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.