Thursday, May 17, 2007

Anchorage Gifted Program: It gets worse!!!

TAMEA ISHAM -- Home Page

Last post, I noted the weak math standards in the Anchorage school district. Today, I came across the homepage for the gifted instructor for the schools that my kids will attend.

Here is what I have to look forward to if one of my kids qualify for the gifted program:

Our first Unit is "New Atlantis", a comprehensive study of the ocean's problems, such as pollution, overfishing, whale and shark eradication, etc.. Students will be working in groups as they try to come up with answers to these important problems. Students will also be building submersibles and in cooperative groups will construct an underwater sea station. The unit will conclude with a parent presentation.
I know the kids are gifted, but solving the oceans problems... wow... these kids must be very advanced! I am so glad they aren't going to waste any time teaching them math, language arts, or history.


allen said...

I am so glad they aren't going to waste any time teaching them math, language arts, or history.

Your sarcasm, their opportunity to make the world a better place, get paid in the bargain without the need for any serious exertion or risk-taking.

Sound like a terrific deal if you don't have kids and/or a sense of responsibility.

AK brat said...

Maybe the secret is in the word "try." What do you really expect for a pull-out additional program, 2-3 hours per week, multiple grade levels... enrichment?

By the way, it looks like most of the stuff on the website is a year or two old, so your kids may have a new unit -- corruption and petroleum taxes or garbage bears or whatever's fashionable these days.

redkudu said...

Our first Unit is "New Atlantis"

I'm just being snarky here, but I've seen this "New Atlantis" approach so many times before.

It's never "New-New Orleans" or "New India Tsunami 2004" is it? Or, ya know, some course of study designed to exlore actual, documented environmental disasters?

Catherine Johnson said...

oh boy

That's depressing.

Anonymous said...

" 2-3 hours per week, multiple grade levels... enrichment?"

Well, actually, you can do quite a lot. In fact, Russian reasearch mathematicians work with a group of gifted kids of varying ages and abilities for only a few hours a week and churn out kids who go on to do very serious math while in high school and themselves go on to become mathematicians. Alexander Soifer comes to mind.

Parentalcation said...

In 8 hours and 52 minutes of computer time my son improved his math skills exactly .48 of a grade level to a 4.82 grade level using Pearsons Educational Technologies "Math Concepts and Skills"

This was done in the last semester. So in 18 weeks, this is an average of around 30 minutes per week.

My daughter improved her reading skills .56 of a grade level in the same amount of time.

I can honestly say that my sons TAG class did nothing more than teach him 40 Latin root words. Actually this is being to generous, he learned the words at home, they just gave him them in his TAG class.

He did do some really cool paintings of interlocking puzzle shapes.

nbosch said...

I always get so defensive when people criticize gifted programs, since teaching gifted kiddos has been my life's work--so I won't start my usual rant but I do think you might enjoy this. Our latest project takes a look at cemeteries as primary sources and answers the question "why is it important to preserve local cemeteries"? Check it out

Parentalcation said...


Can you tell me what benefit your students got from the project?

What exactly is so special about the project that non-gifted students couldn't do exactly the same thing?

What exact test did the students qualify in to get placed in the program? Kids in our district usually qualify in math or language, with some qualifying in general aptitude. I wasn't aware that there was a test that measured giftedness in timewasting.

nbosch said...

I tend not to respond to most of your posts, You are a great arguer and I'm a totally non-confrontational. I don't even confront my sons (now grown up--a lawyer, a chemical engineer and a philosopher) and tell them to put down the toilet seat lid--OK I do tell them to put down the toilet seat lids!! I do have to say I enjoy reading your posts--you make me laugh at how irritated you get with most things! I'm just not like that--probably too relaxed (and old and jaded) --anyway back to your comments.

What did the kids get out of the project?

1. They learned what it is like to do the work of real historians and researchers and statisticians and scientists--they don't learn that reading of a grade level social studies or science or math book.
2. They took a look at how they felt about death and life; topic not discussed in 6th grade classrooms.
3. They learned how to do pivot tables in Excel--I didn't even know how to do pivot tables in Excel.
4. They learned about the connection of local history to their lives and community.
5. They learned how the Catholics buried un-baptized babies in non-consecrated ground.
6. They learned how different civilizations treated the dead throughout history.
7. They learned about how physical and chemical weathering affects buildings in our community and how to preserve gravestones and other outdoor monuments for the future.
8. They learned that the Fuller family lost their farmstead during the depression because great-grandfather Fuller couldn't pay back the bank for a seed loan.
9. One developed an interest in the Civil War and visited local forts to further his study. He's going to Gettysburg this summer—a trip planned because of our local study.
10. They learned that a photograph can be a work of art.
11. They learned that when you drink and drive sometimes you die and they is a picture of you on your gravestone.
12. They learned that a veteran from the war of 1812 was buried in a local cemetery.
13. They learned how technology can help researchers in the field.
14. OK--I don't know what the hell else they learned.

What did we do that students in the regular classroom couldn’t do? We worked on the same project for 120 + hours. No 6th grade student in our district seems to spend more than one hour on a given topic—OK the Civil War might get 3 days.

They worked on teams of 2 or three to get a task done with out arguing or having to do all the work. They spent 6 hours in the rain recording data off of 750 grave markers. They learned to use Microsoft Excel to analyze data. Are there kids in the regular classroom that could do this? Sure. What’s your point?

Why are these kids gifted and receiving services and others not? Come visit and you will see. Special education services are provided for kiddos capable of working 2-3 years above grade level, who score in the top 1% on achievement and cognitive testing. They are creative, out of the box thinkers. They are exceptional problem solvers and think critically about current issues. They are dying in the classroom and this is only getting worse because of “testing”. If gifted services are truly for the gifted then other students cannot do the work—you are kidding yourself if you are from the “every kid is gifted school”. I’ve been doing this for 22 years and I can tell you I’ve met many children who could not do the work or want to do the work we do in our Center. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just because you don’t like what goes on in Anchorage, Alaska ---what I do is “real” work in a “real” work environment. I’ve always agreed with what you have to say about the lack of academic rigor in the classroom, but academic acceleration is the job of regular ed, not the gifted program. I hope I am teaching my kids to THINK. Enjoy your three day weekend!! N.

Parentalcation said...

"academic acceleration is the job of regular ed, not the gifted program"

This statement is our fundamental disagreement.

I would have no problem with enrichment, if there were provisions for acceleration in the regular classroom, but there isn't. This means that gifted programs are the best hope for academic acceleration.

I am not going to say that their is no benefit to the project you described, I only question whether it is the best use of limited instruction time.

In 120 hours, I imagine that the gifted kids in your class could of completed the entire math curriculum of the year higher than they were.

p.s. I am sort of a wound up sort of guy... and education is definitely one of those things that annoy me. No, I am definately not one of those "every kid is gifted" types. Thank you for responding so eloquently. You made a good argument, even if I don't agree.

nbosch said...

I think we actually want the same things for kids. In a perfect world all kids’ needs would be met in the classroom, it’s not a perfect world, ain't gonna happen. Our 6th grade "high ability math" kiddos do take pre-algebra in lieu of the 6th grade math curriculum, of course they have to do it at 7:00 in the morning. We also do several full grade accelerations a year. Is that enough for the students I serve and other bright students? No, but that's the way it is around here. I've had families over the years ditch public schools for private and home schooling--but my own guys went to public school and took college classes at the H.S. or the local college. Elementary is painful for smart kids academically, K-3 is the all time worst--and NCLB is making it worse--high school is better because the kid finds an academic voice--"hello, you can't ignore me any more".

Here is what I see as the fundamental problem--universities do not teach pre-service teachers how to teach smart kids. Old teachers won't change. I've taken two 2-week classes on how to differentiate and it is hard, I don't know if even I could do it well in a mixed classroom. I could discuss how this would look for 5 pages—but I’m sure you get the idea of a differentiated classroom.

Secondly, districts are focused on testing to make sure every body can read--those kids who are reading 3-4 years above grade level are left to sit. This isn’t really a new problem but I like to blame some things on NCLB—NCLB has caused other issues for gifted kids but won’t get into that here.

Lastly, parents (except you ) are content with the way things are---the smart ones "sat" through school, too. Parents of bright kids are embarrassed—they are not comfortable asking for different curriculum for their child. If all the smart kids’ smart parents would get together, things could change. Parents around here demanded and got “honors” classes in our middle schools which until 2 years ago were totally void of academic rigor. But generally the parents of smart kids are unusually quiet.

I was telling my boss (30 year gifted educator) yesterday, that NOTHING has changed for gifted kids in the classroom in the 20 + years I’ve been teaching. I retire in three years and I will continue to greet my kiddos, shut the door and do my thing. Keep me thinkin’. N

nbosch said...

As I was folding my last load of laundry for the day I started thinking about the word “enrichment”. For some reason your use of that word implies “good for all”, “extra”, “a prize”, a “bonus.”

Is studying WWII for six months and interviewing 54 WWII veteran enrichment? Is hosting a blog for kids and having them read and write everyday for a year enrichment? Is teaching students how to use digital cameras, camcorders, GPSs enrichment? Is teaching Algebra using Hands-On Equations all year to 4-6th graders enrichment? Is writing and publishing poetry and short stories enrichment? Is teaching physics using “Skatepark Science” enrichment? Is teaching a semester long unit on Forensics enrichment? Is reading Shakespeare, Poe, Sir Doyle, enrichment? Is reading and discussion contemporary fiction like Ender’s Game, The Wizard of Oz enrichment? Or is it good teaching and good learning?

I like "New Atlanits”—may check into it, just kidding. N

Parentalcation said...

Enrichment is putting shiny rims and a lot of chrome on a car.

Acceleration is souping up the engine.

One looks good, one performs better.

Ideally you would have enough money and time to do both, but if not... it depends on whether you want to win a race or just look good cruising down the street.

Anonymous said...

I was browsing the net tonight and my heart skipped a beat when I read your TAG line. I am the supervisor of the Gifted Program in Anchorage and would like to discuss your concerns further about gifted education in Anchorage and around the United States. Last week there was a Gifted Parent Forum in Anchorage and its too bad you did not attend. There was much discussion about Gifted Education and the challenges educators face when trying to meet the educational needs of gifted children.

Anonymous said...

The cemetery project sounds like it has a lot of good points, but I agree with Rory that there are better things to do with 120 hours. Also, a lot of information is available in print and online sources, in public records, etc. So actually spending the time at the cemetery recording stuff was at least partly make-work.

Amy P

Parentalcation said...

We are continually told that kids can be gifted in a multitude of ways... musically, artistically, in math, in reading, etc..., yet gifted programs tend to have a one size fits all approach.

Based on my son's class from last year, the majority of students qualify under the analytical reasoning dimension. Simply put they are math people, yet their is no attempt to teach to their abilities.

It's my guess that most gifted teachers are intimidated by math. They are much more comfortable with grandiose projects than the nuts and bolts of math acceleration.