Labeling kids

Way back in December a Washington Post article “Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label” caught my eye and I’ve been planning to write about that.  (“Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label: Implications Concern Some School Parents” by Daniel de Vise, December 16, 2008)

Of course this is old news by now, and covered widely by various blogs, including, naturally, the Gifted Exchange blog, which asks “Does the ‘Gifted’ label matter?” .

I like Laura Vanderkam’s point that although “what matters is that kids’ needs are met,” yet “when districts do label kids, then that at least creates pressure to do something for those with the label.”

That’s certainly true on the other side of the scale, and as I and many of my friends with kids on IEPs know, even the label doesn’t guarantee that kids’ needs are met.

The Washington Post article reports that

“Officials plan to abandon a decades-old policy that sorts second-grade students, like Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches, into those who are gifted (the Star-Belly sort) and those who are not. […] Montgomery education leaders have decided that the practice is arbitrary and unfair.”

Don’t even get me started on fair… As long as the quality of education a child gets depends on the income of that child’s parents and their ability to buy a house in the best school district, there is no “fair” in American education.

Gifted programs at least promise to give a chance for better education to smart kids from families who are not rich. Whether they deliver on that or not, that’s another matter.

Another reason given for scrapping the label is that

“the approach [sorting kids into gifted and not gifted] slights the rest of the students who are not so labeled. White and Asian American students are twice as likely as blacks and Hispanics to be identified as gifted.”

Interestingly, the officials do admit that “the practice is arbitrary” and their “formula for giftedness is flawed.” Well, then they should look at their identification and eligibility methods and revamp them!

Oh and apparently “A school that tells some students they have gifts risks dashing the academic dreams of everyone else.”

What about the gifted kids’ academic dreams? Why aren’t they allowed to dream of being challenged?

A lot of these kids are very excited to go to Kindergarten because they love learning and think it’s going to be so much fun learning new stuff all the time.

But then, even if they know how to add fractions, they get stuck recognizing patterns for a year or two (you know – circle, circle, square, circle, … what goes next?) And even if they can read chapter books, they are lucky if their “advanced reading group” reads four- to six-page books and when they skip forward while their classmates slowly decode the words on the page, the teacher frowns upon them.

No wonder a lot of these kids have pretty much lost their enthusiasm for learning by third grade and think the school is boring.

But, no need to worry — apparently “losing the label won’t change gifted instruction, because it is open to all students.”

I don’t get it. If gifted instruction is open to all students, then how does it differ from regular instruction? Gifted education is not what the kids are being taught, it is how they are being taught.

The thing about scrapping the label is that even though “educators have become more nimble in deciding who needs accelerated instruction” it doesn’t mean they are actually going to provide accelerated instruction. The fact that “teachers codify children’s math and reading levels with frequency and precision unknown in previous decades” doesn’t really mean anything.

Sure, at my son’s school they can “codify” that his math and reading levels are above grade. So what? There’s no gifted mandate in Massachusetts, so they don’t have to do anything about it. The only thing they care about is that he meets the curriculum requirements, which he does.

I have no doubt that “Principals and teachers say they don’t miss” the gifted identification program. It’s probably easier that way. No more fighting with parents over whether little Johny III will get into the program or not. No more proving to parents that they differentiate.

And as far as the gifted label setting “up a kind of have and have-not atmosphere at your school”… Looking at it from the SPED point of view, are then the kids with IEPs “don’t-even-dream-about-it-have-nots”?Or would the school like to scrap that label too to not make the SPED kids feel bad?

Incidentally, just as some parents fight to get their child labeled “gifted,” some parents don’t want their child labeled “SPED” and will not request or even deny testing. As a result a child is not getting the services she or he needs… But that’s a topic for an entirely different post.

Parenting Special Needs Children and Work

Boston Globe ran recently a two-article series by Maggie Jackson about working parents who have children with special needs. The first article, “A parental juggling job: Workplace stigmas add to struggles of people with disabled children” was published on December 14, 2008. The follow-up, “Bosses responding to special needs”, appeared on December 28, 2008.

Jackson writes

“nearly 14 percent of kids up to age 17, or about 10.2 million children, have special healthcare needs, which is defined as a chronic problem that limits activities or demands extra healthcare, according to 2006 government data”

[...]

“In any given company nationwide, 8.6 percent of employees care for such children, according to Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy.”

According to the publication of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy titled “Children with Special Needs and the Workplace: A Guide for Employers”:

“As a result of managing family responsibilities, parents of children with special needs bring talents and skills to the workplace including:

  • Determination
  • Resiliency
  • Advocacy
  • Negotiation
  • Multi-tasking
  • Prioritizing” (page 3)

The Guide also cites a 2002 National Study of the Changing Workforce conducted by the Families and Work Institute according to which:

“Employees with access to supportive work-life policies and practices are more:

  • Satisfied with their jobs
  • Committed and loyal to their employers
  • Willing to work hard to help their employers succeed
  • Likely to stay with their employers” (page 4 of the guide)

By the way, when I googled the title of the guide, I also found a very nice one-page brochure from the Boston College Sloan Work and Family Research Network, with links to an overview and briefs, statistics, and readings on  “Parents Caring for Children with Disabilities.” I need some time to go through all the info, but at first glance it looks very interesting and has a lot of useful info.

Jackson’s article mentions Ernst & Young and Raytheon as two companies that have a network of parents who have children with special needs.

The place where I work, a huge employer of over 15, 000, who has been on the 100 Best Companies compiled by the Working Mother Magazine doesn’t have such a group yet. I’m trying to create it but it’s a slow going. I do hope I succeed in the end.

In the meantime, I’m trying to find more information on other employers that might have networking groups like that. I would appreciate any leads.

Mad Scientist for a Child

At the suggestion of an excellent librarian working in the children’s section at our local library my son has been reading the Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist series, by Jim Benton.

He generally reads to himself but asked me to read to him a bit at bedtime so I did. When we came across the following paragraph in the Attack of the 50-Ft. Cupid

Franny’s mom … might not have chosen to have a mad scientist for a daughter, but that’s what Franny was.

my son asked “Mom, what would you do if I became a mad scientist?”

I answered “Well, you kind of are a mad scientist already, aren’t you?” and gave him a kiss. He smiled. (He has just finished playing with Ooze: The World’s Slimiest Science Kit made by Be Amazing Toys. By the way, Growing Tree Toys has a much better page for this product, with a picture that you can enlarge to see it better.)

We didn’t talk about the paragraph that followed:

And since that’s what Franny was, her mom had spent a lot of time trying to learn about mad scientists.”

I love this paragraph — it rings so familiar!

But my son wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain to him why I like this sentence so much. He doesn’t have any idea how much time I’ve spent already trying to learn about him. And I’m nowhere near being done.

I think I’ll read the other books in the series too.