Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Class" Division in Hawaii

An unfortunately titled article ( "Class Division") in Sunday's Honolulu Star-Bulletin notes that the Small Learning Communities movement has arrived in Hawaii.

This movement attempts to take the warehousing aspect out of schooling by reducing schools to a few hundred students at most. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as readers of this blog know, small learning communities (SLCs) tend to be heterogeneously grouped to maintain someone's idea of "community." And they tend to be small enough that they'll have only a few highly gifted students. Gifted students need to concentrated and taught in classes, with their peers, that challenge them to the extent of their abilities. This does not happen in heterogeneously grouped SLCs. The theory is that such SLCs will help those on the bottom end of the achievement ladder. The Hawaii schools give some evidence of reduced drop out rates. But the anecdotal evidence also indicates that gifted students aren't being challenged at all. They're being used as tutors. And, true to form, educators seem to think that's OK. Per the article:

"The highest level of learning is when a student has the ability to instruct others," said Principal Dennis Manalili of Kaimuki High School, which also is part of the grant."

Earth to Manalili. This is one of those nice-sounding educational cliches that isn't true. You know how to multiply single digits, right? Would you learn how to multiply any better if I made you spend the next hour explaining it to me? Probably not. Having kids teach each other topics only works when both are relatively unfamiliar with the subject. If one kid knows it cold, making her teach the subject to a classmate is just using her as an unpaid teaching assistant. She isn't getting anything out of it.

As for "the grant" described in the above quote... That grant would be from the federal government. Yes, the same federal government which can only shell out a few million dollars, total, for gifted education nationwide, is paying for Hawaii to leave its gifted students behind.

What's even more frustrating about all of this is that the SLC movement is being pushed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to this article, the Foundation has put $1 billion toward creating SLCs. Bill Gates was a gifted boy at one point, and certainly knows how frustrating it can be not to be able to zoom ahead as fast as your frenetic brain will allow. I hope the Foundation will realize what's happening and start creating ability-grouped SLCs, so everyone -- those who zoom ahead and those who need a little more help -- will be able to learn as fast as they can.


Jason Smith said...

I think I made this point on an earlier post, but an irony of this program being funded by Bill Gates is that he is responsible for insisting that almost all microsoft potential job applicants have to take an IQ test as part of their interview process. Supposedly for almost all of their engineer, management, accounting, and software developer positions you have to score in the top 2% to be hired.

Give the importance he personally places on giftedness it is hard to understand why it does not translate to the educational programs he is funding. My guess is that he personally has little involvement in much of what his foundation actually does - other than set general directions (maybe).

Laura Vanderkam said...

If so, that's too bad as another of Gates' big ideas was to shake up the world of philanthropy. Give the money away while you're still living, so you can see where it goes. Maybe he's more personally involved in the global public health aspect (the Gates do visit medical sites in the developing world and the like).

Anonymous said...

We've chosen to place our quite clearly gifted son in a charter school that uses the International Baccalaureate curriculum. He's currently in kindergarten. It's a small school, though classes average 25 kids. They do not test for giftedness nor do they have a specific gifted program, however, our research on the IB curriculum indicated that it is well suited to gifted children in that the kids can really go into as much depth within each exploration unit as possible given their own abilities.

Having both grown up in traditional schools with gifted programs, it took some adjusting for my husband and I, however we've also watched our friend's highly gifted child who tested at an average IQ of 142 struggle within the regular public school system's gifted curriculum and also have difficulty adjusting when they decided to skip him. We realized we needed to shift our mindset from thinking that only segregation can be the appropriate approach to giftedness.

Also, we realized pretty early on that no matter what school he ended up in, our kid was going to need to feed his thirst for knowledge outside the classroom. There's simply no kindergarten in the world where the teacher would be able to converse about the sorts of things he reads about in any great detail -- physics, aeronautics, astronomy, biology, oceanography, etc.

The same friend I mentioneda above and I often chat about starting a quasi-homeschool for gifted children where we could bring in guest lecturers and kids could work on in-depth projects in their areas of giftedness...

Anita said...

Well, on the GATE bulletin board, there is discussion about the need to sue to get our children a Free Appropriate Public Education. I am weary of having my child left behind, because of his extreme learning ability.