Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How to disempower the best teachers and students

All over the country, gifted programming and opportunities for acceleration have been vanishing, thanks not just to budget cuts, but to the edworld fantasy that it’s possible simultaneously to eliminate the achievement gap and meet the needs of all students through “differentiated instruction” in heterogeneous-ability classrooms. Here, everyone uses the same curriculum, but the brighter students supposedly receive greater challenge either by teaching their less capable peers, or because the curriculum is so “rich” and “deep” (red flags that I should have included in my examples of edworld doublespeak) that they can engage with it at all different levels.

The most striking recent example of this is in Montgomery County Maryland (one of the most highly reputed school districts in the country, and one whose recent changes I blogged about earlier). Here, the school district recently sold its good name to Pearson, one of our country’s biggest textbook publishers, to the tune of $4.5 million dollars, and has adopted a “rich,” “deep” math curriculum known as “Curriculum 2.0” (or “Montgomery County Math” or "Pearson Forword") that looks suspiciously like Pearson’s other abomination, TERC Investigations.

Having thus “enriched” and “deepened” its math curriculum, MontCo is eliminating the once common practice (known as Math Pathways) of allowing those who are mathematically capable to attend math classes in classrooms one to several grade levels ahead of their official grade level. A mathematically advanced second grader, for example, might take math with fifth graders.

One year into the new curriculum, parents and kids are increasingly frustrated. One parent describes her second grade daughter as coming home in tears about how boring her math class is. Another parent notes:

Kids in this curriculum are bored, losing interest and not being taught at an alarming rate. Teachers don't feel empowered to give kids what they agree with parents that kids need.
One of the scariest aspects of the latest reforms in education is the disempowerment of teachers--particularly those experienced enough to know what works best. Why haven’t the teachers’ unions made this particular variety of disempowerment of one their topmost concerns?


Ed said...

Teaching their peers? Are they nuts!
The bullying I received when my teacher tried that because they couldn't find things for me to do.

Plus kids "love" being taught by the geek in the room.

Philip said...

Well, our association is fighting for it right now, but then again we're fighting for a lot.

I will say the flip side of that coin you're tossing around is that "gifted/talented" often turns into "highly motivated/comes from a good family." I understand people getting upset about this type of segregation as well.

ChemProf said...

OK, Philip, but what's the solution to that type of segregation? My just-turned-three-year-old can do a lot of things that my mother's low SES kindergarteners are barely mastering at the end of the year. If there aren't G/T options, then she basically sits in the corner until the other kids catch up. If I needed the babysitting, I guess I could just plan on teaching her everything after school, but that doesn't fix your problem either.

I am actually very sympathetic to the argument that schools can't make that much of a difference given the challenges in many childrens' home lives. But at some point, they have to explain why they need lots of my tax money but they won't educate my kid beyond some minimum threshold (admittedly, I am in California, where there is no money for G/T but where my local elementary school has a very well-funded anti-bullying curriculum, so I may be extra cynical). Or they need to admit that their job is only to get kids to that minimum standard, and accept that a lot of parents will opt out.

Anonymous said...

It was a big mistake to call accelerated and/or enriched education "gifted and talented." That really rubs many people the wrong way. A better idea is to just group the kids by readiness level, informally, and temporarily.

Anonymous said...

But, on the flip side TOO MANY COMPETITIVE PARENTS have pushed their kids through school in these so-called "advanced placement" scenarios BUT at the end of the day the kids knew zero---nothing about the concepts they learned. Sure, they could do the work memorize everything and were generally faster but being able to score high on tests and complete all 100 questions, for example, when your peers barely get through 50 does NOT equate to truly UNDERSTANDING the material. Many of these kids are "experts" at the mechanics and can pump out tons of quantity...but they don't have a deep understanding of any one topic...not good enough in the real world and this has been the issue when they get to High school and college...not enough DEEP understanding of topics or material and simply pushing out projects and papers and such does not confirm they actually can apply anything going forward. I think this is a case of people not wanting change and refusing to give it a chance. Many parents like myself will love being provided more granular report cards breaking things down to specific areas of any main category. Telling me my child got an A in History does NOT tell me if he was weak in any areas...surely no child can leave grades a complete expert....that's ridiculous and if parents really think their children are this gifted perhaps public school is not for them and they should look to private or even one-on-one tutoring....just my .02