Thursday, August 14, 2014

The after-school solution

Long ago when I was writing about education, and the idea of separation of church and state, someone made an interesting point to me. What people got most up in arms about, he said, were the core school hours of 9 to 3. Outside that, people were a lot less doctrinaire. So people might be absolutely against vouchers that would send kids to religious schools at taxpayer expense from 9 to 3. But they were far more willing to subsidize an after-school program run by a church. Districts happily provided busing, snacks, workbooks, etc. Some even paid some chunk of the cost. That was all fine. So were summer programs, before school programs, weekend programs, etc. It was the hours of 9 to 3 that required lines in the sand. (Or 8 to 2, or whenever the local schools held core classes).

I thought of that as I read a story about the Clarkdale-Jerome school in Arizona starting an after-school gifted program. The school didn't have anything for gifted kids. One of the teachers earned an endorsement in gifted education. So they decided to start an after school program to serve kids' needs.

From the perspective of those of us who think gifted kids have educational differences that deserve to be accommodated, this story can invite some smacks on the forehead. Why after school? Why not decide that we're not doing anything for gifted kids now, so let's identify them and see if some acceleration might be in order? Or maybe we decide to do self-contained multi-grade classes for these kids. Or even a twice a week pull-out. But something during the school day, when kids are supposed to be doing the bulk of their learning. Gifted kids should be challenged to the extent of their abilities in an environment with their intellectual peers.

But viewed from the perspective of "core hours" vs. other hours, this makes some sort of sense. Gifted education is a controversial thing. So it needs to be done outside of school hours, just like letting a religious group run an after school program.

I'm not sure how this will play out from a practical perspective. On one hand, many families of young kids have two working parents (or a single working parent) and hence need to do something with the kids after school anyway. A gifted program probably beats a lot of after school options. Unfortunately, it might also pit gifted education against art, music, sports, etc., which plenty of kids would also like to do. It's nice to do something for gifted kids, as opposed to nothing for them. But the decision to use an after-school solution says loads about how gifted education is often viewed.