Saturday, March 26, 2005

"Progressive" educationists gut programs for the gifted

Educationists often complain about a "one-size-fits-all" approach to education -- but when it comes to the gifted, one size fits all is the way to go.

Here, Andrew Wolf writes about the "progressive" campaign to eliminate programs for the gifted and talented.

Everyone in Gotham should be proud of 17-year-old David Bauer, the Hunter College High School senior who won the top prize in the national Intel Science Search competition. This is an achievement not just for David, but also for his family. After all, they had to work particularly hard to make sure that their son received the proper education in our public schools.

This was no small task. The families of bright children have to engage in what has become a sad New York ritual: school shopping for a gifted and talented program. There are few programs remaining after nearly a half century of increasing "progressive" influence on our schools. These programs for academically advanced children are now "elitist" and damage the self-esteem of those who do not qualify. The answer is to drive all children into some egalitarian middle ground.

Barbarians on a rampage.

David is now a neighbor of mine in Riverdale, so when the Intel semifinalists were announced some weeks ago, and I heard that David was a Riverdale resident, I was excited by the prospect that perhaps he was a product of the local schools. But I couldn't say that I was surprised to learn that he moved here relatively recently, and that David didn't go to any of Riverdale's schools. The reason is that over the past decade, gifted and talented programs here had, by design, been gutted. The results have been disastrous.

Why? We have given over the school system to the adherents of "progressive education." Because they believe that all children are basically the same, they maintain that all children are gifted and talented.

So as David's mom was shopping around from school to school, finding the gifted programs in Manhattan, parents in Riverdale were seeing the district science fair scuttled, honors programs destroyed, homogeneous class groupings eliminated, and even a ban on spelling bees, all in a desperate attempt to drive all students to the same level of mediocrity. They succeeded. Admissions to specialized high schools, the key indicator of the success of academically advanced students, dropped by more than 80% in just a decade.


Some readers may be interested in this account by Heather Mac Donald detailing the "progressive" war against excellence in NYC. Apparently, high standards are "elitist":

Why, then, hasn't success-crazed New York trumpeted these schools with as much fanfare as it expends on the Yankees or the New York Stock Exchange? Simple: they embody one of the most odious concepts in contemporary education—elitism. Because they have preserved, by a lucky historical fluke, a century-old admissions system based solely on merit, they are a horrible embarrassment to New York's educational and public- sector establishment, wedded as it is to the philosophy of the lowest common denominator.
Left to its own devices, that establishment would long since have subjected the three exam schools to the same levelling forces by which it has ground down the rest of the education system. Instead, it is forced to erode them more slowly, by mindless bureaucratic regulation and the irritating friction of teachers' union rules. The recent history of the exam schools—the bitter battles fought to preserve their excellence—perfectly mirrors the decline of educational elitism in New York, to the great detriment of its entire civic culture.


Polski3 said...

I have bitched several times at my local school board that they are denying my sons the opportunity for (at least), Language Arts GATE classes at our neighborhood school. IF we wished, our boys could be bussed all the way across town to, lets just say, the dysfunctional school where GATE L.A. is available in hopes that those GATE kids will bring up the whole schools abysmal test scores. (and this GATE program is a pull out program and is so F'in watered down, that it is next to worthless. But, it is the darling of a "Viva Atzlan Nazi" Asst. Super for Curriculum. But, so far, we have been able to pick our sons teachers and their teachers know us and our expectations for our boys.

In my own classroom, I often use "tiered" assignments, a certain level of expectations to earn a C, a higher level to earn a B and an even higher level to earn an A. It is alot more work and effort for me to structure this, but many of the higher level kids parents tell me they appreciate and support it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the determination of one parent in particular our district has started "honors" level classes at our middle schools (grades 5 - 8). While not offered consistently across the district (we are still pushing for this) it is a start. We have one academic magnet middle school and high school. Both of these schools have academic requirements that must be met before ones name goes into the lottery. Yet, these schools are not aimed at the highly gifted and talented students. Yes, they attend these schools but are not challenged the way they should.

Just one parent -- made a huge difference in our district.

Best of luck --


Jenny D. said...

I have in-law relatives who lived in a yuppie neighborhood in NYC, and sent their daughter to public school. She was in the gifted and talented class. When she was in fourth or fifth grade they moved to an affluent NYC suburb. The educators there realized quickly that the girl was at least a year behind their schools in terms of grade level. She was put back a year.

FYI, gifted and talented is just a label...what the label contains or doesn't contain is something else altogther.

Jonathan Kallay said...

The assumption that separating the 'gifted and talented' students is good for them needs to be questioned. I taught for two years at a magnet school in a school district in LOSE-LOSE situation. The regular schools suffered from brain drain and low expectations, and yet all the attention was focused on improving instruction and performance at these understandably low-achieving schools. At the magnet schools, however, complacency reigned both among the students and the staff, and no one paid attention because the magnet schools unsurprisingly did well on the state standardized tests.

high-performing but underchallenged students still have it much better off than the students who are low-performing but unsupported. When resources are scarce, which would you focus on?

We educators are doing our best to have it both ways, setting high expectations and offering support to all students. Thus the push to increase student participation in AP classes. But this results in an outcry from people who think that the AP program will be 'contaminated' by the presence of students who 'don't belong.' Doesn't the label of 'elitism' appropriately describe this behavior?

Jonathan Kallay said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Author said...

What is wrong with elitism? What you call elitism is simply educating children to their full potential. Nobody is proposing segregating strong students for its own sake but rather to teach them more than they would otherwise learn in heterogeneous classes.

I don't understand how tracking raises costs. You can educate strong students efficiently with very large class sizes.

Regarding the "contamination" of AP classes: are you prepared to flunk large numbers of students who you know are either unprepared for AP or who are unwilling to do the work required to succeed? Or do you propose to dilute AP instruction so that students have no chance of passing the tests?

The bottom line is this. Strong students whose families have high expectations for them are not a resource of the schools to be assigned for the benefit of other students.