For those of you who have waded through the whole Fordham report (see previous post) I'd like to start a discussion on the teacher survey. This is the second part of the Fordham report, and is based on questions asked of 900 elementary, middle and high school teachers.
Surveys are always somewhat problematic for a few reasons. First, people who respond may be different than those who don't respond. For instance, they may be more thoughtful about the questions being asked, have more of an interest in them, or just not be as busy. Second, people often answer questions in ways that show they agree with positive sounding statements (and then answer just as affirmatively to opposing statements that are also framed in a positive manner).
That said, the results of this teacher survey are fascinating. Among them:
1. Teachers are skeptical of the gifted label. A full 50% either strongly or somewhat agreed that "too often students are labeled as advanced only because their parents are overzealous and know how to work the system." Over 60% of high school teachers agreed with this statement.
2. Schools are not that concerned with the needs of high achievers. 78% of teachers agreed that getting underachieving students to proficiency is so important that the needs of advanced students have taken a back seat. About a third said that academically advanced students were a low priority, and 40% of high school teachers said that honors and accelerated classes were often watered down.
3. Teachers are quite concerned with the needs of academically advanced students, even if they don't believe their schools are. 73% agreed that "too often the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school -- we're not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive." The focus group statements on this were particularly interesting. See page 52-- teachers talk about "cheating" their students and levels of frustration "when they have to sit by while we're babysitting." Noted one teacher. "It does seem that the resources, when we do get them for the higher achievers, are always geared toward things like day trips to places...The problem is that when we do get funds for the gifted students, it's always 'Take them to the science museum.'"
4. Teachers think students do better with homogeneous grouping and recognize that in-class differentiation is tough. By a margin of 72-14, teachers believed advanced students were more likely to reach their academic potential in homogeneous classes, rather than mixed ability classes. While this fell to 46-36 for struggling students, this still tilts in favor of ability grouping for slower students as well. A full 76% of teachers said they favored the idea of homogeneous grouping for meeting students' needs. Key problems in mixed classes: 77% agreed that when they assign group projects, advanced students do most of the work. (I should note that 57% disagreed that teachers had advanced students tutor others when they ran out of things to do...)
5. Teachers recognize that they have not had much professional development on the topic of high achievers. Only 30% said they had some training, and only 5% said a lot. This is a problem because most teachers said that there wasn't a lot of special gifted programming in their schools, meaning that any teacher may be required to teach a high ability student.
6. Yet for all this, teachers are pretty negative on grade skipping, something that would remove the need for as much in-class differentiation and specialized training. While 85% liked the idea of subject matter acceleration, 63% opposed grade skipping. This is reflected in school policies. 46% said that their schools do not allow grade skipping, and 27% say they are not sure, which means that it must be extremely rare in these teachers' schools.
I find it intriguing that the majority of teachers would favor subject matter acceleration and the majority would oppose whole grade acceleration. I wonder if there is the fear of kids being picked on in gym class (though few schools have gym class anymore)? Or a way of recognizing the reality that kids need more challenge while clinging to the "community" ideal of school? (That frankly has no basis in reality -- my friends weren't all born within 6 months of my birthday).
Regardless of the oddity, this may suggest a strategy for parents looking to advocate for gifted kids: if you want a high probability of success, pick 3 subjects you want your kid advanced in, and go for broke on those. If you play your cards right, you might say that this is introducing your kid to more peers, and hence is increasing their socialization... Grade skipping will be a harder sell.