Sunday, December 29, 2013

All Children Are Challenged in the Regular Classroom ???

Well, not really.    You may not hear those words exactly, but you might hear things like: “Our school’s philosophy is one of full inclusion where all children’s strengths are celebrated.” OR “Our teachers differentiate their instruction to provide an individualized education for all our students.” OR “We feel that accelerating your child beyond their current grade level would prove detrimental to their social well-being. Your child will benefit from interacting with all their peers.”

Here’s what you need to understand. Much of this language comes straight from Special Education. Gifted Education falls under the Special Education umbrella in many states and also in undergraduate college courses for pre-service teachers. (In federal policy, gifted education is not part of special education.)

The idea of ‘full inclusion’ is a philosophy. It is not the law. Differentiation is a wonderful idea; however, it rarely occurs in the regular classroom for gifted students. Acceleration is one research-based idea which has been well-documented as one of the best possible methods for meeting the academic needs of gifted children.

Full inclusion is based on the principle of ‘least-restrictive environment’ for physically/mentally disabled students. LRE was the result of court cases brought by parents (something to consider*). For most students, the regular classroom is the least-restrictive environment for their education. It is not, however, the case for students identified as intellectually gifted in most instances. It often becomes the ‘most-restrictive environment’.

Differentiation is one of those policies that looks great on paper, but the reality is that very few classroom teachers receive adequate professional development to do differentiation for gifted students and even fewer believe they need to provide it for these students. If differentiation of instruction was actually occurring, gifted students would not be the only group of students who consistently fail to show annual growth.

Consider the pressures facing most teachers today with a roster of 25 students in a class and 4 to 6 classes a day. Do.the.math. Who has the time to differentiate every lesson every day for a minimum of three different levels over the course of 180 days?

I’m not saying that it can’t be done; especially if you’re in a school district with adequate funding for technology and professional staff development. I’m saying it’s most likely not being done in a majority of schools.

Disagree? Ask your school’s principal to let you sit in on classes for a day at your child’s school. Better yet … ask the principal to accompany you. If you feel that your child’s ‘needs’ are being met, then you’re all set!

If not, then you need to advocate for your child’s right to an appropriate education. And you need to be a smart advocate. Educate yourself on local school policies. If necessary, find a professional advocate (check with your state’s gifted association here or here; or Wright’s Law online) to guide you.

Idoesn't have to be a fight. Most disagreements are the result of inadequate funding or misguided attitudes. If funding is the issue … this is where acceleration comes into play. It is perhaps the most cost-effective measure a school can use to provide an appropriate education for gifted students. Talk to your child first, regardless of how old they are, to understand their feelings about moving ahead in school. If this is something they are comfortable with, get a copy of A Nation Deceived. Give it to the principal. Give it to the superintendent. Heck, give a copy to every member of the school board if necessary. Read it first yourself and be ready to explain it to the ‘decision makers’. Educators love to tell you that they will only accept ‘research-based’ solutions. Well … here you go!

Misguided attitudes are an entirely separate issue. Anti-intellectualism on the part of ‘educators’ is a sad state of affairs particularly in the U.S. It is a fight you may not want to engage in; even if you think you’re up to it. Mindsets based in ignorance are rarely changed by reason.

The situation becomes more complicated depending on ‘distance from the mean’ for students who are exceptionally-abled. Elementary and secondary teachers may only encounter these students a few times in their entire career. It is oftentimes hard to comprehend that with which you have little experience.

A recent study (Swicord, Chancey, Davis, 2013) states:

            “Exceptionally capable students exhibit characteristics that challenge the
             efficacy of the traditional American educational system. Those that
             demonstrate advanced ability in one or more academic areas may be
             poorly served by age-based placement, and asynchronous development
             of abilities may pose difficulties for strictly acceleration-based services.”

In this instance, it was recommended that these students need access to a wide range of services which may be provided by distance-learning programs easily accessed via the Internet, some form of acceleration (whole-grade, subject-only), and specially designed curriculum.

A relatively new approach for gifted education, at least in the U.S., is one of blended accommodation ~ a continuum of services (to borrow language from special education). Students may attend a public school part of the day and then either homeschool, cyber-school or attend college classes as part of a dual-enrollment program the remainder of the day.

Not available where you live? Learn more about what is available in other parts of the country (world) ~ you know, Google-it ~ and share this information with your district’s administration. Most administrators either don’t have the time or don’t care enough to do it themselves.

Remember what I said earlier (?) … much of the movement toward modern Special Education was parent-driven*. It is the right of every child to have an education which produces growth from where they are at present to where their potential will take them! You are their best hope!