Are We Focusing Too Much on Teaching Everybody?

I teach academically, behaviorally and emotionally troubled kids. I prefer to teach the students who have two strikes against them. On the other hand, are we doing enough for children on the other end of the spectrum?

Conservative website The American Spectator laments…

The United States is in the midst of an educational crisis. Test scores are plummeting, education spending is unsustainable, and the vast majority of American students are ill-prepared to thrive in the high-tech workplace of the future.

Given this sorry state of affairs, the question arises: How did the American education system, once the envy of the world, fall into such a decrepit state? Like most things in life, the answer is actually quite simple: The United States education system no longer prizes and cultivates its most talented students, and the American education system has become a bloated, bureaucratic leviathan that misallocates resources at a colossal level.

The article focuses on the idea that education does not encourage the brightest children to excel, but promotes mediocrity.  In North Carolina there are AIG programs for the gifted. In some cases, I’m sure the gifted students get exactly the high-le4vel work they need.

My favorite year of teaching was when the principle accidentally added four advanced students to my 4th grade class. I say accidentally because since I also have an EC certification, I otherwise had a large number of kids with IEP’s in my class.  Another teacher with AIG certification had the advanced kids, and a third teacher with some Spanish language ability was assigned nearly  every single Hispanic kid. The other teacher actually called that class the barrio.

No, I didn’t approve.

After a few months of seeing the advanced kids politely wait while their peers struggled in the basic subjects, I made them a deal: They could research any topic they wanted so long as they wrote excellent papers about the research. They looked at the EOG Math sample questions and identified the areas where they needed help. They still had to complete the normal homework, but I’d let them answer fewer questions if they were involved in something else academically. [Does anyone really need to do 22 multiplication problems?] They could quietly “drop out” of math and writing lessons which didn’t meet their needs.

All four scored well on the EOG tests: One student scored that rare 5 on the Math EOG. Every one else from that group scored a four on both tests. They learned stuff, also. Their writing improved.

I had more time for the kids who needed it, and those who didn’t need much help were especially inspired. As it turned out, one of the group had never really shown great promise to other teachers.  Apparently I  helped him click a switch.

Enough of my bragging.

The Davidson Institute illustrates this quandary, observing, “In examining the effects of highstakes testing on classroom practices, the majority of the articles reported its negative influences with teachers focusing on underachievers and providing low-quality education for gifted and talented students.” While several developing nations, such as China and India are identifying and nurturing their most intellectually gifted students, the United States is doing the opposite. Unfortunately, this may backfire if China’s best-and-brightest eventually outshine America’s meager-and-mediocre.

I don’t agree with much of the article, but I am always concerned about meeting the needs of all students. When we try to teach everyone, do we risk under-teaching the brightest students?


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