More Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 29, 2004


Column

By: Rochelle Beckstine
The Jackson Herald
September 29, 2004

School system handicaps gifted students
I’m not sure where we’re heading as a nation with parents banding together to set limits and rules so that no one parent is guilty of telling their 6-year-old they can’t have a $300 Nokia phone (Newsweek) and teachers switching from red correction pens to purple pens because they feel the color is friendlier and less likely to discourage students from trying again (USA Today). But I know where we are.
Of 27 industrialized nations participating in the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. students’ reading performance is five points higher than average and math performance is five points lower than average placing American students in the middle, a whole plateau below many other nations. U.S. students also rank below average in high school graduation rates.
Meanwhile, the U.S. spends more to educate its youth — an average $10,871 per student — than any other nation participating in the organization which released its findings September 20 based on figures from school year 2000-01.
Barry McGaw, an Australian and director of education for the organization, told U.S. reporters last Monday, “The one area you remain ahead is how much you spend. [The other nations] don’t need to catch up with you on quality, because many of them are already ahead.”
I.e. Other countries are spending less and getting better results. Many of the countries surveyed, if not all, use ability grouping (putting students into classes based on ability, not based on a computer lottery). Not a new concept, but one that has been portrayed negatively in America. So let’s continue to mainstream every child. We won’t teach children based on their ability so that every child is challenged and performing to their highest potential. Keep them all in one class. The curriculum may challenge a few of the average students and that’s OK because the teacher will need as much time as possible for the below-average performers. Those that get it on the first try will need no additional help and then they can read a book. The above-average will lift the average and the average will lift the below-average.
Newsflash: it’s not working. If a student can’t do the work, he won’t suddenly be able to because someone else in the class can. That fact may only serve to frustrate him. And if he can’t perform at that level, then the teacher lowers the bar for the rest. Take it from a former student who knew other students. Or don’t; instead, read the latest findings.
In a 2000 study for Gifted Child Quarterly, Joseph Renzulli and Sunghee Park found that five percent of the 3,520 gifted students they followed dropped out of school after eighth grade. That is almost as high as the 5.2 percent of non-gifted children who dropped out.
A two-volume report titled “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students” from the University of Iowa released last Monday complies five decades of data and banishes myths that accelerated learning for gifted students is unfair, expensive for schools and causes students to be social outcasts. In fact, accelerated learning or grade-skipping has positive results both cognitively and socially.
“Holding gifted students back can squander their learning and leadership potential, which hurts society,” educators said.
The report found that some teachers, parents and administrators think that accelerated learning goes against equity in public schools. I think that if all things were indeed equal, every child would be equally challenged and equally engaged in the learning process. The real injustice going on in our schools is expecting every child to fit a norm—to perform at the same level as every other child of the same age. Ability grouping with separate accountability standards where children are equally accessed and then placed, based on their abilities, into a classroom where they are challenged will find the lost leaders and inventors of America. If all things were equal, a child’s success would be measured based on his own abilities. If all things were equal, the federal accountability law called “No Child Left Behind” wouldn’t be making it easier and easier for the gifted learners to become invisible as every child is mainstreamed and teachers are using purple pens and parents are afraid to say no without a committee to back them up.
Rochelle Beckstine is a columnist for MainStreet Newspapers.

Jackson County Opinion Index

Column

By: Susan Harper
The Commerce News
September 29, 2004

I Hope It’s As Good For Them
One of my sons has a birthday this week, an occasion which, no matter how I brace myself, inevitably washes me into the past on a tidal wave of nostalgia.
My older son is particularly hard hit by this. Try though I may to keep my lip zipped, I always end up letting him know that the day of his birth was the day my life changed instantly, between one moment and the next.
Wordsworth said that infants come into the world “trailing clouds of glory,” and it’s true that at the instant of birth, heaven and earth seem to touch, or come close, like the fingers of Adam and God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Do you think my sons want to hear about this? Not likely.
They probably don’t want to know about the moments of stark terror that come hand in hand with all that uplifting joy, either. When I left the hospital with our first child, my Navy husband was at sea, so the nurse called a taxi for us. She accompanied us out to the cab, too, and I’m sure my head swiveled like Linda Blair’s in “The Exorcist” when she handed the baby to me and said goodbye.
“What?” I said. “You’re not coming with us?” Of course I knew that she wasn’t; I just hadn’t been able to imagine being on my own with this tiny human, for whom I was now responsible.
My second son has things a bit easier in the birthday department. By the time he came along, twelve months after his brother, I was used to terror (though not to joy; isn’t that interesting? Joy is always a surprise.).
With Dan, however, I had a new source of worry. I still recall what I said to the nurse who first put him into my arms.
“There must be some mistake,” I told her. “This is not my child.” We were in a Catholic hospital, and the nuns gathered around to reassure me, but it was hard to do. My husband and I both came from a long line of blonds, and the baby I was holding had so much coal-black hair that he looked like an Eskimo. While the sisters smiled and laughed and patted me encouragingly, I was thinking back to my high-school biology courses and trying to recall what I knew about recessive genes.
But the black hair all fell out, just as the sisters had said it would, and was replaced by the familiar-to-me peach fuzz. Before long I had a couple of tow-heads who were often mistaken for twins, and a life that was infinitely enriched by them.
And now that they’re grown, I make this emotional journey back in time once a year, aware that I’m the one who got a gift. I just hope their special day is as good for them as it is for me!
Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library.


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