Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's all in the details

I have no particular fondness for pull-out gifted programs. They're of limited duration -- an hour a week, or 45 minutes twice a week. They are often the result of a district's desire to do something to meet a state requirement of serving gifted students without actually devoting many resources to it. One teacher can wind up covering a vast number of students, often at vast numbers of schools, which is cheaper than having a teacher teaching a self-contained class.

But at least pull-out programs are visibly there. Something is happening. It's a step above the idea of simply attempting to differentiate in the regular classroom and hoping that happens. Indeed, an interesting question could be this: If your individual education plan for gifted kids is to serve them in the regular classroom, do you actually have a gifted program?

I was pondering this while reading a story about a controversy in the Norwalk City Schools (in Ohio). An article in the Norwalk Reflector noted that -- contrary to rumors! -- the district was not ending its gifted program (known as ABLE). It was changing how it was delivered. According to an official, "This means students will not be pulled from the classroom, but serviced in the classroom with a differentiated curriculum that will provide additional assignments and projects with alternatives based on a student's individual needs. Students will continue to have W.E.P.s (written education plans) and assessments of their progress provided to parents."

In other words, we'll try to individualize work in the classroom. Which is hopefully what teachers are doing for all kids anyway.

Some parents were calling this a subterfuge. If you scroll down to the first comment on the article, you see this assertion: "Despite what the school board may be saying, the reality is that, after the levy was passed, they made a last-minute decision to eliminate a teaching position. One fourth grade teacher was leaving, and rather than replace that teacher, they chose to reassign the gifted intervention specialist to fill that position. That is an undeniable fact. They ARE ending the ABLE program. They may try to cover the situation up by saying that gifted education will be 'delivered differently', but who is going to oversee their curriculums and make sure that the needs of these children are met when the school will not be employing anyone to do so?"

The truth is, differentiating in a classroom is incredibly hard. It's hard even for excellent teachers with tons of experience. Even if you do manage to provide some challenge, you don't hit the other half of what gifted kids need, which is the chance to learn in an environment with their intellectual peers.

Gifted education is never going to be the top priority for many districts. Many of us have wondered if creating state mandates or even national mandates for identifying and serving gifted kids will push districts to offer better programming. But the problem is that when districts don't want to do something, they can come up with a way not to. Officially, this district in Ohio still has a gifted program. It is identifying and serving gifted kids. That it probably won't happen in practice -- that it is set up to fail to give kids what they need -- is just a detail.


ljconrad said...

Having followed this particular story for several weeks, I had similar feelings. As someone who posts current gifted information on social media, I found myself unable to post this story ... even with the disclaimer 'for informational purposes only'. The actions of this school board are not atypical. On the contrary, I would venture to say that it is more often the rule in most school districts in the U.S.
The problem with differentiation goes well beyond whether the teacher has 'time' to do it. No doubt, all the lessons will be differentiated for the struggling student. With recent changes in education policy, the teacher's job will be on the line if they don't give priority to those students caught in the achievement gap.
This Ohio school district will be following the letter of the law but ignoring the spirit of it.

nicoleandmaggie said...


Nother Barb said...

I tell this story often, but it so applies here. When my son was in first grade, his amazing, experienced, new-to-our-district teacher realized she could not differentiate enough in the classroom, when she has children learning basic addition and a handful doing long division. More homework wasn't the answer! They needed instruction and a different curriculum. Our replacement curriculum doesn't start till 3rd grade,mbut a 4th grade teacher, who at one time taught that replacement class, offered her prep time 3-4 times a week and took these kids through the 4th grade math curriculum, and then some, at their depth and pace. Helped the kiss with the reading, too, as needed.

For the kids in Norwalk who thrived in their gifted classroom, next year could prove to be like going on a trip and having it rain every day.

BTW, poor Norwalk must be in dire straits. In the middle and high schools they also apparently no longer have librarians, just aides to run them but not to serve the students,

Jamie said...

Our school district pulls kids out until 5th grade and then "modifies the curriculum" thereafter. We get reports every 12 weeks or so on the "modified curriculum." It just doesn't work. Does. not. work. The bigger kids really miss the grade school program.

Gail Post, Ph.D. said...

I would agree that this situation happens far too often in so many school districts. It is based on the assumption that "gifted kids will be fine" even without the instruction they need. Concepts like "differentiated instruction" sound great, but are almost impossible for even the most seasoned teacher to implement on a regular basis. Gifted students lose out once again.

Gail Post/ www.giftedchallenges.com

Anonymous said...

Forget about pull-outs and in class differentiation. The solution is to have separate classrooms grouped by ability. Each class then goes at it's own pace, the top level faster, and the bottom level slower. There is no extra cost to doing this, but it's much more educationally efficient.

Tricia Beck said...

I was fortunate to have worked in a district where gifted elementary students in grades 3-5 came to me for an all day pull out. Grades K-2, received 90 minutes each week. My students loved it, and so did I!
I had to move to a new location every year as priority for space had to go to regular classroom teachers. But, whether we met in a closet off the library (yep, really!), or a full classroom, those gifted students loved having that one day of the week to truly be themselves and engage in project based activities.
Sadly, funding for this position was cut to half-time and I had to move on. But, it was a wonderful 6 years!
Mandates mean nothing without the budget to implement it. And, let's face it, gifted programs are not top priority in school budgets.

Anonymous said...

If students are placed into classrooms based on ability, then there is basically ZERO marginal cost. If you are to split 200 students into 8 classes of 25, then you can put the top 25 into one class and teach to their level. Students can spend 100% of their time in classes at their level. The failure of the USA to do this ability tracking is the single major reason for this country's poor academic performance. It's just such a cheap simple and effective idea.

Working Mama said...

Have to bless my son's former kindergarten teacher. She truly differentiated--she got him a "reading buddy" from the fifth grade because there was no "reading group" in K anywhere near his level (and the 5th grader got community service credit), and she let him do special projects like a class presentation about the space shuttle program. She really kept him engaged until we could enroll him in a gifted program the next year.