Thursday, August 10, 2006

Belleville, NJ to Gifted Fourth-Graders: Drop Dead

This seems to be becoming an all-New Jersey blog, but the threats to gifted education in that state mirror the larger challenges the gifted education community in this country faces.

Starting this school year, Belleville, NJ, will no longer send its academically advanced 4th graders to a separate, ability-grouped school for math, science and other academic courses. You can read the news in this article, called Changes Approved for Program in the Belleville Post.

Now, these students will remain in their home schools, and two teachers with expertise in gifted education will circulate around the schools to provide instruction in larger, more heterogeneous classes. Why? The first explanation, offered by Belleville Superintendent of Schools Edward Kliszus, is that this way, twice as many kids can be identified as gifted.

But then we learn this was more of a philosophical decision, rather than a sudden discovery that twice as many kids in Belleville were gifted as was previously thought. Board President Arlene Schor noted that “You have students identified as falling into Gifted and Talented who are all sent to one school... They don’t interact with other kids. They don’t take gym or art. We just felt that it was almost a form of segregation with the academically talented.” Since special education kids are being mainstreamed in Belleville, the board believes that gifted kids should be, too.

The article notes that "Schor said the AT [academically talented] program looks great on paper, with a number of the AT minority going on to four-year colleges, but added the desire is to have the majority of Belleville’s students succeed, not just a small percentage. 'That’s where we’re coming from,' she said. The new program will celebrate and enhance diversity among the student population and not the principle of isolation."

“It can’t be done if they’re self-contained,” said Kliszus.

And, of course, what article on the destruction of a gifted program would be complete without a quote on how mainstreaming gifted kids will benefit everyone else? In regular, heterogeneous classes, says board trustee John McManus, "They can act as leaders and help to bring the other students up.”

For now, fifth and sixth graders will continue to go to the self-contained program, but with explanations like these, how long does anyone think that will last?

It's not that these people don't get it. They get it. They just don't care. They do not believe gifted kids deserve to have their needs met. They believe gifted kids should suffer in regular classes that are taught to the median, and by their suffering, become "leaders" for everyone else. And yes, these people run the schools. And we, as a country, become stuck with the consequences of genius denied.


Anonymous said...

So if your child is highly gifted and going into fourth grade in this school district, probably the best thing you could do is advocate skipping the child to fifth grade.

Em said...

Yes, 5th grade would work for the next year or two. My question is: when do the gifted kids get a chance to learn? If they are spending their time tutoring others or 'bringing up the level of the class', what's their "free and appropriate education"?

Quiltsrwarm said...

Nothing irks me more than when a teacher says "well, the others can just catch up!" Arrrrgh!!! A homeschool we will go, a homeschool we will go...

This is just another example of unelightened phsychologists getting involved in the education of our children. Egad, when will they just realize they simply need to meet the educational needs of all our children???? Since when did our schools become the laboratory to test psychological theory??? Oh, my. Just another reminder of why we left public schools...

Anonymous said...

Just a query - is it common for highly/exceptionally/profoundly gifted teenagers to lose belief in themselves completely and to emphasise the achievements of others (however miniscule they may be?

Laura Vanderkam said...

Anonymous #2: Gifted kids do tend to be rather sensitive to others, particularly in the sense of having a heightened sense of trying to achieve justice or fairness. I'm not sure exactly why. Maybe they think about social issues while most kids are obsessed with the location of their lockers, but become a bit obsessed because they lack the jadedness many adults bring to politics. Maybe it's a capacity for empathy (among some, not all). Maybe becoming involved in causes allows kids to use parts of their brains that school doesn't. Many of the kids I've interviewed become active in some cause or another -- I'm not sure if that translates into a lost sense of self, necessarily. Certainly some gifted kids do suffer from that. But the latter part of your post could be true -- that gifted kids become very interested in others' achievements, particularly those that involve a struggle (I used to love to write overblown short stories about people facing hardships of one kind or another).
To everyone: I am on vacation in Wyoming right now, and don't have too much internet access. I will resume posting next week, I hope.

The Princess Mom said...

We have mainstreamed gifted kids in our local school district (not NJ) with a "gifted coordinator" who visits the school a couple days a week, just as the NJ district intends. Not surprisingly, there is little to no actual academic support for gifted kids, even though the program looks good on paper. We don't even have a gifted resource room or weekly pull-out classes. And this is one of the most gifted-friendly districts in the state? Bah!

I have seen the future, gifted students of Belleville NJ, and it ain't pretty.

Anonymous said...

Belleville is not the only NJ town doing away with magnet programs, just some towns are better at keeping it quiet.

Howell has had a magnet program for 4th through 8th grades for decades and they are phasing them out starting this year. In its place are enrichment cluster groups in the home schools where 1 to 4 students will be grouped in each grade and "accomodated" in heterogeneous classrooms. None of the teachers have any training in gifted ed beyond a 2 day workshop. Sounds like the makings of a highly successful program, doesn't it?

The revised identification process for those students is a joke so they probably won't even be grouping the students that really need accommodation, not that it matters!