Friday, February 10, 2006

Public or Private

6-year-old Grady Day had an enjoyable time lobbying Arizona lawmakers about gifted education recently. According to an Arizona Republic article, "First Grader Wows Arizona Legislature", Day told lawmakers he found the standard kindergarten curriculum a bit tedious. He preferred learning about things like stem cells. His family decided to put him in a Phoenix gifted program, rather than in a regular classroom in his Mesa home, to help meet his needs.

As blog-reader Kim Moldofsky points out, what's most interesting about this link is not so much the article, but the comments from the readers, below. A poster mentioned that he was once this kid. "You're cute as long as you're a dog and pony show." Then he said "I ended up homeless with a doctorate."

Who knows if it's true or not. But this missive sparked letters on whether parents of highly gifted kids should be lobbying for gifted programs in public schools, or lobbying for vouchers for private schools created solely for gifted kids (the idea being that public school gifted programs weren't as effective as they might be). Part of the mission of public schools is to educate all children to a certain level of competency. But that means, for the most part, that districts feel they're doing you a favor by creating anything outside that. Schools try to fit their gifted programs within their regular parameters, and so many choose pull-out programs that have kids learning about Robin Hood or bugs for 90 minutes a week, and then racing right back to be part of the regular program.

Private schools are certainly not free of their problems, either. Even private schools for the gifted. When I was interviewing parents for Genius Denied, I had a few parents tell me that their private schools for the gifted were even less flexible than the public schools. There, all children were gifted, so there really weren't going to be any accommodations for a kid who's IQ 160 vs. IQ 130. But a strong parents group could create private schools that do cater to gifted kids' needs specifically. They could make sure such schools continued to be run with gifted kids' best interests in mind.

So the question arises -- lobby for vouchers for private gifted schools, or lobby for public school gifted programs?

Right now, I'd have to say the latter. The Florida courts recently struck down most of that state's voucher programs, and while other state courts might be more amenable, the national political situation isn't pro-voucher enough to make the first option feasible. Not only would parents have to overcome general education establishment resistance to gifted education, they'd also have to overcome the resistance to vouchers.

Charter schools are, of course, a reasonable option somewhere between the two. So maybe that's the best choice if you have cute, brainy 6-year-olds willing to make a good speech in favor of something.


jason smith said...

Hi Laura

A friend's daughter attends charter school and has had a very positive experience there.

It is not ideal for some of the reasons you point out but it is better than the majority of public school programs.


jim mcnelis said...

I'd like to address the comment "general education establishment resistance to gifted education". It's not a matter of resistance as much as it's prioritizing limited resources. Unfortunately, gifted programs get sacrificed before anything else when the school district budget is tight, we all know that. But even without an established gifted curriculum, I have found public school teachers very eager and willing to engage advanced learners. They are certainly not resistant. The teachers get as much out of propelling these kids forward as the kids do. Is it as much as we would like? No. But us parents are trying to do our part to keep it alive.

Because we realize the public schools' mission is also to help out kids in heartbreaking situations like this.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Thank you for sharing that link, Jim. It's a fascinating story. We have a bias in our literary culture toward neat stories that have a rock bottom moment and then a turning point after which all goes forward, with a few fits and starts of course, but always forward. Anyone who works in social services can tell you that's not the way life works for many people living on the edges of society. I wonder if the Tribune will do a follow up in a few years.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Jim might want to check out the piece Struggles of Gifted Children in School: Possible Negative Outcomes by Sarah J. Bender College of Southern Idaho Twin Falls, Idaho