Let’s pause a moment, shall we, and ponder the following sentences from an article that recently appeared in The Gazette, “Parents, Schools weigh “Gifted and Talented” label’”:
Evie Frankl, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Forum, said removing the GT label would be a positive step to evening disparity. She also wants to eliminate second-grade testing for GT.
“I think it would force us to look at the way teachers teach,” she said. “It will force us to eliminate the results of the stigma that students carry internally.”
For Frankl, the GT concept reduces opportunities for non-GT students. By high school, they are less likely to be in Advanced Placement or honors classes as GT students, who often come from more affluent backgrounds, she added.
To break the cycle, Frankl said there needs to be equal access to advanced classes for all students.
The GT screening and the GT label highlights racial disparites, which is uncomfortable, so Ms. Frankl’s solution is… to remove the label. Hmmm. Not only that, but she wants to eliminate the second grade GT screening. Now this is one position that truly baffles me. The whole purpose of doing a universal screening is to catch those underrepresented kids whose classroom performance might lead them to be overlooked by their teachers: the squirmy, disruptive African-American boy, the really quiet ESOL girl, the kid who gets A’s one day and F’s the next. What’s more, it’s this screening that can point to learning disabilities when there is a discrepancy between achievement/performance and potential–and lead to the GT/LD “label” and the necessary accommodations such as an individualized education plan, a 504 plan. In Ms. Frankl’s world, no more.
Ms. Frankl worries about the “stigma” students carry when they aren’t identified as GT, that “the GT concept reduces opportunities for non-GT students.” Well I worry about the “reduced opportunities” for kids who are denied acceleration or an intellectual peer group when classes are one-size-fits-all. I worry about kids who get minimal teacher attention, who are told again and again not to raise their hands, who are told to let others catch up, to pay attention when they got it the first time—last year. What of them?
Oh, but according to the reporter, giftedness is a “concept” for Ms. Frankl. A social construct. Perhaps even an exercising of white class privilege. (Elsewhere she is quoted as saying “education leaders award the designation liberally as ‘a gift to the white middle class.’”). Which to me is as much as saying gifted kids don’t exist. And learning disabilities are a concept too? Sorry. Gifted kids do exist. There is such a thing as raw intellect, just as there is raw physical talent (hello Michael Jordan, hello Natalie Coughlin). You can argue how to measure and identify it, but it’s there and to deny it is, IMHO, delusional. These children aren’t created or hothoused or imagined. They spring up in the most unlikely circumstances (That’s right, not just affluent white and Asian families.) They exist.
As for her last comment (“there needs to be equal access to advanced classes for all students”), I hope she was paraphrased incorrectly, because it’s simply bogus. There is equal access under the current Gifted Education Policy IOA. Anyone can apply to the magnets. Anyone can sign up for honors or AP classes. If anything, MCPS is pushing kids into advanced classes if they show the slightest glimmer of interest or ability.
So who is Ms. Frankl (“a leader in the movement to do away with officially sanctioned giftedness”) and the Montgomery Education Forum? Well, they’ve been hiding in plain sight.
Ms. Frankl first appears in a 2002 high school newspaper article, “Should tracking be abolished in MCPS?” She pops up again in this 2004 Washington Parent article about parent-teacher conferences. And she’s a surefire, go-to quote for the Post education writers: in August 2005 (“Group Seeks to End Gifted Designation: Label Unfair to Kids, Members Say”), in 2006 (“’Gifted’ Label Takes a Vacation in Diversity Quest“) , in 2007 (“Schools Seek and Find ‘Gifted’ Students : Montgomery Pursues Aggressive Strategy” and a letter to the editor) and of course most recently in December of this year (“Montgomery Erasing Gifted Label”).
MCEF, meanwhile has been chugging along under the helpful wings of the MCEA. Their primitive website recently underwent a dramatic facelift. They’ve been hosting
Policy Practice and Pizza Forums: Our current flagship offering to the education community are monthly Best Practice and Policy Breakfasts that bring together policy makers and influencers with cutting edge educational equity experts on such topics as enriched and accelerated instruction for all children, differentiated instruction and high stakes assessments. With the right people in the room, new courses can be charted on the spot. These meetings will move to the early evening, we’ll serve pizza and the meetings will now be known as Policy, Practice and Pizza Forums.
Pizza helpfully underwritten by MCEA, meetings attended by leading MCPS officials from the Office of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction and Department of Enriched and Innovative Programs, members elected to the Board of Ed. How cozy! Among their projects,
De-tracking Initiatives: Our core de-tracking work is currently focused on our “laboratory” for best practices promoting both equity and excellence in selected MCPS schools and includes no labels pilots at Georgian Forest (Silver Spring) and Burning Tree (Bethesda) elementary schools. These pilots are beginning their third school year, and have been instrumental in the eventual removal of the GT label within MCPS.
Whoa Nellie! Shouldn’t that be “may be instrumental” or “which we hope will be instrumental?” No mentioned of how the efficacy of these “pilots’ is being measured. ( How were they proposed? How are their results and impact being measured? Is there any process in place to assess them? Not that it really matters to MCPS.) They continue:
We are also involved in an exciting Model Middle School project with Lakelands Park ES and Accelerated Schools Plus. The school is being run with the cooperation of the community, parents and students as well as staff and is based on the premise that all students are gifted and talented and all are entitled to the best education possible.
I don’t disagree that all are entitled to the best education. But “all students are gifted and talented?” Cue nails on chalkboard.
So let me rewrite the first part of this blog post:
Evie Frankl, executive director of the Montgomery County Education Forum, said removing the varsity label would be a positive step to evening disparity. She also wants to eliminate tryouts.
“I think it would force us to look at the way coaches coach,” she said. “It will force us to eliminate the results of the stigma that students carry internally.”
For Frankl, the varsity concept reduces opportunities for non-athletically inclined students. By high school, they are less likely to be on varsity teams than athletic students, who often come from more affluent backgrounds, she added.
To break the cycle, Frankl said there needs to be equal access to varsity sports for all students.