The Miseducation of Jack and Jill

It’s been a minute since we first learned of T-One’s fate regarding SOMA school district’s gifted and talented program. Since then, there hasn’t been much movement on getting her into the classes. We have gone through the proper channels but the administration has been, shall we say, slow to respond. Although we finally have a meeting with the Assistant Superintendent, our patience is already thin.

SOMA School District

SOMA School District

In the last few weeks we have sent a few letters, made a few phone calls, paid a couple of visits and talked to other parents. What we discovered is we are not the only parents upset about how our district identifies and addresses the needs of children. At least one lawsuit has been threatened. We also discovered a heavy layer of lip service in regards to closing the well publicized achievement gap in the district. It is the district’s alleged number one priority but all that has been done is putting together a 50+ member panel to “make recommendations”. Seriously? C’mon. Does it really take that many people to screw in a light bulb? Commentor, davidfrazer, said it well:

“…I am not optimistic that a 55-member task force with a charge that, as I understand it extends for a year, will reach any sort of meaningful consensus. If experience is any guide, such task forces fall into three categories. Either they are stacked by the powers that be to justify a predetermined policy outcome or they produce a watered down “consensus” report that is of little real value (see, e.g., prior strategic planning process) or they break down into warring factions with “majority” and “minority” reports.

Call me cynical but I don’t see how the task “solves” the eqiuty and excellence conundrum on its own. What we need on this issue is not a “blue ribbon” panel. What we need is leadership.”

Why mention the gifted/talented program with the achievement gap? Because in my view they are joined at the hip. Is it not the responsibility (perhaps not sole) of the school system to prepare our children for academic achievement and raise each child’s educational expectations? SOMA seems settled on dumbing down educational expectations instead of raising them. This is best exemplified in the rate of participation in advanced level courses by students according to ethnicity/race (link: page 10). White students participate in these courses at a rate of almost five times that of Black students. SOMA seems to just shrug it’s institutional shoulders when questioned how to address the issue.

Perhaps the solution is simple. SOMA should focus on more participation in preparatory/advanced classes across groups, potentially raising student scores on standardized tests across those groups, and as a result the achievement gap will be un-gapped. By not doing this, how many Jack and Jill Student is SOMA underserving and miseducating? But in order for SOMA to un-gap the gap, it must properly identify children who show academic promise and address their needs. When contemplating this issue, I first thought the district’s definition of a gifted and talented child needed to be expanded. But when I read how the district characterizes those children (listed below), I changed my mind. It is:

The characteristics of exceptionally able learners (why not just called these kids “gifted and talented”?) may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Show a high degree of intellectual, creative, and/or artistic ability and demonstrate this ability in multiple ways;
  • Intense curiosity about principles and how things work;
  • The ability to grasp concepts rapidly and/or intuitively;
  • The ability to generate theories and hypotheses and pursue methods of injury;
  • Pose questions beyond those present in the regular District curriculum;
  • Make connections;
  • Produce products that express insight, creativity, and/or excellence, and;
  • Possess exception leadership skills.

Clearly, measuring the above characteristics is a highly subjective pursuit, but I would say the definition is pretty well thought out. So it must be SOMA’s identification method that is flawed. This brings me to the purpose of this post. I ask, if you have read this far, please share what methods you would use to identify children who possess the above traits? Please share the first thing that comes to mind in the comments.

Shout out to Lauryn Hill and Carter G. Woodson.

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  1. The first thing that comes to my mind is this, and you touched on it : schools don’t bear the sole responsibility to”…prepare our children for academic achievement and raise each child’s educational expectations.” I believe we, as parents bear some of that responsibility.
    We have been told that our daughter, who is 11, is a “gifted/talented” student but unfortunately we don’t have a program in our school district. I couldn’t believe it! Our question was, well what can be done to help hone her exceptional skills. We were told that without a program the only thing that could be done is that my daughter would/could tutor other children in her class. (I wish u could have seen the look on my face when her teacher shared this with me) This is where the we, as parents, come in. The principals says “we are working on starting a program…we understand your concerns.” Beyond what he had to say, we found that there were a couple of programs/workshops, in our city, that will help her. Theatre, Music & Arts Programs, Child Mentors, Reading & Writing Workshops at the Library, etc.
    To answer your question about what methods I would use to identify children who possess the “gifted/talented” traits:
    ~Continue to utilize the State Testing Scores
    ~ Training teachers on how to identify a “gifted/talented” student
    ~Observations in classrooms
    ~Smaller teacher/child ratio in classrooms so that teachers aren’t so overwhelmed that they miss out on identifying that exceptional child
    !
    ~Keep copies of your child’s work as a portfolio to support his/her giftedness
    I’d love to hear how this pans out for you and your child. Kudos to you for going the extra mile and ensuring that she get ALL that she needs to excel & at the same time, holding the administration accountable.

  2. Wow! Ben, I agree w/you, 100%. As a parent, we often see in our children what others overlook, or simply don’t care to know. Once upon a time-especially, (more affluent) public school systems sought to nurture and challenge students who were clearly capable of “more.” Standardized test ARE Bullshit. The fact that your daughter didn’t score in the highest percentile is obviously no explanation of her abilities. The child is exceptional. I would endeavor to attain the most beneficial instruction/cerebral enhancement, as well. She is entitled to the opportunity. Make enough noise.

  3. @Karen: Thanks so much for putting in the time to give a thorough response. We appreciate it. Personally, and I’m aware of other parents who do the same, we work with our daughter very closely with her academics and her extracurriculars. We know she’s gifted. So we can’t help to think the school system’s method for identifying these kids is flawed.

    For the record SOMA uses the NJ Ask. Had T-One scored 2 points higher on the NJ Ask (she demolished the GPA requirement) she would have been in the program. But there is something flawed about simply using standardized tests and to a lesser degree GPA to asses a child’s ability. The human element must be instituted.

  4. Ben, I interned at SOMS for grad school and was struck by the racial segregation in a district that is obsessed with buzzwords of diversity. I spent my internship trying to figure out why most of the special education classes are made up of black children. One of the only conclusions I can reach is that the “system” meaning teachers, Child Study… See More Teams, etc are not trained enough to seperate their personal biases when evaluating our children. In reality, I believe it is a microcosm for society as a whole where a lot of lip service is paid to “multiculturalism” and “diversity” without a clear understanding of how to erase centuries of racism. I can see your challenge in addressing the flip side of this issue. It is concerning to see a school district so systemically invested in practices that keep black children in lower tracked classes. I continue to struggle with finding a school district where I will be comfortable sending biracial children. SOMA, Union, West Orange, Montclair have been in my thoughts, but it is truly scary that some of our most publicized “diveristy friendly” towns are still so entrenched in the practices of institutional racism. Keep us posted on your struggles. As I parent, I know, you are fighting for what’s best for your children…however you stand to make a difference for all our children. Thank you!

  5. Good Day Mate, I am commenting from Canberra Australia. We have had a lot of wind the last month and I’ve only just been able to connect to the interwebs :). Thanks so much for the thoughtful article. It assisted me a lot with my college human relations research :)