Here’s an idea that hasn’t been entertained in Montgomery County (at least to my knowledge) : The creation of a dedicated public school for the gifted.
In other places, like Saginaw, Michigan, the idea is a least worthy of study. In other places, like across the river in Fairfax County, such a school is not only a reality, it’s the system’s–nay the state’s–crown jewel.
So what gives? Why not in MoCo?
Some of the answer lies in the county’s past racial landscape. Magnet programs were created in schools with larger minority populations (i.e. Takoma Elementary, Eastern Middle, Takoma Middle Blair) in an effort to attract white students and maintain racial balance. That rationale has faded, but the reality is that several of these programs are still housed in schools with higher FARMs rates, and the difference in populations can be glaring. One continues to hear of friction between the “magnets” and “academy” or whatever window-dressing term one wants to use for non-magnet students. (Just this week there was yet another food fight at an unnamed middle school where “the fire was aimed at the magnet students.”) Eastern, for example, is at risk of sanctions if it doesn’t make AYP (adequate yearly progress), so the magnet kids, who surely are beyond advanced, have to put up with three months of MSA drills and exhortations to “do their best.” Talk about a recipe for cynicism.
But this is Montgomery County, where a little bit of the Lake Wobegon Effect is in effect. A separate school for highly gifted kids would undercut this perception, it would <wince> be “elitist” and thus hurt a lot of people’s feelings, not to mention gut support for gifted programs. At some point however one has to wonder if it wouldn’t do everyone a favor to acknowledge the plain facts–that some kids have significantly different learning needs–instead of pouring untold effort into trying ignore or smooth over the differences. Wouldn’t it be easier–and ultimately better–just to get those highly gifted kids out of sight and have them happily bonding with their intellectual peers, happily able to, say, take P.E. class on a 7th grade level, language arts at a 10th grade level, and remediate math at a 6th grade level? All in the same building and not making everyone else feel bad? Hey, one can dream.
Wait…if I really want to think big, why not have a statewide gifted academy like they do in Illinois? Or an early college program like they do in Washington state? Here we are in a state that’s home to research powerhouses like NIH and the biotech industry. A university with national aspirations (that would be the University of Maryland-College Park). Another university that pioneered gifted education and talent development (Johns Hopkins University). That’s home to one of the highest concentration of people in the U.S. with college and advanced degrees. Adjacent to our nation’s capital. And yet we don’t have what Louisiana has?
No, time to stop dreaming. We’re just fighting to keep the gifted programs we have, as this Washington Post article, “Housing Downturn Squeezing Schools,” and this Blair High School Silver Chips article point out.
[As chance would have it Laura Vanderkam, author of the Gifted Exchange blog (and proud graduate of IMSA) blogged in a related vein today (after me it should be noted ;-)). She writes, "one good option is to create residential high schools for gifted students."
You can read her post here: Gifted Education in High School.]