Education system leaves kids behind left and right

I haven’t been a fan of “No Child Left Behind” since it started. It’s clear to me that essentially saying, “We’re going to make education the same for all kids and make them all perform well” isn’t going to work. I have two major gripes, addressing kids on both ends of the spectrum — and I know whereof I speak. I have a child with Down syndrome whose IQ and certain academic abilities are far below normal. Yes, she is a bright, alert and involved girl who’s eager to work and do lots of things, but she will never grasp certain concepts, at least not well enough to pass a test on par with her non-disabled peers. Though I do want to push a little to see where my daughter’s boundaries (and full capacities) lie, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some real limits to what she can do compared with people who don’t have her intellectual disabilities.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have daughters who do not have that genetic limitation, and they are very intelligent and talented. Problem is, though they have been tested and shown to have high capacities (IQ, academic abilities, creativity, what-have-you), there are no active programs to encourage them as they develop those skills. Our school system in this city has what’s called a Gifted and Talented program (GATE), but it’s essentially just a pretty, shiny sticker to put on my girls’ academic folders. It means absolutely nothing because it has no funding and no activities besides maybe a field trip once a year to see colleges or something similar.

I have to chuckle when I think about the contrast here with my experience in the great gifted program I enjoyed in my middle school years. Here’s why: it was in Mississippi, which many basically consider the educational laughing-stock of the country. But despite the truths and/or misconceptions in that assumption, it provided for the gifted students. We spent a good part of one day per week exploring other parts of our brains, creating and thinking differently. It was challenging, interesting, and lots of fun.

My oldest daughter has enjoyed the fun and creative challenge of the Odyssey of the Mind program.
My oldest daughter has enjoyed the fun and creative challenge of the Odyssey of the Mind program.

Now I find it extremely frustrating to have children who have the need to explore, create and “think outside of the box” but have no program that addresses those needs. My oldest has been lucky the past two years to get involved with a program called Odyssey of the Mind — but only because she had a friend who was already involved at another school. She was allowed to participate in the program by special arrangement, because she attends a different high school in the district. Thank goodness that was allowed to happen. This is a really neat opportunity for her to create, stretch herself, think outside the box, and so on. Now I would like to see my younger daughters involved. But I’m thinking the only way that’s going to happen is if I pay for the program and take charge of it myself. (I may very well do that.) It fits very nicely into what I envision as being a perfect GATE program. Why doesn’t our district use it?

So this has been on my mind for years, literally, and for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about how to improve things a bit just here in my younger girls’ schools (middle school, elementary). But, again, this is a much bigger problem that’s not affecting just my kids; it’s affecting all the high achievers throughout the country. I read a great piece in the Boston Globe on the topic today, and I sat here nodding my head, shaking with frustration. Why can’t we actually tailor education to different kinds of students with differing natural abilities? Why do we have to act as if students all can be equal if we just say it’s so or should be so? (That’s another topic as well….)

Here’s a great excerpt from the article:

In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which penalizes public schools that don’t bring the lowest-performing students up to grade level. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act regulates special education and provides schools with more than $11 billion annually. A provision of federal education law called Title I allocates some $14 billion to schools that have a higher proportion of students from low-income families, to pay for programs designed to keep them from falling behind.

The smartest kid in class, by contrast, is not an expensive problem. A boy or girl who finishes an assignment early can be handed a book and told to read quietly while the teacher works on getting other children caught up. What would clearly be neglect if it happened to a special-needs child tends to look different if the child is gifted: Being left alone might even feel like a reward, an acknowledgment of being a fast learner.

Not surprisingly, programs oriented toward gifted children get barely any federal funding.

Once again, we see a problem that affects kids from varying economic and social backgrounds. There are bright, capable kids from immigrant families, from families that are poor, from families that aren’t well educated. But they could really over-achieve and give back to society in a big way if given extra attention. Problem in our current climate is this: if they were underachieving, they’d get more attention. ISN’T THAT INSANE?

I am lucky to be able to give my daughters lots of enrichment because I’m college educated and well-to-do enough to have the funds to introduce them to museums, good classic films, art, books, etc. I also have time to spend with them. That’s great for my girls. But, as I said in my previous post, it would sure be nice if I didn’t feel I HAD to provide all their enrichment because the schools are shorting them. Given these issues, again, Why can’t education be tailored to kids with different abilities? Why can’t we say, Yes, these kids could use some enrichment and encouragement in their naturally gifted ways? And other kids who have disabilities need special help and concessions, and we need to help them reach their highest potential, but not expect that potential to necessarily be the same as kids who don’t have those intellectual disabilities?

Gah! It’s enough to make a mom and concerned citizen scream.

Life with Down syndrome School life

lifeandlims View All →

I'm a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Any wonder there has been such a big movement in the direction of home-schooling for several years?

    My kids fall into this trap too. My son, who is in 5th grade and a GATE student, has been in combo classes for the past 2 years. This year, it’s a 4/5. Emphasis on the 4. There are fewer 5th grade students and they get almost no instruction, with exception of math and science which is done in another 5th grade classroom. I’m not very happy. Next year I will not allow this to happen to him. He deserves to be taught by his teacher in every subject and not pushed off to the side while the majority gets all the attention. Consequently, he is not performing as well as he could be. I had my reservations at the start of the year when he was placed in a combo class, but was reassured that everything would be fine. Listen to your “gut” feelings!

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