Only in this country are gifted children treated so shabbily. The latest evidence comes from New York, which is in the process of considering dismantling gifted p-rograms because their enrollment does not reflect the proper racial mix (“Desegregation Plan: Eliminate All Gifted Programs in New York,” The New York Times, Aug. 27).
The reality is that gifted children are the ones most likely to make significant contributions in their respective fields. At a time when the U.S. is in competition with other nations, it’s hard to understand why gifted programs are anathema. Perhaps it’s because we believe in democratization, rather than in differentiation in education.
Our competitors have no problem whatsoever in separating children out early in their education. For example, Singapore, which is known for the quality of its schools, begins the process with its Primary School Leaving exam and continues it for the rest of schooling. Germany also has long sorted out students by its tracking.
We can argue all day long about the proper age to begin identifying the gifted, but I think it’s a huge error to abolish such programs. Unfortunately, the obsession with diversity is too strong to have much hope.
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4 Replies to “Gifted programs must be protected”
The problem started when well-meaning people, noting — correctly — that some school systems used tracking to discriminate against black students, addressed the racial discrimination problem by eliminating tracking. Classic baby-out-with-the-bath-water response to a real problem.
With tracking eliminated, it inevitably followed that many, probably most, classrooms (particularly in the low-SES inner-city schools) would have students whose ability/achievement/motivation levels ran the gamut from far-below-grade-level to far-above-grade-level. It also inevitably followed that, whatever level of instruction the teacher provided, there would be many/most students who were either frustrated because it was too hard or bored because it was too easy. Then, the frustrated and/or bored students would misbehave. Then, everything would go to hell.
And, of course, w/o tracking, there would be classes where a few “problem” students would disrupt instruction for all the non-problem students — independent of the below/at/above-grade-level phenomenon.
One would think that school systems, responding to these developments, would just reinstate tracking — particularly those inner-city school systems where minorities ran the school system and where the overwhelming majority of students were minorities so that it would have been virtually impossible to rationally view the reinstatement of tracking as motivated by anti-minority discrimination.
But, the elected and appointed officials were too afraid of being called racist to reinstate tracking per se. So, instead, they created “magnet” schools — which are really tracking by another name. And, they created charters — which are also tracking by another name (in that case, tracking based on parent characteristics).
Now, as you note in the blog, the more vocal tracking-is-racist voices are accusing the magnet/charter supporters of being racist. And, apparently, some of the elected/appointed officials who adopted the magnet pseudo-tracking are caving.
Just reinstate tracking!
Labor Lawyer: Differentiation in education is anathema in this country because we believe in democratization. Anything that is even remotely associated with elitism is erroneously considered racist. Our competitors abroad realize that the leaders of the future will likely come from gifted students and have no problem in identifying them – arguably too early – and nurturing them. We’re going to pay a huge price for our ignorance.
It’s not just the better students who suffer from the “democratization”. Absent tracking, instruction will rarely be at a very high or very low level. This will obviously damage both the very strong students and the very weak students.
Similarly, absent tracking, school systems will not create the smaller classes that are probably needed to get the far-below-grade-level students up to grade level. Or, to provide the second adult in the classroom that is needed to help the teacher maintain reasonable behavior standards when there are many “problem” students in a class.
In other words, tracking — done properly — means providing specialized instruction conditions for both the above-average and below-average students. Absent tracking, no one gets the specialized instruction conditions and everyone loses.
Labor Lawyer: I agree. But tracking is seen as non-democratic – whatever that means. Not everyone can handle the same level work. There’s no disgrace in that statement of reality. Yet we persist in the fiction that everyone can give the proper support.