Parents hear that a lot from their children, especially about school. Is it learning that is boring or is it school that is boring? Can school be exciting, challenging, enriching, goal-oriented and fun? Can gifted students be offered challenging programs that will not leave out the rest of the students? Can schools offer a productive learning experience for all levels of ability? There are some new ideas and some old ideas made new that open up some unique opportunities for such an outcome.
I still remember being in the sixth grade in a class of 50 students. Someone had the bright idea of putting the “smartest” kid in the class in the first chair of the first row, the second smartest kid in the second chair and so on until they ended up with chair 50 occupied by the “dumbest” kid in the class. That poor kid was Gary T. who wasn’t dumb by any stretch of the imagination. He later told me that that year was pure hell for him. I think all the kids knew it was wrong. The only ones who didn’t know it was wrong were the people who ran the schools. Or maybe they did, that was the only year that “system” was used.
A well-run gifted program would allow students in the program to progress as quickly as possible through the learning experience. What can be wrong with that? Well, some people think that resources used in the gifted program could be better used providing extra assistance to students who struggle with reading, math, science, technology or history. Others point out that separating students by ability short changes everyone and ostracizes everyone. Not every quick-learning child wants to be segregated into a group. On the other hand, why should students who want to learn more and learn faster be left sitting and staring at their feet while they are “taught” things they knew two years ago?
So, is there a way to have it all?
Some school districts are experimenting with doing away with grade levels. Rather than progress from one grade to another, the students progress from one level of accomplishment to another. The system is sometimes called standards based education. The goal is not to reach the next grade level but to reach the next level of competency.
At the May 16th school board meeting at Harding Middle School, I had the opportunity to see some very good and energetic teachers in action with their students. The students were receiving recognition for taking part in the Power of the Pen, Model United Nations and Harding Mock Trial Team. Lakewood City Schools are blessed with a lot of very good teachers who would be even better if given the autonomy to run their classrooms and a system of teaching that enables each child to learn at their own level without segregation, ostracism or being bored out of their minds.
The schools won’t be getting more money so it’s time to think about how to get more FOR our money. Maybe standards based education is one on the answers. What do you think?