No Gifted Child Left Behind
No Gifted Child Left Behind?
Differentiated learning in the age of testing.
by Jared Gellert
I talked with my next door neighbor about how her third grade son is doing at school. He hates it, she said. He’s bored, it’s way too easy and as much as he loves his friends, he complains about school night and day. She continued that she herself had gone to public school and then to an Ivy League college. They’d picked the neighborhood in part because of the reputation of the school district. She always thought public school would be fine for her son and while they make a good living, it’s not as if tuition wouldn’t be noticeable. But she’s considering private schools.
This isn’t just a random story. So what might we learn from it?
One perspective would be the public policy perspective. This kid is going to be successful. He comes from an intact, educated, stable family who value education, surround him with books, limit his screen time, buy him legos, sign him up for extra curricular activities, feed him well, etc. From a public policy perspective, it’s entirely legitimate to argue that there are other far more pressing priorities, and schools can only do so much. But somehow I doubt the public policy perspective is going to do much for mom, compared to her son’s constant complaints. Just guessing.
Another approach would be to enrich him. Supposedly, they are actually trying this. He came home all excited a few weeks ago because they were going to give him some special science and social studies projects. Only he still has to do all the busywork, and only gets those last five minutes in a period to work on the projects. He still has to do a page of single digit addition each night, the kind he could do entering kindergarten (he’s a bright kid). The district’s PR talks about how they value differentiated learning. But the execution is just miserable, at least in this case. Why isn’t the teacher just saying, here, work on the project we gave you, while I drill the rest of the class on something you can already do?
I don’t know to what extent the problem is the focus on test results, the 27 kids in the class, the individual teacher, the lack of professional development to institute something remotely resembling differentiated learning, the lack of leadership from a principal whose clear focus is test results, test results and more test results. I do know this kid is bored, and his parents are looking at private schools. Can you blame them? And what does that say about our public schools?
Jared Gellert is the executive director of The Center for Integrated Training and Education .
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