Sunday, April 26, 2009

Talented And Gifted ('TAG') Children

One theme that seems to have come up quite often as I chat with neighbors is the issue of handling exceptionally intelligent, or 'TAG', children. There is a common perception that the Hillsboro school district is willing to spend lavishly on special-needs students, but believes talented students are going to do fine anyway, so should be left on their own.

But we all know what happens when a student is far above the level of their peers, and feels like their time in school is being wasted. At best it leads to boredom and disconnection from their own education, and at worst can lead to behavioral problems as the child desperately lashes out for some kind of mental stimulation.

I think we need to start with a fundamental principle: Every student whose needs are not being served by their current school is equally worthy of attention. This applies whether they are TAG, special-needs, or have other specific issues.

Once we accept this principle, I think we can look at several directions for addressing the needs of these students.
  1. Teacher Empowerment: We need to make sure teachers have the freedom to use unorthodox approaches when needed, as I have been stressing in the "Freedom to Innovate" part of my platform. As an example, I recall my experience in 5th grade, when I was getting 100% on every spelling test the teacher could throw at me. Finally she took me aside and said, "I think we both agree that I'm wasting your time with these exercises. Want to try a real challenge?" She took out her New York Times, and opened it to the crossword page. We came to an agreement that whenever the class is working on spelling exercises, my assignment was to work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, and solve 10 words per week. Not every student is as independent as I was, but for me, that was a great solution. And definitely a real challenge. I'm sure that idea wasn't in any policy manual, and that teacher would have been in trouble if some administrator came and judged my experience against officially approved teaching methods.
  2. Magnet Schools And Programs : If there is not enough demand at any individual school for a separate TAG class, especially at lower grade levels or in specific subject areas, why not create a magnet program? It can be a whole separate magnet school, or merely a program offered in a small subset of classrooms in an existing school; the key point is that students from all parts of the district can easily transfer there if eligible. Students who can demonstrate a certain level of achievement, through tests or current grades, should be eligible to transfer to the school where the magnet program is offered. Because the classes focus on high-achieving students, they can learn more advanced topics and at a faster pace, to keep these students engaged.
  3. Charter Schools: At some point, we have to face the fact that some students learn best with models simply not found in the default public schools, and will find that their current school just isn't working for them. Students need other options, and simply transferring to another nearly-identical neighborhood school in another neighborhood doesn't really solve anything. We should foster and encourage charter schools, as you have seen me mention in previous blog posts, offering real and distinct choices to our students. This way, children not currently being served have as many options as possible.

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