Video of the April 14th Board of Education meeting was posted over the weekend, allowing for early rumination on what it all means.
As blogger Magnet Mom notes, the meeting turned out to be much more significant than expected for gifted education observers and advocates. In recent weeks we have seen the much anticipated, very slick roll-out of the “Seven Keys to College Readiness,” the core of which is AP and IB testing in high school. This meeting gave a first real look at the coming seismic changes as the system moves to align everything with this vision. (A 24 page memorandum to the BOE on the “Seven Keys” has *just* been released and can be downloaded here. Note: As someone who just launched a new website and is in the midst of the creation of another, I can only imagine the staggering cost of all of this PR.)
My take on the “Seven Keys?” It’s certainly right on trend (just see all the attention that Thomas Friedman’s NYTimes column and the referenced McKinsey Report on the achievement gap garnered last week). And it’s going to come as a rude shock for some parents to be told by MCPS what many other parents have known all along: that grade-level courses have in fact been deficient. Not just for gifted kids, but just about everyone. (I’ve heard anecdotally that some principals have been very reluctant to get out there and spread this particular message to their parent communities. “What do you mean, my kid isn’t college ready? He’s on grade level and getting B’s.” One high school listserv characterized discussion following a “Seven Keys” presentation as “lively and largely negative” with concern that the “Seven Keys” does not address the need of many students for vocational education.)
Encouraging and expecting college readiness for all members of the community is a good thing. Encouraging students to take some AP and IB classes is a good thing. It’s just that in my house attending an IB program, taking APs and going to college have always been kind of a given. We need to be very clear that the “Seven Keys,” with its series of backmapped benchmarks tied to reading and math achievement (no writing, by the way), is a floor, a baseline. It should be seen as just a jumping off point for high achieving students. And it shouldn’t be confused with “gifted education.”
So what of Weast’s reference to the “problem” of “people who don’t want to give up that wonderful little boutique program that they had and go to something bigger?” It’s a rather odious but shrewd tactic to cast any opponents, specifically the GT community, as elitists and even racists.
What are these “boutique” programs? These? Mention was made several times of programs originally created to promote integration, which would mean the Blair Math/Science Magnet, the Eastern and Takoma middle school magnet programs (the third up county one was created to address the geographic inequity posed by the existence of these two), the Middle School Consortium magnets, the language immersion programs and the GT program at Takoma Elementary. Elsewhere in the meeting Weast seemed to give the high school magnet a qualified pass, citing the Intel Scholars it churns out. Elementary and middle school is where the real action will be.
My first prediction: Look for the Takoma Park Elementary Magnet to disappear soon. In the past few years it’s been all but gutted anyway, and it just serves as an unpleasant reminder to parents of a potential “something better.”
Also vulnerable: language immersion programs. These programs have been perennially troublesome to MCPS. Immersion parents tend to be engaged and motivated. The kids–although bright–can lag on state assessments. (Parents and MCPS employees representing the language immersion programs addressed the board prior to the AP/IB presentation, asking for more English language support.) And the programs themselves pose articulation challenges as well as create the impression that local offerings aren’t good enough, contributing to neighborhood brain drain. My prediction? Bye-bye. I believe MCPS has recently convened a committee on foreign language instruction–which usually signals doom for whatever is perceived to stand in the way of MCPS. (I’ve spent the last 25 minutes fruitlessly searching the MCPS website of for any mention of it, so sorry, no link.) Look for furious spin of some kind of “better!,” possibly around foreign language offerings tied to the Primary Years or Middle Years IB programs.
Highly Gifted Center programs. Hmmm. These certainly meet the “boutique” definition and pose some of the same problems as the language immersion programs. On the one hand the number has actually expanded from 4 to 7 in recent years. On the other hand…they pose some of the same problems as the language immersion programs. I predict a move to eliminate them in the longterm, which would fit nicely with the drive to eliminate gifted “labeling” and rewriting of Policy IOA to expunge all mention of gifted education and “gifted and talented” students. In fact, one can now see that the Board took up the revision of Policy IOA precisely to lay the groundwork for the much bigger “Seven Keys” plan.
(And BTW, Fairfax County has eliminated bus service to its Centers next year.)
In a coming post: Middle School Programs.
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