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?