Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Lawmakers Play Favorites With Schools"

If you really want to get your blood boiling, check out this recent op-ed from Arizona Republic columnist Richard Ruelas.

The Arizona legislature considered two plans recently. One increased funding for gifted education by 49%. The legislators also looked at a proposal to increase funding for English language learners by 21%. Ruelas sees a conspiracy afoot to help children named "Logan" or "Madison" who "sail through with so much ease, it's almost tedious," while leaving children named Maria or Jose behind with a measly 21% funding increase.

He's correct that the Arizona legislature has been dragging its feet on coming up with a good funding mechanism for ESL students. The state now faces hefty fines for failing to put good programs in place.

But there are two problems with his argument that the legislature's incompetence in the ESL field is in any way evidence that lawmakers prefer to give "handouts" to children who have it easy. First, English language learners and gifted students are sets with an intersection. It's pretty insulting to gifted immigrant children to suggest that there's no way, no siree, no possibility that they might be gifted.

And second, I looked up the numbers. This man is managing to whine that ESL learners are getting a low boost even though ESL funds are being boosted far, far more, per capita, than gifted funds.

Arizona has 154,000 students classified as English learners. The legislature is considering raising the per capita ESL spending (on top of the standard cost to educate a student) from $355 to $432. That means an increase of $77 per child. Total ESL spending would rise from about $55 million to $67 million.

The gifted education bill would raise per pupil spending on gifted education from $55 to $82. That's an increase of $27, or 49%.

To review. ESL funding is increasing by $77 per child. Gifted funding is increasing by $27 per child. The only reason the percentage increase is twice as high for gifted education is that gifted education is starting from such a low funding level. Call me crazy, but I don't see a $27 boost as a conspiracy to enrich the Logans and Madisons of the world. Especially when compared with a $77 per pupil funding increase in ESL.

But Ruelas doesn't care about the numbers. Read this excerpt:

"The sponsor of the [gifted education] bill, Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, testified that gifted children drop out of school because they get bored. He told me the same during a phone interview.

"'I've talked to several kids,' he said. '(They say) 'I was always in trouble. I've read all the books in the library, and then what was I supposed to do?'

"Maybe go to Barnes & Noble?"

The man doesn't get it.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps he faces the same frustrations when advocating for ESL students that we feel when we advocate for gifted students - after all the education system has everyone competing for the same dollar.
That's the problem - there isn't enough $ to fund every program that will help all children reach their potential.
I've seen/read stories of inappropriate behavior from gifted advocates as well- usually statements made out of frustration.
I would prefer that there is less "us vs. them" but its the education system that is doing this, and the end result is not those children in need.

Anonymous said...

"I would prefer that there is less "us vs. them" but its the education system that is doing this, and the end result is not those children in need."

oops...I meant to say that the end result doesn't always help those children in need.

Laura Vanderkam said...

True, the us vs. them debate rarely helps anyone. But this guy pulls out every stereotype in the book. Gifted kids named Madison, Logan and Grady... sailing through school so easily it's tedious... making light of the drop-out problem by suggesting kids who've read all the books in the library should go to Barnes & Noble. I hope he's gotten a lot of angry letters. Particularly from families of gifted kids for whom English isn't a first language.

Anonymous said...

What evidence exists that gifted education is actually beneficial?

My experience with it was mainly silly "creativity" and "leadership" exercises, second rate arts and crafts, and drudge work report writing.

And as for the "Barnes and Noble" comment, what is wrong with it? I learned far more reading and doing other things on my own than I ever did in my "gifted" class. If a student can't do the same thing, if they have to misbehave because they are "bored", arguably that student has some sort of emotional problem, rather than something related to giftedness.

I realize that gifted education does not receive a great deal of funding. But considering what I have seen of gifted programs in general(and I don't believe my experience was very unique) , it is still a considerable waste of money. Indeed in the case of reading at the library, a great many books could be bought for just the salary of one gifted teacher for a year. I know I would have received greater benefit if my school district had done that rather than placing me in a gifted program.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Anonymous 2:
Yes, a great many gifted programs do not accomplish much. If you get a chance to read a copy of Genius Denied, my co-authors and I go into detail on that matter in Chapter 2, "The sorry state of gifted education." Indeed, one of the best interventions for gifted students -- acceleration -- costs nothing, and in fact saves school districts money. Distance learning options (eg EPGY) for a handful of highly gifted students are also cheaper than hiring a gifted teacher to do a pull-out program where kids spend 45 minutes, twice a week, learning about Robin Hood, or mythology, or bugs, or whatever else is deemed extra-curricular enough to be appropriate. So I appreciate your point on that. As people have pointed out elsewhere in this blog, I'm a "neoconservative," whatever that means, which means that I know more money doesn't guarantee more efficacy when it comes to schools.

That said, does this mean we're better off doing nothing, and shuttling the kids to Barnes & Noble? One could use that same language to talk about ESL, certainly -- you could imagine someone saying, why pay for this? Kids can just learn English by watching cartoons on TV! Yet we as a society choose to believe that giving a little extra help to these English learners is worth the expense. The Arizona legislature has decided the same thing for gifted education, and I think that's a worthy first step.

Anonymous said...

Laura, are you really a neocon? I feel absolutely sick to my stomach thinking this might be so.