Making "Pull-Out" Fair
I was interested to read a short note about Wake County (NC)'s efforts to tell parents about their magnet schools (a short item from a local TV news station).
I attended two magnet schools in this county, which includes Raleigh, from 1st to 6th grade (Washington Elementary and Ligon Middle). The more I've learned about how different educational systems work -- including having attended worse ones myself later on-- the smarter this system's moves seem.
First, Wake County put many of their magnet programs in schools located in not-so-nice areas of the city. Both my elementary school and middle school were across from housing projects. This was an easy way to desegregate schools -- put the good programs in schools that would have been segregated and boom! Middle class parents are willing to bus their children for an hour each way.
Second, both my elementary school and the middle school I attended for 6th grade had lots of "electives" for everyone. They also had gifted & talented programs. Instead of doing "pull-outs" though, for gifted kids, everyone went to fun electives for a few hours. Gifted kids could choose certain ones that were designed to fill that requirement, but anyone could take things like art, music, dance, sports, science & tech electives, etc. One of the things that bugs me so much about pull-out programs is that the classes tend to be outside core academic subjects (let's look at the story of Robin Hood!) and cover fun stuff that all kids would like to learn about. Consequently, they give gifted ed a bad name. Why can't all kids learn about Robin Hood, after all? And they don't give gifted kids what they really need, which is advanced academic work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities.
The way Washington and Ligon handled this, though, takes away the problem of giving gifted kids fun stuff and not other kids. Washington did not track so much for core academic subjects (outside math) but Ligon did. Sixth graders were split into four teams, based on academic performance, and then these four teams were subdivided even more, with the "apples" on the "Chell" team having all academic classes together, for instance. You took electives, though, with people throughout the school (tap, choir, writing and reading mystery stories). So the "pull-outs" were non-tracked, and academics were. Talk about a smarter way of doing things.