Friday, October 9, 2009

Reading the writing on the wall

The Nobel Committee announced today, Friday, October 9, 2009 that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," while NASA returned to the moon with, shall we say, a loud bang!

We live in the shadow of these noteworthy accomplishments with a school system that aspires to be "world class." How fortunate our children.

Our school system tells us that a system-wide average of about 40% of our second graders perform above-grade level. Yes, in some schools it is more than 70%. If, true, isn't it the most compelling evidence of the need to raise standards?

At the end of a child's educational journey through public school, graduation, our school system acknowledges a declining trend (note this is a very rudimentary analysis). Again, aren't we acknowledging a failure to provide a challenging, well-articulated curriculum for our children that imbues them with the knowledge and skills to graduate?

It is not a debatable matter that we fail our best and brightest with incessant filibustering debates over labeling, and keeping parents from participating in the policy making process.

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews wrote back in 2006, "UCLA professor Jeannie Oakes, a leading opponent of tracking, said she agreed with the Iowa report's case-by-case approach. If a sixth-grader understands advanced mathematical concepts, she said, "the solution is to send that child to high school," not to put the child in a class with other bright sixth-graders and just call it accelerated, even if it isn't." The school system argues such an intervention is unnecessary.

Parents with the means who realize that their child is capable of performing at a higher level of education generally seek interventions outside the school, or are capable of sound advocacy. It is the economically disadvantaged families that can't provide for their high performing children. Consequently, it is imperative that a public school system provide the necessary interventions for these students irrespective of economic strata.

"All parents want their children to achieve at high levels and to learn at an appropriate pace, depth, and level of complexity. To blame parents for wanting challenge for their children or to accuse them of creating a meritocracy ignores the very real evidence that some students are not being challenged in school. Instead of attacking the parents of these students, we invite them to participate in the dialogue on school improvement by encouraging open discussion about how schools can address the needs of all children and, indeed, how parents can be active partners in achieving this goal," wrote Sally M. Reis, Sandra N. Kaplan, Carol A. Tomlinson, Karen L. Westberg, Carolyn M. Callahan, and Carolyn R. Cooper in Educational Leadership, 56 (3), 74-77. Yes, you read it right—those are the words of MCPS' latest expert du jour Carol Ann Tomlinson. Yet, it is a piece of wisdom that the MCPS division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction seems supremely unable or unwilling to follow.

The minutes of the April 2009, AEI meeting states, "A Board member clarified that the purpose of policy revision is to update language to be consistent with other policies that do not contain regulatory language. All changes made will be consistent with COMAR." Ah, yes "All changes made will be consistent with COMAR." THE ANNOTATED CODE OF THE PUBLIC GENERAL LAWS OF MARYLAND, § 8-202 unequivocally states "A gifted and talented student needs different services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to develop the student's potential." Consequently, shouldn't the committee realize that its charge is limited to creating a policy for identifying students:
(1) Having outstanding talent and performing, or showing the potential for performing, at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other students of a similar age, experience, or environment;
(2) Exhibiting high performance capability in intellectual, creative, or artistic areas;
(3) Possessing an unusual leadership capacity; or

(4) Excelling in specific academic fields, and providing them the appropriate services? "The committee has met 23 times since February 2007," and has failed to accomplish anything tangible.

Wonder why? Just read the April 2009 minutes: "One Board member asked what research the committee had conducted in preparation for policy revision. Members were silent."

In our schools, hardworking dedicated professionals strive daily to do their best with the resources at their disposal. Carver seems unable to read the writing on the wall.

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