Thursday, August 24, 2006

Margaret Spellings on Gifted Education

On Tuesday, I attended the opening ceremonies for the Davidson Academy of Nevada. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings was the keynote speaker, and there was some general audience trepidation that the speech might amount to a commercial for No Child Left Behind, which has been a mixed bag (probably good for raising the floor; not so good for raising the ceiling -- and in some cases squashing it).

The commercial did air; we got the spiel that big chunks of our schools' mediocrity could be laid at the feet of a lack of information. Now that we have information on test scores, things will improve. Perhaps -- transparent information is part of the equation. But real accountability, merit pay for teachers and principles, ability grouping and high expectations are also part of it. The Belleville, NJ school system I wrote about a few posts ago that is choosing to stunt the growth of its brightest students doesn't lack information. It just has a backwards philosophy.

But I digress. I'm happy to report that Spellings said many of the right things to an audience that was passionate about gifted education. Many of the Davidson Academy student speakers spoke about how bored they were in previous schools due to the lack of challenge. Spellings apologized on behalf of public educators everywhere. Then she said that NCLB was a start -- a minimum ("grade level learning is the minimum for success") -- and that we need to pay more attention to kids who are doing more than the minimum. Customization, she said, was the "next big revolution in education."

"Every student deserves individual attention," she said. "Education is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise."

She reported on traveling to India, and seeing a hunger for advanced learning that is often lacking in American schools. Indeed, she said that three out of four high school students say they are not challenged (a big admission from a woman who, officially, is somewhat responsible for all those schools' lack of challenge!) By denying children access to rigorous classes, she said, we deny their potential.

So we shall see. Politicians often say good things, so we shall see if President Bush's education agenda over the next two years actually does try to raise the ceiling in addition to the floor. I hope so. We need it. Does anyone have suggestions of what could be done on the federal level to make sure that not only are no children left behind, but that children are encouraged to surge ahead?


Anonymous said...

Hi! How, exactly, is teaching English managed at the Davidson Academy? You mentioned a cross-curricular venture teaching The Origin of Species at the same time as a science class teaches evolution, but can you give more of an idea of what happens on a day-to-day basis???

Anonymous said...

What do you think about the genius, Terence Tao, who has recently been brought into the spotlight because of his Fields Medal win? Do you think that the enrichment he received as a child would be of benefit to other gifted children?

Laura Vanderkam said...

Anonymous 2: I don't know much about him, but I'll check with my brother, who was in Princeton's math department around the same time... What kind of enrichment are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if NCLB could be more accountable if it measured "learning progress" per student, rather than plus or minus floor? It seems that this wouldn't be difficult to accomplish. It does remind me of a report of a study that high achieving children's achievement scores go up during the summer when they waste less time in school and have more time to read. Although some kids I know get around this by reading during class discussion.

Jennifer said...

See this article about Terence Tao when he was a 10 year old:

It seems to me he is a genuine one in 10 million genius (so hard to generalise too much to more common gifted children), but still the way in which his education is structured is fascinating

Anonymous said...

Kindergarten teaches so much. The children learn how to work together and be supportive of each other. My daughter had a wonderful teacher. Another parent and I were both of the mindset that our daughters were never allowed to say "bored". We are both high achievers and so are our daughters - and our daughters have both excelled. They are independent and self-starters. Other "gifted" kids expect to be spoon fed "challenges" and are so difficult that they are going to have a hard time succeeding in life. I am in a profession where so many "gifted ex-children" end up. The ones who have not learned the other skills in life and who constantly tell you how smart they are get fired. They expect to be challenged constantly, which is impossible in any environment. My friend and I have a deal that if our kids say they are bored they have to clean the bathroom. As a result, they are fantastic artists, scientists, and writers.