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A Proven Formula

Someone pointed me toward this article from Newsweek Magazine. It is one of those articles that many people wish they could have written, but they knew they didn’t have the moral standing to do so.
The writer is in the unique position of having both a gifted and a disabled child. She points out that the disabled child, who may never be able to be self-supporting, receives wonderful, government-mandated, free services from his school. Her gifted child gets a paltry three hours a week of special schooling. If they lived in Santa Cruz County, she’d be getting even less.
Last spring, I wrote an article about PVUSD’s GATE program, which has since been gutted because of budget cuts. If kids in PVUSD are lucky, they are identified as gifted early on, and Lyn and whoever she can afford to hire try to work with the child’s teachers to “differentiate” their teaching. In the past, GATE also offered a support group for parents of gifted children on the SENG model, which helped the parents negotiate the bureaucratic, emotional, and educational headaches that come with having a child with a “gift.”
If you’re ready to argue with me about what “gifted” means, you can read my last posting on that subject.
Go ahead and read it, but then please go to the Newsweek article and give a little thought to return on investment.
I would never, EVER argue that we should neglect any children in our society. I grew up with close family friends who have a developmentally disabled daughter. She is now a fine adult, doing a job that is necessary and requires skills that she has mastered. There is no reason to go back to the past, when the developmentally disabled were shut up and ignored.
However, it is definitely time to take a look at how our public education money is being spent on our brightest students, the ones who will go on to be the inventors, innovators, healers, and thinkers that built the greatest achievements of our country.
The state of “gifted” education is dismal. If you don’t think that’s a problem, go to any Silicon Valley company that employs lots of engineers. I used to work in Silicon Valley. Even then (more years ago than I’m prepared to admit), working in the Valley was like being at the United Nations. Countries like India, Japan, Germany, and China are pouring money into educating their gifted children. Luckily, America offers an enticing package, and we lure lots of them here. But if they stop coming, our industries will not simply fizzle out. They will implode.
My two children are likely products of their parents: scientific minded with a strong creative bent. I can’t predict where they’ll go — many kids I knew like that ended up doing nothing with their professional lives. But I know that an investment in their education is one that may provide great returns. That’s why we’re in the unusual position of homeschooling one child through a public school program, and sending the other to private school.
The first time I called our neighborhood public school, my son was going into first grade. I’d chosen a private kindergarten because I had a baby and I was exhausted and was looking for a longer schoolday. So when he was going into first grade, I gave our school a chance. I called the principal and we chatted about the programs there and what they had to offer. I can remember what he said almost verbatim: “Our focus is on getting the low test scorers to bring up their scores. I wish I could say we have something to offer to a family like yours, but I can’t.”
That pretty much sealed the deal! So after trying out a charter school and a Montessori program, he has ended up where we always suspected he would: at a private school that differentiates as a matter of course. What is differentiation? It’s simply offering work to the students that challenges them. My son’s class is just finishing a perfect example: They are doing a class newspaper. The kids who were going to struggle to do an interview and write their articles were assigned just one article. The kids like my son who were going to write their article in a steam of passion then sit there for two weeks waiting for the other kids to catch up were given deeper assignments: They not only wrote their articles, but also served as editors, graphic designers, and planners. All the kids did meaningful work; all the kids were taken to the edge of their abilities and given a chance to expand.
It doesn’t sound like much, does it? That’s all my kids need, and until our local public school offers it, we’re going to stick with our present formula, because it works.

Posted in Parenting.

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