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School Reform and Gifted Education

by Monique Prevost Lloyd

More than 40 states are working on reforming their educational systems, a process which began with the publication of "A Nation at Risk", a landmark 1983 study of American achievement which put the nation's policymakers on notice that America's schools were failing students.

Today, states from Virginia to California, Oregon to Florida are revamping their curriculum with a single focus--ensuring their students' futures using what is often called outcome based education which can be defined simply as requiring students to demonstrate what they know. The approach appears to be a genuine attempt at raising academic achievement for our students. Meeting standards seems preferable to having students just get by with a "D" average.

One problem is that the standards lack one essential element--level of competence. A goal like "comprehend with evidence of literal, inferential and evaluative understanding" could be met using Milton's Paradise Lost. It could also be met using Curious George Goes to the Circus. There are no specific standards which students would have to display in order to prove initial mastery of concepts and processes in math. Math standards like "complete accurate computations and/or models" does not address the level of complexity that would be required. Standards imply accountability. That is their purpose. These kinds of standards do not provide it.

Gifted students are, by definition, able to proceed through the curriculum at a faster pace, with greater comprehension and greater depth than other students. Many educational practices currently in vogue under the umbrella of school reform work against these students.

One such practice is cooperative learning. If students are clustered or ability grouped the chances that a gifted student will have their academic and social needs met rises. Usually, however, educators form groups by placing together one bright child, one slower child, and several average children and give out grades based on the group's work. The belief is that the bright child will raise the ceiling and bring the other children with him/her. The reality is often that the bright child does all the work and is frustrated and resentful when others don't do their share.

Another practice often used is peer tutoring. Parents of bright children report that their children are told that since they are so far ahead they can help slower students catch up. That they are being denied an education is ignored as well as the fact that they are being exploited as unpaid aides.

Because so few regular classroom teachers have received training in gifted education it is often difficult for many of them to understand that gifted children do not need constant review. Mastery is achieved in a much shorter period of time. There are some gifted children who learn because they love learning. They have no interest in learning in order to gain someone else's approval or for a letter grade or other "reward" and have no interest in performing what they know for others.

The greatest problem with school reform and gifted students is that of accountability. State school reform looks great on paper but they are nothing but paper programs. The bottom line is what students do on a day-in, day-out basis during the school year. Educational theories, strategies, and methods are being applied without being tested to ensure that they meet the needs of all students and some of them are being used incorrectly.

2002 Monique Lloyd
May be reprinted.

Last updated September 2002


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