Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What if?

What would you do if you found out that your grade school age child was reading at a level that was two grades different from his or her peers?

What if that child was beginning to shrug off homework and act out in class?

What if you - the parent, his/her teacher and others noticed that your child's thought processes where 'different' than his/her peers?

What would you do?

Of course you'd react and advocate for your child.

What if, when you told your friends and family about this discrepancy, they said "Oh, he'll be fine." Or, "maybe you're expecting too much from him"?

Well, in Illinois, if all these things were true, you just might be out of luck.

See, in Illinois, funding for a certain group of exceptional students is virtually non-existent. If it does exist, the funding is normally footed by the district. And if it's funded by a school district, there are people who will try to marginalize this group and contend that this type of service is unnecessary.

This happens if you have a child who is deemed "gifted". I hate that word and The Man and I never used it in front of our children because it implies that there are some without gifts. Our kids' first exposure to that word came when we moved to Illinois. When our new school took a peek at grades, test results and teacher comments, we were told that there was no "gifted programming before grade 5". There was, however, and after school program. My son's response was "I'd rather be challenged all day than after school."

That sat real well with them.

What does being "gifted" in terms of the educational process really mean? Well, directs us to the following:

"Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally." The Columbus Group, 1991, cited by Martha Morelock, "Giftedness: The View from Within", in Understanding Our Gifted, January 1992

Asynchronous development? What the heck is that? That's a fancy way of describing a 1st grader who reads at a 4th grade level but who won't do journal writing because his penmanship and fine motor skills don't keep up with his thought processes. It's a 4th grader who melts down over long division but who draws comic strips and writes his own music.

Those of us who have children who have been given the label of "gifted" fight a very unique battle. A dear friend and I parted ways some years ago because her child and my oldest were close friends. My son was invited to attend a Charter Gifted School in our district and my friend felt I was pushing my son too hard. He had a difficult time adjusting to a teacher and program that held him to a very high standard. Ultimately, after settling into the program, he was doing basic Algebra in the 3rd grade. Had he not been part of this experience, he would never had known what it felt like to try something, fail, try again and master the concept.

Every parent sees the gifts that their children bring to them. We all know that our children are exceptional. But the current educational system in Illinois does not recognize that providing services for students on the upper end of the "Bell Curve" is as important as providing services for students on the lower end.

There's a discrepancy between the way kids who excel at sports are treated and kids who excel in school. Neither gift is better than the other, but there's a far greater chance that a child who excels academically will move on and utilize those gifts. There are very, very, very few student athletes who do so.

Come on, how many kids who are gifted athletes parlay that talent into a career? But what is the LAST thing on the chopping block in terms of school funding? Sports.

I "met" someone recently whose child was asked to participate in the selection process for a local "gifted" school. Unfortunately, there aren't enough spots at the school to take all the strong students and a line must be drawn. But the fact that her son was eligible means that he's in need of some services. Otherwise, all the kids would apply and test. So, what's available for this kid? Where is the differentiation for him? Did he just get a letter saying "woops, we thought you were smart, but you didn't make the cut off, now you have to just deal with it?" What kind of services will this child receive? Or are his parents just supposed to say "Thanks for the chance to tell me my kid's smart [as if they didn't know] we'll just be happy he had the chance."

That's cruel.

What's the answer? Well, it's not vouchers. Because Public Law 94-142 guarantees a free and appropriate public educations for ALL students. Not students who fit inside a little box.


postsimian said...

Yeah, it's great how the system is framed around the status quo, isn't it? It's been like that for so long that the only thing they know how to do is hold them back with the others.

Sad, really.

Unless you're an athlete. Then you get away with murder, get rules bent for you so you pass your classes, and get all kinds of perks for knowing how to move a ball around, which won't do them much good when they're pumping my gas.

Anonymous said...

Faced with the non-existence of gifted education in the Peoria area, we have opted for home schooling. Putting a gifted kid in a classroom full of average students is no different than putting an average kid in a class full of mentally retarded kids. Why do we accept that government schools do the former all the time, yet their would be lots of complaints about the latter?

Anonymous said...

If that law were being followed by our grossly overpriced government schools there there would be as many resources expending on children who are 3 standard deviations above the mean as on those 3 standard deviations below, but in the Peoria area none of my tax dollars are spent on those above significantly above the mean.

Anonymous said...

If you don't support vouchers, how about at least a refund of the school taxes that pay for the government schools I am not using because they are totally incapable of and uninterested in meeting my child's needs?

Michael said...

Just keep in mind whatever you do ... a gifted child will likely mature into a gifted adult and will still have to live with, work with and interact with "average" adults. At some point they really do need to develop the ability to use their intelligence in this reality or they will still be held back by it. We don't like "smart-ass" coworkers anymore than the average kids like the "gifted" who are treated (better) differently.

Rixblix said...

Well, IDNKM, there are lots of services that I don't personally use but are supported by my tax dollars. Vouchers leave more children behind than they help. The current public education system does a good job; there are certainly things it could do better.

Michael, yes, socialization is key. Many great minds are socially inept. But that's the argument so many states have made to stop funding G/T's why my son wasn't allowed to grade skip even when it would have been appropriate and it's an argument that doesn't hold water. A child should be held back because he might not make friends? Well, when he starts acting out because he's bored to tears it's probably also going to cause some social/emotional issues.

Michael said...

Actually I would say from their point of view they would say they will not promote a student who acts out and does not do homework. Not being gifted themselves, most teachers consider anything outside THEIR norm not to be gifted but to be corrected with more homework. Since most of grade school education is via reading I would make some arrangement with teacher and child that when the grades, homework, etc. are acceptable the child can read anything educational during class time on a subject the student is already proficient in. So if the teacher is talking about multiplication the student who is proficient in multiplication could be studying algebra or something else more advanced. The only way the school will promote a student is when they are convinced to do so by grades and the expected robotic behavior. Otherwise private or home schooling are the only other options.

Anonymous said...

Gifted kids are not treated differently in Peoria area schools. That is exactly the problem. There are all kinds of special programs for "challenged" or "at risk" kids. in the name of helping reach their potential. Nothing is done to enable the gifted to reach their potential because "they'll be fine" they are already "advantaged" so they don't need any help. And they don't need any help to exceed the average students, but that is not fulfilling their potential which is supposedly the mandate of the government schools we pay for.

You won't get any argument from me about eliminating those services you don't use and cutting the taxes supporting them. Maintain the roads and jail or execute the criminals. Not too much else I want the government to do.

Rixblix said...

IDNKM, actually District 150 does have a gifted school. And from what I understand, it's exceptional. I wish my kids could go there. But this state does not allow open enrollment. I believe that open enrollment could be an answer. But it has to be administered with caution. It worked in the district we came from and it could work here.

Students who excel at different rates are marginalized everywhere. And, let's face it, just because I think my little Johnny is "gifted" does not make it so. There are very clear distinctions.

The national standards indicate that gifted individuals have the potential to perform more than 2 standard deviations above the norm. Or, in the 98th percentile. My boys' district considers students for their "G/T" program if they perform above the 80th percentile. It's not a true G/T program. It just skims the top.

I appreciate that some parents choose homeschooling as an alternative. I just happen to be a licensed teacher in a couple states and I know that I'm not nearly up to the challenge of teaching my own kids.

Anonymous said...

That's why I don't consider what the districts around here do as true gifted education. They have no real idea of what gifted is. They have no idea what to do with a child who is 3 or 4 or 5 standard deviations above the mean so they do nothing, because that is all they know how to do.