The following is a letter to the editor from District 181 parents Kristy Brindley and Rebecca Wear Robinson:
On Monday night the District 181 Board of Education heard . The programs to be reviewed have been identified as the ACE program and the advanced courses for high-achieving students in math and language arts. An internal committee was formed that included two gifted specialists to prepare and review the Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP specified that candidates must have a strong background in gifted education.
All were appropriate actions to review a gifted program.
As two district parents, our primary concern is not whether the existing gifted/talented program is serving the needs of the children who qualify. Instead, we're concerned about whether the program has the effect of lowering standards for the remaining 70 percent of children and we're concerned about the indisputable negative effect that the labeling is having on those children.
Our concern is that the continued focus on assessing the gifted programs is allowing the bigger and more concerning issues to be overlooked.
The district’s stated goal is, “To be a school district where all children experience success.” This goal is admirably supported by our excellent Social Emotional Learning for Academic Success (SELAS) program, and is undermined time and time again by the district’s focus on high-achieving children through a program that has been skewed by pressure from a small group of parents in favor of their children.
It’s private education for a few, paid for with the taxes of the many.
While recently speaking with fellow fourth-grade parents, the topic of our kids' curriculum night letters came up. One fourth-grade parent said her child, who is in advanced math, wrote to his parents in his curriculum night letter, “I hope that I do OK in math this year.” Another child, who is learning at grade level, wrote, “I am good at math, but not as good as other kids.” Children refer to “smart math” (advanced) and “dumb math” (grade level). Nine years old is too young for children to doubt their ability at math—a skill they will need their entire life.
We are suggesting that the truly gifted children, defined as the three to five percent of children who not only possess extraordinary intellectual capacity but who also have social and emotional needs that differentiate them, receive both the intellectual challenge and the additional help they may need in channeling those skills effectively.
We are suggesting that the children at the other end of the spectrum who have learning disabilities, or social and emotional needs that require additional help, have their needs met.
We are suggesting that children who possess exceptionally strong intellectual capabilities be challenged appropriately.
We are suggesting that the remaining 70 percent of students also be challenged and given the resources to reach a high level of accomplishment academically that is supported by the emotional satisfaction derived from being challenged and succeeding.
We are suggesting that District 181 truly be “A school district where all children experience success.”
We request that in reviewing the work of the outside consultant, special attention be paid to recommendations that focus on a system of differentiation in the classroom, which would allow our excellent teachers to do what they have been trained to do and are paid to do—bring all of our children to the highest level of academic achievement within their capability.
We request that all of our children be put first.