a shot at higher-level courses wouldn’t help average and low achievers. But it would disguise the large disparities in achievement.

    This is basically false.

    First of all, the smart kids will remain smart, whether or not placed in advanced classes.

    Separating them from the other students, however, will have a significant impact on the class.

    – smart kids develop a wide range of skills, in addition to deep subject knowledge, by assisting less advanced students

    – less advanced students are placed in close daily proximity to kids with advanced thinking and study habits, and benefit from their help and instruction

    This benefit is, of course, increased if the school employs a model of pedagogy in which student interaction forms a significant part.

  2. According to the article, at least one reason why kids take these classes is that their college-educated parents push them into it, while kids with less involved parents don’t get that push. This makes it very surprising that the article finishes with quotes from scholars advocating abandoning advanced classes, as opposed to the nicer method of encouraging kids without college-educated parents to try the advanced classes.

    – smart kids develop a wide range of skills, in addition to deep subject knowledge, by assisting less advanced students
    -less advanced students are placed in close daily proximity to kids with advanced thinking and study habits, and benefit from their help and instruction

    I know Stephen you are going to catch a lot of flack for your statement. But I think you are right, to a certain extent, and for at least a time. This happened to me for a while in Latin classes. Eventually I became aware of what was happening and learnt to I prepare two translations, one of which was my first stab at translating the passage, and the second of which was the one I thought was most likely to be correct. I kept the second very hidden until I handed it in, but didn’t worry about the first. So firstly less-advanced students benefited from my (unaware) help, and then it encouraged me to develop a wide range of skills about detecting and discouraging cheating. This was very valuable for me.

    (I did do volunteer tutoring at high school too, which did help my deep subject knowledge, but the key word there is “volunteer”).

  3. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Advanced students do not wake up every day just dying to do my job. They deserve my time and attention and to learn, too. There is a vast difference between the types of class discussion that can happen with advanced classes and classes full of strugglers.

    That said, there is some de facto tracking when you siphon off the most motivated/academically able, but it is not the same thing as the old tracking system; you still end up with a range of kids in the non-advanced classes.

  4. “smart kids develop a wide range of skills, in addition to deep subject knowledge, by assisting less advanced students”

    Even if this was true (which is mostly isn’t) SO WHAT!

    There are people in the schools whose job it is is to assist students. Those people are called teachers and they draw a paycheck. There are other people in school who are supposed to be learning each and every day. Those people are called students. One quick and easy way to distinquish between the two groups: teachers are adults and get paid, students are children and do not get paid.

    The idea that it is ok to have a group of students who don’t get to learn each and every day is deeply offensive and wrong.

    “First of all, the smart kids will remain smart, whether or not placed in advanced classes.” So we will have smart ignorant kids….that sounds like a good idea. The smart kids deserve to have a chance to learn at school. Keeping them away from the chance to learn material they don’t know is harmful and cruel.

  5. If that’s the case maybe the smart kids ought to go on the payroll.

    After all, if they’re responsible for “less advanced” kids learning advanced thinking and study habits, etc. then they’re performing some of the functions of the teacher. Shouldn’t they enjoy some of the benefits that come with the job of teaching like getting paid?

    In fact, pulling smart kids out of AP classes is such a wonderful idea that the parents of the AP kids ought to be fully apprised of the educational opportunities that open up to their kids when they’re tasked with doing the teacher’s job.

    Say Stephen, maybe you could smuggle a camcorder into a meeting where the parents of AP kids are told about this fine opportunity. That would make for some entertaining episodes on YouTube, I’m sure.

  6. “less advanced students are placed in close daily proximity to kids with advanced thinking and study habits, and benefit from their help and instruction”

    Could you explain how less advanced students will/are benefit(ing) from watching my daughter read novels under her desk during language arts? Is that the advanced thinking and study habits you are referencing?

  7. L. C. Burgundy says:

    “First of all, the smart kids will remain smart, whether or not placed in advanced classes.”

    They might still be smart, but their talents are being wasted and their education is being shortchanged.

    “- smart kids develop a wide range of skills, in addition to deep subject knowledge, by assisting less advanced students

    – less advanced students are placed in close daily proximity to kids with advanced thinking and study habits, and benefit from their help and instruction”

    Smart students aren’t there to do the teacher’s job. They are there to learn and prepare for the future.

    Thankfully, my high school had different tracks for nearly every subject so I didn’t have to put with much of the sort of BS you subscribe to, but in grade school, there was a single track for English and science. Somehow, the kids who were basically bullies and who coincidentally could barely seem to read weren’t exactly receptive to help from “smart students.”

  8. Instruction always orients itself to the lowest performer in the group, particularly as school administrations are intimidated by IEPs. The less advanced students “benefit” from working in groups with my child, by receiving better grades on their assignments than their own efforts would merit.

    Massachusetts has flourishing private schools, supported in part by the politically mandated restrictions on tracking. The “advanced study skills” the smart kids acquire include “how to apply to private school.”

  9. Geez, I hesitate to post on this one. I don’t want to volunteer to be the whipping boy–but I did want to throw some support to Tracy and Stephen.

    Just a few observations:

    I missed the part of the article that says that the “advanced” classes might be stopped because of the racial disparity–maybe it’s there but it didn’ leap out at me in a quick read.

    The article was about the lack of minorities in the advanced classes, but the conversation here veered off almost immediately into a discussion of mixed abilities in classes.

    I believe that Ed Trust has some data (although I think it is from the high school level) to indicate that higher level math classes produce higher levels of achievement in all but the lowest quadrant of achievers.

    Middle school is a very interesting time, developmentally. Kids at that stage take their first steps away from the influences of family and begin to be influenced more heavily by peers and teachers. There is an opening for schools to influence course taking if they choose to go that direction. I believe that there is a particular correlation to the way that students see themselves in relationship to both math and science at this stage.

    I tend to hold with the research that leans pretty heavily away from early tracking systems. It isn’t good for kids at the top or the bottom. Most highly performing countries have dropped it.

  10. Stephen: Maybe you ought to take your claims to those who advocated for busing in the New Castle County, Delaware school system (which took place in 1978 and the feeders pretty much remain in place despite the federal order being overturned in 1996). Much of the basis of their rationale was what you stated:

    less advanced students are placed in close daily proximity to kids with advanced thinking and study habits, and benefit from their help and instruction

    Unfortunately, the results proved this not at all. If anything, the worse behavior of the less academically prepared students became more evident in classrooms, as noted by sociologist James Coleman himself, initially an advocate of forced busing.

  11. FuzzyRider says:

    Jeez- Everyone in education will tell you that if you rub a clean hand and dirty hand together you get two clean hands…

    Seriously, every student deserves the best possible education consistent with their abilities. To hold a student back so as not to offend anyones PC sensibilities is obscene and disgusting- truthfully, educational malpractice.

  12. I have to pile on Stephen, as a former Smart Kid who HATED having to teach other kids. And they hated me for it, absolutely loathed me. I can’t think of a single thing I learned by being forced to do the dreaded group work (in which I did all the work because I cared about my grade) or by being forced to teach other kids, except how to act dumber than I was. Seriously, I was all, “Math is hard!” for a number of years in front of my peers. And it still didn’t help- I was always the smarty-pants brainiac, the teacher’s pet, the nerd. That is about all I remember learning from being required to teach my peers.

    Stephen, I would request (in all seriousness) that you enumerate what skills the smarter kids learn by being in proximity to less-smart kids in a slower moving class, as opposed to being able to take more advanced classes? Because I am genuinely curious. As you can see from my comment, my experience wasn’t optimal, but I’d be interested in hearing what an optimal experience would be for the smart kid.

  13. Kids at that stage take their first steps away from the influences of family and begin to be influenced more heavily by peers and teachers.

    Actually it happens earlier than that. A 5-year old will normally pick up the accent of their peers if their peers happen to have a different accent to their family.

    As for tracking, this is one of those educational terms that can have a wide range of different meanings, and thus care is needed in extrapolating from research results to policy conclusions. Tracking kids at age 11 into academic or vocational schools is not the same as offering accelerated courses to gifted students and neither of these are the same as offering honours courses to anyone who wants to sign up, and none of those are the same as grouping students within a class into smaller groups for direct instruction pitched at their mastery level (the key difference with the last group is that a kid who misses say a few weeks of school due to illness is placed back at wherever they were when they left, as opposed to being expected to acquire all the learning by catching up on homework).

  14. The “each one, teach one” mentality is sometimes taken too far.

    I hate to say this but this does seem to be the wave of the future – those who have “skills,” “talent,” or “ability” are told they need to take responsibility for and serve those who do not, instead of getting the opportunity to develop their own skills further.

    The clean hand/dirty hand analogy seems apt.

  15. The bigger problem I have with Stephen’s approach is that it takes choices out of smart kids hands.

    We seem to insist on directing kids in more and more facets of their lives – and then are surprised when they reach adulthood and can’t make good choices.

    If you want to steer kids into making decisions to help other kids, that’s fine. When you obligate the smart kids to help other kids, at the expense of them having the opportunity to learn more, you create resentment.

    I’ve yet to see a pedagogical approach that says “encourage students to serve as peer tutors but allow them to refuse”. The model is always one of obligation. Sure, the student has a “choice” but it isn’t one of whether they want to do it or not, it becomes one of whether they are willing to see their own grade penalized.

  16. Tom:

    I don’t know if anyone would believe me if I were to suggest that anyone’s “smart” kid has something to learn from my son who has a variety of challenges, or any of the other challenged kids I have ever worked with. On a good day, I can suggest that it is their loss. But the reality is, we all lose.

  17. ” less advanced students are placed in close daily proximity to kids with advanced thinking and study habits, and benefit from their help and instruction”

    Which means, as all of us who were put into “groups” repeatedly know, that the smart kids do all of the work while the dumb kids sit on their lazy butts and learn nothing, but get credit.

  18. “First of all, the smart kids will remain smart, whether or not placed in advanced classes.”

    Absolutely 100% false.

    Kids will drop in aptitude, motivation and skills when not challenged. They will sleep, skip school, be bored and tune out. They will lack confidence and self esteem. The reading under the desk is the perfect example of tuning out and it only gets worse from there.

  19. The daughter of a friend of mine went to a very popular charter school in our city. She was extremely bright, but was made to help other kids during class – and it wasn’t just math class. She felt she wasn’t learning anything. After having waited and waited to get on “the list” of this desirable school, she left it and went to a less desirable school where she could learn something and stop playing teacher. If smart kids WANT to tutor, they should get paid for it and do it only if they want to.

  20. Kids deserve to be challenged. That includes the bright kids! My middle school daughter doesn’t learn as much in her classes that are heterogeneously grouped. She knows it. She can’t wait to go do harder stuff in high school. She says her younger brother should go to a different middle school because he’s too smart to go to the one she is currently attending. If you think that heterogeneous classes serve high-achieving learners appropriately, you are fooling yourself.

  21. > If smart kids WANT to tutor,
    > they should get paid for it and do it only if they want to.

    I would change “smart” to “prepared”, but aside from that, bravo! It is dismaying to hear adults demand educational sacrifices from the most talented and the most motivated students, on whose success our society’s future growth and stature most depend. People like Steven Downes need to reread Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”. **Every** child deserves appropriate educational challenges, **including** the most prepared and motivated children. Telling a child who is ready for algebra or geometry that s/he will be kept out for the “social good” is criminal.

  22. Margo/Mum, if your school is expecting your son to teach the “smart” kid things that are the school’s responsibility, like maths, English, history, then I hope that the school is paying him for his work and I hope that he is competent at whatever he is teaching (it’s one thing to say, expect your son to teach French if he already is a fluent French speaker, it’s another thing if your school is expecting him to teach calculus if he’s only studied calculus for merely a year).

    I have worked with people with severe head injuries, and I found it very rewarding, and I learnt a lot about myself from it, but there are several differences between that and what Stephen Downes is talking about and what most commentators here are objecting to. Firstly, that was only a part of my life, it was a summer job while I was at university, I was getting plenty of new academic material during the school year. Secondly, I was trained and paid to do it, not just dumped with it. Thirdly, these were people who clearly needed a helping hand, not just people who were getting away with laziness.
    I also did volunteer tutoring in my final year of high school (not for pay) – but again that was while I was getting plenty of intellectual stimulation in my own lessons, and I was merely helping out, the students I was tutoring had to do the actual work themselves. Plus I got some respect from my peers in the seventh form.
    Those two situations were completely different from group work in classrooms at school.

  23. Oh Tracy, I hope you never have to experience life as someone whose primary contacts are the people who are paid to take care of you (or other people who also rely on such paid help). I hope that your need for help is never judged to be just laziness. I hope you never have to give someone a “rewarding” experience for interacting with you, on a “volunteer” basis.

  24. Margo/Mom, I would far rather be cared for by people who are paid to take care of me than by people who don’t have any choice about it and don’t get any rewards at all. I despise slavery.

    As for “I hope you never have to give someone a “rewarding” experience for interacting with you, on a “volunteer” basis”, I personally hope I never ever become such a nasty person as to expect only to take and never give. Yes, I have several friends, including my husband, who I owe more than I can ever repay, but I certainly don’t believe I have a right to such wonderful treatment, and I try to help them out in return.

    I do think that Kant was on to something when he said that we should never treat other people merely as means, but always also consider them as an end in themselves.

  25. There’s another side effect of trying to teach to many ability levels at the same time, in the same classroom. Grading criteria have changed drastically, since the Dark Ages, when I was in school. In our honors classes, grades were determined by performance on tests, quizzes, and individual papers, on the whole. I remember homework being collected, and checked off, but not graded. There weren’t any “extra credit” options, other than the odd extra question on a pop quiz.

    That doesn’t work when you have a mixed ability class. If you grade by quality of work, the bright will carry home the As, and the teacher and principal must deal with the disgruntled parents of the other students. So, the grading scale is rejiggered. Group work figures prominently in the grade, including how complacent the able students are in doing everyone else’s work. Homework is graded, which is a disadvantage for the bright kids who know busywork when they see it. (Graded homework is a plus for kids whose parents do their homework.) Etc. Mastery, competition, and excellence aren’t valued as highly as complaisance, tractability, and the degree of effort a student had to expend.

    This, in my opinion, is leading to the changes in college students which college professors cite in this New York Times article, “Student Expectations Seen as Causing Grade Disputes” (

  26. I have to concur with Patricia et al.

    I was one of the smart ones in school. Group work typically meant that everyone copied off of me. Scores went up, but only because everyone got the grade of the smartest kid in their group instead what they would otherwise achieve. Every advanced student I’ve ever talked to has had this problem. Thankfully group work was uncommon because my teachers realized this early on.

    Oh and if you stick advanced kids in classes that are beneath them, there is a good chance some of them will turn into the problem students. Early on in school I was a total hellion. Why? They hadn’t figured out that I needed to go into the gifted and talented classes yet. So I was really bored. I finished my work, hung out with the kids who didn’t do their work in the first place, and then got into trouble.

    They’re the smart kids. They’ll figure out that you’re using them. Then they’ll slack off or goof off. And the less advanced kids won’t learn the study skills they need from them because the advanced kids won’t need to use them in the less challenging classes.

  27. I don’t know if anyone would believe me if I were to suggest that anyone’s “smart” kid has something to learn from my son who has a variety of challenges, or any of the other challenged kids I have ever worked with.

    Unfortunately, the experience is likely to make the brighter child feel at best resentful and at worst arrogant & superior towards the less able child. BTDT and I’m not proud of the attitude I had during much of my elementary & secondary schooling. I was frustrated at the lack of academic challenge and blamed those I perceived as being “the weak links”. I realize now that I was being unfair, as it was really the situation that was to blame rather than my classmates. But I didn’t see it that way at the time.

  28. Where to start?? It’s pathetic to assume the less advanced students need the tender care of the smarter kids. Other than being a bit quicker, smarter students aren’t necessarily any good at nurturing their peers or coaxing them into embracing fractions. Maybe the teachers could work on doing that.

    And how about teaching kids that some people are better at some things than others, and to not let that fact get them down. Perhaps we ought to handicap the good-looking in some way, too. For the good of the homelier kids, of course. Oh, and to assuage our secret envy at those whom nature has given an edge.

  29. Sister Howitzer says:

    Two of my kids are bright high achievers and one struggles. The “cooperative learning” arrangement didn’t work for any of them. I can’t imagine how the high achievers would have helped my son. The other students sure weren’t going to be able to teach him to read or understand fractions if the teachers weren’t able to do it (and they weren’t). He struggled not because he is lazy or dumb, but because he needs direct instruction with lots of repetition.

    He’s homeschooled now and is making amazing progress because he is actually being taught for a change. Big surprise.

  30. I stopped reading the comments at Patricia. She sums it up nicely. I got stuck in a standard class in Junior High and nobody, other than the teacher was thrilled by it. Disparity on that level leads to nothing more than resentment. Kumbaya does not happen. It reminds me of the story my boyfriend tells of his parents berating his brother and sister for not being the straight A Ivy he was. His point: if you want them to hate me you’re doing a spectacular job. I stuck it out for six weeks and then transferred. Being teacher’s pet is pretty miserable under any circumstances, but when the rest of the class hates school it’s especially so.

  31. First of all, the smart kids will remain smart, whether or not placed in advanced classes.

    Stephen, you’re right, but you’re wrong. They will remain smart in terms of mental horsepower, but when their curiosity diminished or extinguished by the stultifying environment of a classroom with no challenge, the potential for future growth is severly limited.

    One of the things you’ll notice about the generation born after 1980 is the almost total lack of curiosity and imagination, especially amongst the smart kids. This is not to say that in previous generations everyone was curious and really wanted to learn, but there was a sizeable group that did.

    Speaking as a member of the post-1980 generation, I can’t tell you how many damn smart kids I saw tune out of school when subject to the environment you champion. It’s not just the smart ones either. The slower learners grew to resent school because they were expected to learn from peers who were deemed by the teacher to be smarter than they, which only reinforced their self-image as dumb.

    Kids need to be in an environment where they are challenged at their level to succeed and build genuine self-esteem. Mixed ability classrooms like the ones you champion fail to do this, and damage all involved. Tracking, when done in a way that makes sure all students are challenged at the appropriate level, works.

  32. Rather than hobble the children who place into advanced courses under the present system, I feel it’s preferable to take a good look at the criteria used for placement. Teacher nomination, and parental request should not be the only way to enroll in the courses. Some less subjective measure should be used, such as an aptitude test.

    Also, placement in the more demanding courses should not be “one way.” A child who is struggling in the advanced course should be in danger of losing her place in that course. Also, acceleration should not be all-encompassing. It is possible for a child to be ready for more challenging work in language arts, for example, while remaining on grade level in math.

  33. I was a “smart kid” in New Castle County, Delaware high school that was heavily-bussed back in the early 90’s. My Senior year, I took mostly AP classes except for the one “regular” class where I let the kids around me copy off me. If I learned anything, it was how to devise cheating schemes under the teacher’s nose. It’s basically what I felt I had to do in order to gain social acceptance. With AP classes, I was able to form social circles and friendships with peers I felt more comfortable with while being constantly challenged intellectually. Without AP classes, I probably would have been constantly bullied and subject to various forms of peer pressure.

    Let’s turn this around a bit: why don’t we open major varsity and junior varsity team sports to those who wouldn’t normally make the “cut” in order to teach teamwork and leadership skills?

  34. My son has some learning disabilities and also needs lot of repetition to learn. He was placed in special ed for about half of the day. When in 4th grade he switched from the special day class to full time in the regular classroom, his reading level jumped from below basic to advanced. The class was just so much more interesting that he now can’t stand the special ed classes, even though they provide training in useful learning methodologies. He is much more willing to put in the hard work for a stimulating class. When he is bored, he just gives his teachers grief.

  35. It astounds me that people who celebrate evolution, continue to deny its basic implications.

    Groups exposed to distinct environmental pressures are unlikely to develop in an identical manner. We know that members of such groups differ in the distribution of observable physical characteristics–that, after all, is the main way we recognize them. That is pretty strong evidence that their ancestors adapted to at least somewhat different environments.

    There is no a priori reason to suppose that the optimal physical characteristics were different in those different environments but the optimal mental characteristics were the same.

    Intelligence predicts academic performance, and groups vary in their average intelligence. Ashkenazi Jews have the highest of any group. East Asians have a higher average than Anglo Europeans. The expectation that groups must perform equally denies the basic reality, that group averages vary.

    Twin and transracial adoption studies indicate that these differences are significantly hereditary. For instance, adopted Asian children raised in a white household still tend to average above whites & closer to their biological parents. Frydman, M., & Lynn, R.(1989). The intelligence of Korean children
    adopted in Belgium. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 1323–1325.

    Winick, M., Meyer, K. K., & Harris, R. C.(1975). Malnutrition and
    environmental enrichment by early adoption. Science, 190, 1173–1175.

    Clark, E. A., & Hanisee, J.(1982). Intellectual and adaptive
    performance of Asian children in adoptive American settings.
    Developmental Psychology, 18, 595–599.

    Cochran, Gregory; Hardy, Jason; and Harpending, Henry (2006): “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence” (PDF). Journal of Biosocial Science 38(5):659-693 SEP 2006.

  36. Therese,

    Like your child, mine also does better when in challenging classes with interesting materials. My children also give the teacher grief when they are bored. However, my child is gifted. Is it reasonable/fair to expect a learning disabled child to have access to challenges in school while denying those opportunities to gifted children?

  37. Sister Howitzer says:

    “Is it reasonable/fair to expect a learning disabled child to have access to challenges in school while denying those opportunities to gifted children?”

    Learning disabled doesn’t mean dumb. 80% of LD kids are of normal intelligence, but have difficulty learning to read. If teachers taught reading correctly, the vast majority of these kids would read at grade level or above, and would not be categorized as LD. There are many gifted LD kids.

    There is no reason that providing challenging material to LD kids should result in denying it to others. All kids ought to have access to material appropriate for their ability.

  38. Back in the day, segregateed African American high schools allowed “tracking’, or the freeedom for the most able and motivated students to receive appropriate challenge. Despite pervasive barriers, many in this genrteration nenetheless made significant contributions in art, medicine, law, businesss, and government.

    The article mentioned that top groups were in fact diverse, but that the ratio looked bad to casual observers.

    Removing appropriate educational opportunities now appears to be worse than segreagtion, for the baright students affected.

    That area will have de facto tracking, but it will occur by income, with wealthy areas having higher average classroom reading levels, texts, and expectations.

    Women who gave up income to stay home and read to their children made the wrong choice- they should have workded so that they could relocate to wealthier neighborhoods. ( I could kick myself- for now I am stuck in a politically corrrect district whcih won’t allow homogenous grouping.) No question that my student, and others in the WEB Dubois’ Talented Tenth, are no longer being nurtured.


  39. The SAT is used as part of the application for some high school magnet programs, with some accepted freshmen scoring in the mid 700s on both math and verbal sections (as 8th graders). To score at that level requires not just “being smart”, but having had challenging coursework. If that is not provided in school, then the parents must supplement at home or through tutoring/online work/etc.

    Removing in-school opportunities will guarantee that the only kids making it to that level will be from highly educated/affluent households. The best way to increase participation, while maintaining rigor, is to ensure that every child is taught to read properly (phonics), to learn real math and is exposed to a content-rich curriculum from kindergarten. And yes, that means homogeneous grouping. Every child should be challenged enough to require reasonable effort and be able to master the coursework at an 80% level (hat tip to an old post). Anything less is educational malpractice. Yes, I also spent my elementary years reading under my desk, but that was in a 1-12 school of 320 kids.

  40. Let them hit homers says:

    Kids who are high achievers are NOT diners who rudely go to the salad bar too many times. They need more, and simply weren’t nourished by the meal. That is not their fault. And that intellectual nourishment is every bit as essential as high quality food. Don’t force them like Oliver Twist to say: please sir, can I have more? They won’t say it. They will hide their needs because they are kids who want to make friends, they don’t want to have the crap beat out of them after school. Put them in classes with kids who have similar needs and they instantly relax and don’t hesitate to meet the challenges presented to them. Meanwhile, kids who struggle (and I’ve seen this many times) will also relax and get the attention they need. Trust me, struggling kids DO not want to try GT stuff that they can’t handle. It causes anxiety and frustration.

    Let a professional determine the needs of these kids, then give them the chance to try harder material if they want to. If they can’t do it, then everyone will instantly know and they’ll get placed where they need to be. Leave the chance open, allow them to try, but allow them to also get a realistic need met.

    I write as a former GT student who now finds my kid’s school system doing insane things to hide the GT kids under the mandates of No Child Left Behind. Once your kid hits a certain mark, they could care less. No one mandates the needs of high achievers. The high achievers don’t matter one stick to anyone in my school system. It sickens me. There is no focus on excellence, only profiency. Its a huge race to mediocrity. Those high achievers, by the way, come from all economic backgrounds and races. They all get ignored consistently. Oh how politically correct!

    Teachers should be trained to meet the needs of their students. Period. That training should be specialized. I have seen for myself both as a student and a parent of students that not all teachers are good at teaching all kinds of kids.

    Some teachers really excel at teaching special needs kids. A relative of mine, for example, is so excellent at teaching special ed it is a joy to watch him work with his students. They thrive under his guidance. I’ve met students of his who think he is akin to superman, because after years of struggle he was the only one who could finally teach them to read. He has the patience of a saint, and the enthusiasm to sustain them when they are frustrated. He works with the most severely disabled, and takes them higher than they ever thought they’d go.

    Meanwhile, I recall that the best GT teacher I ever had was a graduate of two ivy league schools (one for undergrad and one for grad). He taught because he loved to challenge kids who were, as he often said, nerds like himself. He was sort of like the Magic Schoolbus’ Ms. Frizzle. He “got” our outlook, he knew how to not take crap from a sassy GT kid and he knew how we hungered for debate. He was the one teacher I had in high school who encouraged us to argue against him. You don’t know what a joy that is to a GT kid who has spent years being told not to question a teacher’s statement, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. He made us defend our points, rigorously. I learned more arguing (with a huge smile, politely, of course) against him than ever before, because I knew he wouldn’t let me get away with anything. He would have been miserable teaching special ed, and his special ed students would have been miserable, too. He made me question everything, and to this day I thank goodness I had him as a teacher. He changed my life.

    If “smart” kids could teach other children, why would we need teachers at all? Shouldn’t we just put the kids in a big room and say, go ahead smart kids! Teach the others.

    Well of course that would be insane. But isn’t that what you’re advocating, Stephen and others?

    All children deserve to be challenged. All kids are gifted at something… I really believe that. Some of those gifts fall outside the classroom, maybe in athletics or the arts.

    No one would dare tell a kid who paints beautiful pictures that they shouldn’t paint so much or that they should wait until the rest of the class is able to paint that well, too. And no one, especially in the US, would DARE tell a kid who can hit a baseball out of the park everytime to stop hitting homers until the rest of the team can hit homers, too. Why do it to kids whose gifts just happen to be more bookish and more classroom-based? Arent’ you telling the kids who can hit math home runs to wait until the rest of the class can hit them, too? Or even worse, you’re telling them they can’t play unless they teach the rest of the team to hit home runs. Well, of course if you told an athlete that they’d quit the team. It would bore them silly and be a waste of their talents. And no, they wouldn’t remain good at baseball, because that — like all talents — needs to be nurtured and practiced to remain strong. Kids that hit math homers or reading homers need to have their talents nurtured, too.

  41. Stephen,

    It sounds like you are leaving open the option of putting all children in the advanced classes. True?

    Although I have to suspect that this option got no coverage in the report exactly for the practical reasons that Quincy mentioned in his final paragraph. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that people get upset at this practical wisdom being applied for some students and not others.

  42. It’s nonsense that slower/less educated students benefit from forcing the advanced students to stick at their pace – someone please cite at least 2 long-term studies proving this. My 9 year old already complains about how much she hates group projects because she is the only one doing the work. I also hated it all the way from elementary school through college. There are always students who do nearly nothing and get the credit for the work of the hard workers (not at all necessarily the ones with highest IQ). Thankfully, our school system separates students by scores/ability for math. This allows all students to progress at their level and teachers can focus on one group of students rather than having highly disparate abilities all at one time. The decisions are largely score based and I’ve experienced first hand having students moved among ability groups throughout the year so students are not necessarily stuck at one level regardless of their progress. My own children did not start at the top level, but moved up to it as it became clear that they were ready.

  43. Richard Aubrey says:

    Disguising group disparities is the Big Kahuna.
    All the talk surrounding the issue is camouflage.

    My son, NHS, Varsity Club, all-conf football, basketball, and tennis, captain and MVP of the latter two, was part of a small cadre of seniors teaching at-risk kids. Came out of the house one fine morning to discover one of our cars trashed. Son said the morons who do this stuff can’t keep their mouths shut and he’d know by the end of first hour Monday. Sure as hell, it was one of the kids he’d been busting his butt for.
    Ever think the at-risk kids might resent their peers being placed above them? It’s one thing when the teacher is an adult, certified with all kinds of authority by the state and whatnot. But another kid, your age, is in authority for the sole reason that he is smarter and more accomplished than you. Did you ever stop to put yourself in the less-accomplished kids’ shoes?
    Obviously not.
    But still, it’s disguising group disparities that is the primary issue.

  44. I should emphasize the importance of effort and real acceptance of the idea that school success is desirable. These ideas are much easier to instill with family/community support. I spent 10 years commuting from an affluent suburban county to a middle-level area of a big city, passing many different schools on the way. It was possible to tell when I entered the city, because almost none of the kids carried backpacks; just Walkmans and purses. In the suburban county, even the kids who carried mostly Walkmans, tapes and snacks paid enough lip service to school success to carry them in a backpack.

  45. My daughter was asked in elementary school to tutor other students because of my daughter’s advanced abilities. So when she was in fourth grade, she would spend time during her school day teaching a Korean girl to speak English. Then she would go back to her classroom and have to catch up on all the work she missed while she was tutoring the other girl.

    My daughter found the experience frustrating. She liked the girl she was working with, but she asked me why she had to teach others instead of getting to learn herself. She wanted to know why she couldn’t learn “things I don’t already know.” She had initially loved school, but by the time she reached fourth grade, she was so bored and frustrated, she didn’t care anymore.

    So she asked us to homeschool her. I was a hard sell; I’m an academic and have a strong leaning toward a traditional school environment. But she convinced me. Then she convinced her father. Then she had an interview with the principal in her school — whom she also convinced.

    So when my daughter was in fifth grade, we began homeschooling. She wanted it enough that she was an excellent student — and yet often, at first, when I would insist she improve her work (eg, use complete sentences in writing), she would say, “But they never made me work in school.” She genuinely thought you didn’t have to put effort into your studies because not only was it not expected, it was frowned upon by teachers who would scold you for moving too far ahead.

    So what did our society gain by the schools teaching my daughter these lessons? Why was a nine-year old doing a teacher’s job in tutoring other students? Why was my daughter learning that a strong work ethic is neither expected nor encouraged?

    What kind of school system is it that often wastes the most talented minds in our country?

    And then everyone bemoans how the United States has fallen behind other countries in academic achievement.

    After we began homeschooling my daughter, we had her tested. We were told she was ready to go to college at age ten. She did take classes at the local university part time, but by her own choice she didn’t go to college full time until she was the age of her peers. She now attends Cambridge University in England.

    My daughter loves learning. But if we had left her in the school system, I have no doubt she would have tuned out and lost interest.

    And this benefits anyone how?

  46. Don’t force them like Oliver Twist to say: please sir, can I have more? They won’t say it.

    And even if they do say it, the school won’t take a blind bit of notice anyway.

  47. Let them hit…

    “I write as a former GT student who now finds my kid’s school system doing insane things to hide the GT kids under the mandates of No Child Left Behind.” Perhaps you would be so kind as to cite the particular mandate of NCLB that requires this?

    BTW–I would point again to the fact that the article did not suggest that the higher level math classes at middle school were imperiled, but rather that there were concerns about the demographic imbalance. People posting here have taken that and run with the idea that “smart” kids should be educated separately from “dumb” or “lazy” kids, and that to do otherwise places the “smart” kids in the position of either being ignored, or being a teacher.

    I would be interested in redirecting the conversation to means by which to deal with the fact that white kids are being over-identified as “smart” (compared to their percentage in the population–although Ben holds that they are just simply “smarter” as a result of evolution) and non-white kids are conversely over-identified as “dumb” or “lazy” (or some combination thereof). I bring this up because I have just been perusing Fordham’s report on state testing and AYP. It is interesting to me that in the schools in my state that they selected for study, schools universally made AYP for the category of white students. It was a mixed bag for African-American student and low-income students. Students with disabilities and English Language Learners did not make AYP in any school for which there was a countable group. This despite various accommodations for both groups, additional funding for both groups and alternative testing for students with cognitive disabilities.

    Fordham makes no recommendations with regard to any improved educational outcomes for African American or low income students, but does hint that perhaps students with disabilities and English Language Learners have a lower bar set for them.

    Perhaps we could entertain the notion that those groups who aren’t making it to minimum levels of proficiency are not receiving an education that is a good match to their needs?

  48. “Perhaps we could entertain the notion that those groups who aren’t making it to minimum levels of proficiency are not receiving an education that is a good match to their needs?”

    I would be willing to entertain the notion that maybe no one is recieving an education that is a good match to their needs. I have a hope that the system works for the neurotypical children, but I don’t know. I have a gifted child, my friend has a child who has CAPD. Both children have needs far outside the norm, and are very different from each other. One child reads far above grade level, one child read far below grade level. They are in the same class and have been for the past two years.

    My friend and I have had similar frustrations with trying to get the school to meet our kids where they are. In all actuality, neither one is approaching grade level in their skills.

    It has been very difficult for my friend’s son to be in class with my daughter. He knows that she is bored to death with the work he struggles with or simply cannot do. She knows he is one the kids who slows down the class and make it even more boring as they have to keep repeating materials she walked into the class knowing.

    And what is the teacher supposed to do? Does she teach my child and leave the rest of the class behind? Does she teach the children at my friend’s son’s level (and lower)? What about the kids who have around grade level skills?

    I suspect a large portion of the difficulty in getting the ELD and/or minority kids to proficiency is that there is a lower bar set for them. My children go to a Title 1 school where the majority of the enter as English Language Learners. There is mentality at the school that those kids can’t learn very much anyway. There are passed along each year without acquiring grade level skills. My second grader and my fifth grader have classmates who cannot read. Those kids did not get the intensive remediation they needed.

    But the fact that other children did not get the education they deserved is not my children’s fault or resonsibility. They should not be punished by having their educational opportunities constrained. It is not their obligation to remediate another child’s education.

  49. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ref yr. last graf. Correct.
    But you have to recall that hiding group disparities trumps everything. All talk about other issues is camouflage.

  50. “It’s pathetic to assume the less advanced students need the tender care of the smarter kids.”

    Not only that, but the attitude assumes that the only reason “smart” kids are there is to help dumb kids. And that is 100% pure crap.

  51. I would be interested in redirecting the conversation to means by which to deal with the fact that white kids are being over-identified as “smart” (compared to their percentage in the population–although Ben holds that they are just simply “smarter” as a result of evolution) and non-white kids are conversely over-identified as “dumb” or “lazy” (or some combination thereof).

    By the time these kids reach the level mentioned in the article, the educational system has had years to secretly pigeonhole them into the smart and non-smart categories. I’m not at all shocked that some of this happens on the basis of race.

    In my view, that points even more towards the need for the education system to provide challenges for each child at the child’s level based on honest, impartial, and frequent assessment of knowledge and skills. The multi-level classroom in which a teacher is pulled between the far above grade level and far below grade level students is the worst place for this to happen, and essentially ensures that no children except for those who happen to fall right near the mean get challenged.

    The multi-level classroom I suspect is also largely responsible for the continued disparities between subgroups. Economically and socially disadvantaged kids, who come in slightly behind, fall further behind as the challenges in the class continually go over their head. Conversely, the advantaged children continue to pull ahead because of those advantages.

    I’m not proposing the smart be educated separately from the dumb, I’m proposing that students with similar academic needs should be in the same environment so they can be challenged appropriately, succeed, and grow. Once you get past all the mush-headedness pushed by the ed schools, it’s an idea that makes sense.

  52. If the disadvantaged kids don’t get a real education in school, they don’t get it at all.

    To me, that means that the teachers need to TEACH, in the most efficient way possible, that knowledge and those skills that are necessary for real education. Forget discovery learning, balanced literacy, fuzzy math, invented spelling, journal-writing,lack of domain-specific content and artsy-crafty projects masquerading as education.

    Assign every kid to a class at his level, in each subject, and challenge every class to move as fast as they can to MASTER the material. Good literature (including non-fiction and poetry) for all, even when read aloud to younger children.

    Also, many schools are frankly dangerous and far too many are chaotic. Dangerous kids need to be removed, period. Kids who are disruptive because of intellectual, psychiatric, physical or emotional problems need to be removed from regular classrooms. General misbehavior, including the class clown type, needs to have immediate, negative consequences. Only then can real learning take place. I think that homogeneous grouping would help this issue, as well as the educational ones.

  53. If the disadvantaged kids don’t get a real education in school, they don’t get it at all.

    Margo/Mom, there’s your explanation in one sentence.

  54. African-American and Latino children are significantly more likely to be born out of wedlock than Caucasian and Asian children (70% and 48% vs. 25% and 16%). Children raised in intact families on average significantly outperform those raised by single parents. If we as a society want to raise achievement levels among African-American and Latino students, we need to figure out a way to reduce those out-of-wedlock birth percentages.

  55. There’s material/economic poverty and there’s also intellectual/social poverty. Some kids have one, some have another and some have both.

    The first may actually be less of a handicap, as I have seen in recent Asian immigrant families. Materially, they may have almost nothing, even English, but they have an intact family and a fierce dedication to education. They make sure that they take full advantage of every available opportunity – libraries, free museums and concerts etc. – and their kids WORK and THRIVE in many of the same schools where African-American and Latino students fail.

    Too many of the latter suffer just as much, often more, from the second kind of poverty. I remember a researcher talking about her ongoing work with inner-city grandmothers (primarily black,some Latin), who were primary caretakers of their grandkids. Their average age was 34, the youngest was 28 and there were many 30 and under. Few had graduated from high school, none had any significant work skills or experience, none had every been married and their daughters fit the same profile. Despite living in a city with a wide variety of no-cost cultural/intellectual opportunities, they took no advantage of any.

    I’d like to see the schools explicitly teach the skills, knowledge and behaviors that will enable such students a chance to do better.

  56. Professor Linda Gottfredson has written extensively about these issues:

    Gottfredson, L. S. (2005). Implications of cognitive differences for schooling within diverse societies. Pages 517-554 in C. L. Frisby & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Comprehensive Handbook of Multicultural School Psychology. New York: Wiley.

    Gottfredson, L. S. (2006). Unmasking the egalitarian fiction. Duke Gifted Letter, 6(3), 10.

    Gottfredson, L. S. (2004). Schools and the g factor. The Wilson Quarterly, Summer, 35-45.
    Won the 2005 Mensa Press Award.

    Gottfredson, L. S. (2004). Realities in desegregating gifted education. In D. Booth & J. C. Stanley (Eds.), In the eyes of the beholder: Critical issues for diversity in gifted education (pp. 139-155). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

    Gottfredson, L. S. (2003). The science and politics of intelligence in gifted education. Pages 24-40 in N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

  57. I was going to respond to Stephen Downes’s comment, but after visiting his website it no longer seems important. Anyway, I agree with most of the other 50 or so comments here.