Some encouraging news today (along with a strange but welcome stock market rally) - Pres. Obama, in a speech to the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, called on states to lift their caps on charter schools. About half of the states currently limit the number of charter schools that can be started. Since many of these schools -- which receive public money, but operate separately from usual school district control -- have proven to be quite good, there are currently more than 300,000 students on charter school waiting lists. It's absolutely ridiculous not to let these students have more options. You can read more about the proposal, and the rest of Obama's speech, here.
He also repeated calls for a merit pay system for teachers. The details are somewhat fuzzy, and no doubt will be vigorously opposed by the teachers unions that have been among Obama's top supporters. But the idea is roughly that most people are fine with paying teachers more as long as you can get rid of the bad ones, and teachers who show concrete results -- in the form of higher student achievement -- are rewarded appropriately. This is how professionals should be paid and treated. In accounting, for instance, partners in firms can do quite well, but if your clients are continually doing badly on audits, you'd be out the door.
It's not clear yet what any of this would mean for gifted students. Obviously, gifted kids, like all kids, benefit from having better teachers. In theory, charter schools could be great for gifted kids, because some charters could focus on, say, advanced course work. This is what the Charter School of Wilmington was founded to do. On the other hand, many states have rules that charter schools can't pick their students, which makes selecting for giftedness difficult (the Charter School of Wilmington got away with this for years by saying that high test scores indicated an interest in the school's philosophy, and they were allowed to choose students who met that description. This approach has come under quite a bit of fire lately). But in general, charters allow educational experimentation, and flexibility is good for gifted kids. I'd love to hear from parents whose children are enrolled in charter schools about your experiences.