A Mother's Journey: Educating a Gifted Child
When the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law on January 8, 2002, my son was halfway through the first grade. Little did I know that the NCLB, which sounded like a good idea at the time, would have a ripple effect that would rob my son of a decent education. You see, my son is a gifted learner. I'm under no illusion that he's the next Albert Einstein, but his scholastic abilities definitely outpace those of his classmates. Like many gifted kids, his social maturity doesn't match his intellectual maturity, so he's had challenges in his relationships with other children. Nonetheless, during first and second grade, he already knew all of the curriculum.
Unfortunately, there was no mechanism in place for him to get into an accelerated learning program. Instead, his class was split into two; the students who were proficient started and ended the school day a half hour earlier than those who needed remediation. The students who were remedial learners got their extra half hour after the "earlies" left for the day. Being new to the public school system, I thought I simply needed to be patient. I believed that, once he was "officially" GATE-identified going into third grade, a new world would open up for him.
Unfortunately, because of NCLB standards, the money for the extended school day ended and the after school GATE program was abolished. Teachers and administrators repeatedly told me that it was important that learners of all ability levels stay in the same classroom, and that the key to teaching GATE students was differentiated instruction. My son's experience with differentiated instruction is that it really doesn't exist. The so-called enrichment programs for accelerated learners were always too little, too late. These programs were run by parent volunteers, and despite my asking about them repeatedly, my son never had the opportunity to participate in them. It wasn't until my son entered fifth grade that I figured out that I had to more than advocate on behalf of my son; I needed to raise a stink. I became a member of the GATE Parent Advisory Committee and the School Site Council. I volunteered to lead some of those enrichment programs, and started a grassroots movement to keep parents of other accelerated learners informed and involved. I brought a math acceleration program to the school through sheer force of will. Having sat on various committees, I've been privy to the bottom line that school administrators have to face because of NCLB.
Virtually all of the school's resources must be utilized to bring students who score "Far Below Basic," "Below Basic" and "Basic" in annual proficiency tests into the "Proficient" category. It's a numbers game, but it's a game in which everyone loses. Even though the teachers at my son's elementary school - though, with 1,200 students, it's more like a small town - have moved every student in those categories up as far as they're able to travel, district goals and funding mandate that the effort continues. So, for example, if there are four fifth graders with learning disabilities who have maxxed out at "Below Basic," the school must continue to expend an inordinate amount of resources in a vain effort to get two of the four to reach the "Basic" level of proficiency. Unfortunately, the NCLB has no provision for meeting the needs of GATE identified students. Again, from sitting on the various committees, I have seen the numbers of students who score in the "Advanced" category dwindle as they drop down from "Advanced" to "Proficient." In the laudable effort to ensure that the students at the lowest proficiency levels achieve their potential, our brightest students are being left behind. New studies have shown that, if accelerated learners aren't engaged and challenged in elementary school, their dropout rates in high school and college equal that of students who have less scholastic aptitude. As a mother, that makes me worry about my son's future. As an American, it makes me worry about the future of our country.