Tomorrow night at the Curriculum & Program Committee we’ll be hearing several items of interest in the current middle school debate: strategies for serving high-achievers and parent perspectives on middle school quality.
Serving high-achievers in middle school: Originally, I had asked staff to present a report on the various strategies we use to serve high-achievers, the research behind them, and the guidance, if any, we give sites as far as accelerated programming, ability grouping, and tracking to serve students of varying academic preparation and ability. Unfortunately, several key staff members will not be available tomorrow, so instead we’ll start the discussion with a short staff presentation, and hopefully hear from members of the public with perspectives and questions on this issue. As a result, we’ll have to return to the topic later in the year, but it will be helpful to have specific input and questions from the public and the board to shape the discussion. In the meantime, I’ve received this survey of programs at various middle schools; the K-8 schools serve students in heterogeneous groupings without specific “honors-only” programming. I’ve also been doing a bit of research on my own with respect to programs for truly gifted students; from the little I’ve read it seems clear that the two strands of conventional wisdom in our middle school debate (students must be tracked by ability vs. students can be served in heterogeneous classrooms with no additional resources or training for teachers) are both wrong. If you are interested in exploring this topic further with an open mind, start here:
- Research-based resources from the Neag Center for Gifted Education at the University of Connecticut;
- Mind the Other Gap 2010 study from the Indiana University Center on Evaluation and Education Policy; and
- Ability Grouping Research Reviews: What Do They Say About the Gifted? 1991 article in Educational Leadership by Susan Demirsky Allan, an educator and acknowledged expert in differentiated classrooms.
Parent perspectives on quality middle schools: A panel of PAC and PPS members will be on hand to share a variety of perspectives on quality middle schools after participating in the community engagement survey earlier this year.
The Curriculum Committee will meet tomorrow (June 6) starting at 5 pm in the Boardroom.
Any report or update on this? This topic is of considerable interest to me as my big girl starts MS this year, and we’re ES “shopping” for the little guy starting this fall…
You said both ends of the honors debate are wrong. Could you explain?
Thank you for the links. I’ll try to find some time to do more reading, because just on a first glance, they look very interesting. Maybe I’m on the wrong track here, but I don’t consider honors program a special service catering to the “gifted,” a concept I consider a myth anyhow, because it is such a fuzzy idea that keeps changing with the testing methods employed, but an incentive for my at the upper end of average kids, to work harder and get appropriately challenged, if they do make it in. I’m not saying to do away with GATE testing altogether, but to be cautious and mindful about the possibility that such testing might not tell the whole story.
From what I’ve seen in comparison with other countries than the U.S. (most of which don’t share are grave socio-economic inequities and problems of ethnic strife and thus have more time and resources to teach subject matters rather than simply getting along), it seems that honors here is somewhere around what would be considered “normal” expectations in many other countries, while the needed remedial instruction for English learners in non-immersion settings and for disadvantaged kids, who have so far gotten insufficient support and who struggle to read and do basic math, would (if forced on all kids in a “diversified education” setting with too many kids and not enough instructors per class) be considered substandard for most children who do have more potential. I’m not saying some children deserve our dedicated help and others don’t, but different children need different kinds of support to excel to the point of what is open to them, given their individual potential. An honors system, however imperfect, is at least an attempt into this direction of providing all children with the support and the challenges they need (a nutty concept, I understand, in an age of underfunded schools…). But if part of the middle school plan is to intimately involve middle class parents to help get those schools back on track, then you do need to find something about which to get those parents excited, and honors seem to play a huge role here.
When they have a floating furlough day they’d long planned to take off.
Having spent two years as a volunteer in my child’s classes, I’ve seen first-hand how differentiation works. There have been 20-22 kids in her class, and it’s often like there are anywhere from 4-8 different classes going on. I have concerns about using this model in middle school. In elementary school, one teacher spends all day, every day with the kids, so she gets to know the students very well. Assessment for differentiation takes time (weeks). Class sizes are 20-22 kids. In middle school, a teacher will have a student for an hour a day. Class sizes are much much bigger, which means there is a lot more for a teacher in assessment and preparing for work for those groupings. It also seems like middle school is the ripe time for more teacher-led lecture and discussion. For example, most of the desks at our school are in clusters. Most of the desks in middle school seem to be in rows facing the front of the classroom, or at least they were at Lick.
I’ve often said that we filter everything through the lens of our own experiences. When I went to middle school, I wasn’t initially placed into honors classes (and I’ll leave the reasons out for now). I remember feeling like I was screaming on the inside in math and English class, as we went over what seemed like the most basic things that my classmates just kept struggling with -and in my 7th grade mind, I just couldn’t understand why it was so hard for them (so I wasn’t a very good role model). I was a discipline problem and a target for bullies. Things have hopefully changed since I went to middle school in the 80s. But when I think about my kid heading off to middle school, I can’t envision sending her into a classroom where she could have an experience like mine. I’m especially wary of sending her off to school with no ‘honors’ or ability grouping in this era of high stakes testing. We’ve got kids in my daughter’s class who have never been in any formal school before. We have kids who were still struggling to identify letters at the beginning of the year. We have kids in our upper grades who missed years of school because of family instability. I imagine that we will continue to see kids from other countries arrive in upper grades well behind their peers. I imagine that there will be kids who will continue to struggle and they deserve every effort made to get them up to grade level. But I imagine in these days of high stakes testing and the new regime of accountability that the bulk of time, energy, and resources in a class will be spent on these kids if it’s one teacher at the front of a class and 35-40 kids, especially if 30-35 of them are well below proficiency.
And ay, there’s the rub. Private schools don’t have honors and people don’t freak out about that.
How is it that key staff members are not available when the Board of Education wants information from them?