Friday, August 24, 2012
Religious schools and gifted ed
Close to 5.5 million American children attend private schools. The majority of these schools are religious in nature. Over 40% are Catholic, another 15% are "conservative Christian," and a smaller proportion are Lutheran, Baptist or Jewish. While 5.5 million sounds like a lot of kids, the number of children attending Catholic schools in particular has declined precipitously over the past few decades. Many have closed, and some are trying to reinvent themselves. One possibility? Take a page from the playbook of a Queens, NY Lutheran school, which just reinvented itself as a school for gifted kids. Lutheran School of Flushing & Bayside was struggling to attract students. But the folks in charge noticed something. NYC tests and identifies kindergartners for its gifted programs, but then doesn't actually have enough seats in the programs for all the kids identified. So now the school is enrolling children who meet the NYC standard but don't have a seat in the public schools in a program designed to meet their needs. I think it's a neat idea. In large metropolitan areas, a school for gifted kids offers the best of all worlds: ideally, the academics are tough enough to cause kids to stretch, and they can learn in an environment with their intellectual peers. Because the high population means there's likely a concentration of gifted kids, you can actually fill a school. NYC has some gifted schools (think Stuyvesant) but not nearly enough. A private Lutheran school is obviously not the perfect solution: plenty of gifted kids aren't Lutheran (and their families won't want them taught as such) and there's the matter of tuition. If public schools exist for kids, and especially when they identify kids as gifted, it's crazy that they then don't actually have to do anything about that fact. But, given that we don't live in a world where that's happening, having other schools around that do try to meet gifted kids' needs is a major plus. Obviously not all religious schools could or should reinvent themselves this way. But if there were 10 Catholic schools in a city, why not designate one to have gifted & talented education as its niche? If there are 6 Protestant schools in a town, maybe they could have a gifted program at one of them and share some teachers and courses for 2 days a week. This would give parents of gifted kids more options. Because the sad truth is that it's usually assumed that if you can afford private school, that will solve all educational problems. But parents of gifted kids soon learn that even being able to pay tuition is no guarantee that an appropriate education is there in your town for the taking.