Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Advocacy Gap

On a listserv for gifted kids a parent recently reported on how hard she’s had to advocate in order to get her son the appropriate enrichment and acceleration. Her efforts included:

  • Meeting with th teacher throughout the year, sometimes along with a staff development specialist and principal, beginning in summer before school started.
  • Communicating concerns to the PTA board members and raising issues at PTA meetings.
  • Attending curriculum nights and other programs and bringing relevant information back to her school.
  • Continually sharing articles with her children's teachers and school administration.
  • Twice bringing the directors of the enrichment program to the school to meet with the principal, vice principal, staff development specialist, and teacher.
  • Also bringing in the school improvement director.
  • Several times calling up the curriculum office to pin down what exactly schools should be providing to advanced students and then passing on this information to the school.
  • Consulting with various gifted child advocacy groups on how to best advocate.
  • Having her son undergo standardized testing and having the scores sent directly to the school.
  • Volunteering in the classroom whenever possible in order to maintain positive relationships and give teachers more time to provide individualized instruction.
Even with all this, the parent, who happens to be a chairperson of the PTA committee for gifted children, “still had to continually follow up to assure that my son was receiving instruction at his ability level.”

What happens to kids whose parents don’t have the time—or motivation—to spend all this time to attend meetings, consult with experts, track down articles, secure testing, volunteer in the classroom, and build the portfolio of affiliations and connections needed to be taken seriously?

Given the extent to which effective advocacy depends on parental time, resources, education, networking skills, and the confidence that you can get the system to work for you, a big part of the achievement gap is the advocacy gap.

Or, alternatively, the gap in who has the time and resources to homeschool. For this, especially in the more retiring left-brain world, is the obvious alternative to constant advocacy. It probably consumes about the same amount of time—with a lot less stress and tedium, and a great deal more satisfaction for all concerned.


Barry Garelick said...

See also Ch. 1 of "Rifle Range" in which the school district person on Common Core math explains to the high school teachers that Algebra 1 in 8th grade will be for the "really truly" gifted, not just those who could place into the it via the algebra readyness test.

ChemProf said...

Yep. One part of the reason I am homeschooling is I didn't want to be "that mother."

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Actually, homeschooling took less effort than managing school did. There was almost as much effort involved in getting our son to do his work, but the work was actual learning rather than busywork, and we could tailor assignments and essay prompts to fit his quirks, rather than having to struggle with a one-size-fits-none assignment.

Advocacy wasn't all that hard at the schools—there wasn't anything available to get, so we were doing a lot of after-schooling. Switching to home-schooling kept the after-school stuff and eliminated most of the way-below-level stuff that the schools wanted him to do.

Anonymous said...

My son was in school for two years. He skipped from 4th to 6th on entry, with two additional years of math acceleration (so he was doing Algebra I) and then he skipped from 6th to 8th the next year. This was a small private school that was truly doing its best to accommodate him.

What we found was that even with the two skips, there was no cognitive challenge. The only challenges were related to executive functioning--and even those were few and far between. The only placement that was remotely appropriate was math--and even that was a problem because it was taught entirely from a procedural standpoint. I don't mind procedures, but I also want my kids to learn the reasoning. So the second year, we did an independent study sanctioned by the school for math, which worked out well, but also meant we were back to homeschooling in that subject.

Actually, we're back to homeschooling everything now. It is astounding to me that he can work half the time and do ten times the work that was required at the school using resources that are in many cases several grade levels above what the school was using.

We are much happier homeschooling. Actually, I'm not sure how a traditional school would truly accommodate a student like my son (and I'm sure there are many out there like him). He would do best in classes where the input is upper high school or college level (so 4-6 years above chronological age), where the output expectations are high school level (maybe 3-5 years ahead of age), and the executive function demands are age appropriate. Grade skips can't accomplish this, and even a gifted program won't be able to accomplish this without a lot of differentiation.

lgm said...

Advocacy became fruitless when NCLB and full inclusion began. Enrichment was banned in the classroom. Children who were fast finishers quickly learned to work on their own projects....a book at their appropriate level, singapore math problems, practicing their instrument ...anything to get away from the noise and commotion of the fully included elementary classroom. The richer people left, to private or homeschool. The Superintendent of a nearby district put his 12 yr old in community college. Thankfully for me, honors level was still available....enough rich people left that their slots became available.