Banks County Opinions...

OCTOBER 6, 2004


Column

By: Rochelle Beckstine
The Banks County News
October 6, 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, US 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. US 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 in which you remain ahead is in 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 5 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 compiles 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.

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Column

By: Angela Gary
The Banks County News
October 6, 2004

Still have ink in my blood
When I was 10-years-old, I received a typewriter for my birthday. That wasn’t a typical birthday gift for a young girl in the late 1970s, but it was what I wanted.
I used the typewriter to publish my own family/community newspaper. It was only a couple of pages and it included the goings-on in the Gary family and our small community along Hwy. 441, between Commerce and Nicholson. I also had an advice column, serving as a young “Dear Abby.”
I went on to be a member of the newspaper staff at Jackson County High School and then to major in journalism at the University of Georgia. I also had an internship one summer during my college years at the Savannah Morning News.
They say those in the newspaper business have “ink in their blood,” and that is certainly true with me. Newspapers have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always gathered newspapers up while I’m on vacation to pour over them, as well as reading the local and state papers in this area.
As National Newspaper Week is observed this week, I have reflected back over my almost 20 years in the newspaper business. I almost hate to say 20 years because that makes me sound really old. I was in high school when I started work here, and I worked part-time throughout my college years at the University of Georgia.
I have written thousands of articles and covered all of the beats, from city to county government to courts and crimes to education and schools to features and society news. The variety keeps the job interesting since you never know what to expect.
The role of the community newspaper is to inform the readers of all that is going on where they live, and I believe MainStreet Newspapers does a thorough job of that. Not to say that we don’t miss things or make errors, but I believe the positive things we do far outweigh the negative.
I have worked at the MainStreet Newspapers booth at several recent fall festivals, including Homer and Maysville, and have enjoyed hearing from our readers about the things they like and don’t like about what we do. I appreciate all of the input, even the negative stuff.
I have received plenty of negative letters over the years, including one from a reader who hated my photo on my column. That was years ago and I didn’t take the criticism to heart. I know we can’t please everyone.
One of the things that has made this such a fun and interesting place to work is the “family” of employees that we have. Long after someone leaves to take another job, they still remain a part of the “family.”
I still keep in touch with Sherry Lewis, who was a great reporter for The Banks County News for many years. I also enjoy hearing how Adam Fouche is doing with his new job as a police officer at the University of Georgia. April Murphy left the news room recently and we still miss her smile and laughter. She could always brighten our day.
While many of the stories I have covered have long left my memory, there are still a few that I have filed away in my “memory box.” I remember running across the campus of Jackson County Elementary School, with many other state and national reporters and photographers, to try and get a photo of actress Kim Basinger. I usually don’t have to run to get a photo, but it was a fun assignment. I also remember the lady who called and wanted me to get a photo of her three-legged chicken. I was quite surprised to get to her home and find the chicken dead. She killed it, but still wanted a photo for the paper.
While some memories make me smile or even laugh, the crime coverage has led to many tears over the years. Abuse of children, murder trials, arson and other terrible events sadden me even as I cover them. I’ve also covered hundreds of politicians over the years and have been surprised and disappointed in the actions of many.
Newspapers are obviously an important part of my life, and I enjoy taking time to reflect on my years in the business. As National Newspaper Week is observed, please remember all of the hard working people in the business who bring the paper to your door each week. From the front office to the ad department to the press room to the news department, we are all dedicated to covering this area to the best of our abilities.
Angela Gary is editor of The Banks County News and associate editor of The Jackson Herald. She can be reached at AngieEditor@aol.com.


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