The Politics of Education

To continue the discussion started in this thread about about endorsements and this thread about the school board race, let's discuss the politics of education in southern Orange County.

Many people including the local NAACP have long complained about the stratification in our schools, asserting that there are really two systems: one for affluent and/or gifted children and another for low-income and/or African-American students. (I know everyone doesn't fall into these categories, please allow me this generalization for the sake of discussion.)

I've heard countless examples of how these less-favored children are treated poorly by teachers and administrators. I have seen the school system make decisions based on politics and expediency, often at the expense of those who need the most help. But I will readily admit that I don't know much about our school system. The issues are way complicated, and I'm not a parent. (Although I am the child of a former C.H.H.S. teacher, and I was called a "G/T" student when I was at Carrboro elememtary.)

So what is at stake here? What are the current policies, what is their impact, and why do you like them or not? What is "differentiation?" Who is PAGE?



"I'm curious if anyone in the schooling field has any predictions or advance knowledge of what the next new approach may be after differentiation? Are there professional educators working on the next phase?"

Mark, it is NOT going to fail. Sure, there have been waves of education failures over the years but, this time, they got it right. This is the Holy Grail of education. As a school board member said, "There is no turning back." The efficacy of differentiation is so obvious (at least to those of us in the know) that there is no need for proof that it has succeeded in other communities, no need to assess it on an ongoing basis, and certainly no need to plan for a next phase. Some ideas are so powerful that they transcend scrutiny. We have arrived, my friend.

Of course, there won't be a next phase but I will humor you. In the highly unlikely event that this becomes the next Pet Rock of education, it won't be the fault of the approach and certainly not the fault of the school board or administration. It will be the fault of racist, elitist butt-inski parents (Why do you parents even get involved anyway?) and those stupid, lazy, grossly overpaid teachers who refuse to get on board with each new progressive reform.

Stop thinking about this. The think has already been done for you. When there is something new to think, we'll let you know Mr. Smart Guy.

I'm curious if anyone in the schooling field has any predictions or advance knowledge of what the next new approach may be after differentiation? Are there professional educators working on the next phase?



Don't know but I hope it will be something good. Yesterday the school failed my child once again. A homework assignment was sent home and my kid had not been taught how to do it. Never before had she seen the formula for a trapezoid, never before had she seen it derived. Yet this problem she had, had to be solved using the formula for the area of the trapezoid. So I had to get on the internet and look for the formula. I wanted to show her WHY it works, but she had a long day at school and was too frustrated for that. Therefore, I showed her the formula and that was that.

I hope the poor children were able to find the formula too. Because the teacher sure as heck did not show anybody how to do this. Maybe next week they will have some trapezoid collage and that will be another failed attempt at making education okay in Chapel Hill.

What grade was this?


In response to Mark's question. I am not an educator (a teacher) so I can not answer you really. However, there are particular issues that educator should and do look at - Transition between particular grade levels, learning styles, engagement versus testing standards, school to career (these are are to name a few), addressing stress (yes, children are more stressed than in years past).

"No Child Left Behind" presents certain dangereous drawbacks because it focusing on "teaching to the test" rather than applying real learning. While accountable is essential for determining whether a program or initiative is working, it does not lend itself well to engage the whole children into education. It is not the answer to insuring an education for all children. This is a puzzle on how to achieve accountability and how to present interesting and lasting education to the individual child.

I suppose that the main focus of any plan should be how we create initiative so that they dovetail into a common problem to addressed (or theme). You can have fragmented education initiative (that is just teaching a trend). Many school system try to do too much with too little rather than focusing initiative to address problems or build on strengths.

As a homeschooler, Mark, you understand the need to recognize the individual child and the need to engage that particular child in the learning process. Unfortantly, no all children can be homeschooled. So, public school has the difficulty of addressing a larger audience of children (all who need individual attention and recognition), but we must do so with a limited amount of time and money. It is therefore important to find "best practices" and a instructional framework that allow the full teaching staff to recogonize learning styles and present to the child the feeling of "I see you".

Any initiative needs to 1) be well researched, 2) be well supported (staff development), 3)must fit in with the rest of the overal plan of a school system to achieve a particular objective. If you look at high school reform, curriculum management, and minority student achievement, you find common threads leading towards a specific objective.

I hope I answered your question. These are just really my individual thoughts. So, I appreciate your patience.

I think you are right, Mark. I think this trapezoid thing is what is meant these days by higher-level-thinking---this is one of the rages of our time, and is subsumed within that D-word topic we have all heard way too much about. Translation of higher level thinking is "give the kids something they have never seen before, don't teach them anything about it, and see what they can do with it". Then, if someone in the class can't get help at home and master this new material, just cancel the class altogether on the grounds of unfairness.

Can we make glossary somewhere on this site for what these fancy education terms actually mean?

"Education is a social science. Unlike the hard sciences, the subjects of our research and practice are incredibly variable"

I agree that educational initiatives, like political science or sociology, are difficult to evaluate. This is a world full of exogenous variables that we will never completely pin down with even the most sophisticated analyses.

Nonetheless, the field of education stands out in its poverty of valid research when compared to other social sciences. When I did my grad work in political science in the 1980's, I would have been destroyed if I had tried to get by on what passes for research today in the education field. And, I thought that research in PoliSci was pretty fast and loose. The "research" that gets cooked up locally is even more suspect. It is possible to do better, much better.

There would be great value in having something like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for education research. Given the importance of education, one would think there would be value in funding this. However, this does not take Schools of Education or the district off the hook for the quality of their inquiries. One reason that research is given short shrift might be that education is as much about ideology as pedagogy. When your decisions are driven by ideology, empircal data is your worst enemy. As someone (whose name escapes me) said, "There is nothing so dangerous as an idea, when it's the only one you have."

I have questions about current practices in the district. But, I intend to be fully supportive and hope for the best. I gain nothing if my skepticism is confirmed. If I am wrong about my concerns, I win big because I have the knowledge that children's opportunities have not been squandered -- that our kids have not been sacrificed on the altar of political correctness or some fad du jour. You will win because I will shut up (as I will have a mouth full of crow).

However, I would hope that there would be greater open-mindedness to the possibility that this might not be the last word in education and that this process should be monitored through ongoing objective measures of relevant parameters. As Reagan said about nuclear disarmament, "Trust, but verify."

PS: I completely agree with Terri that our kids will survive just like we did. However, I would prefer that they THRIVE.

One of the best resources I know for summarizing what we know about how people learn and where the future is headed is a book called How People Learn by John Bransford. It was published by the National Research Council a couple of years ago and can be found in its short form online. The concluding chapter provides a fairly good summary,

Mark asked what the next big trend in education is. It's not a pedagogical practice, it's a change in the way teachers are educated, prepared for practice. Under the No Child Left Behind legislation and the new accountability movement, an individual with a degree in math can be hired to teach grade school or middle grades while they are taking a couple of additional courses in pedagogy in order to get licensed. If you have read what Gloria has written about differentiation, about all the research Tracy has reviewed and brought to the table, and you read the Bransford chapter, it should be clear that we need teachers who understand how children learn--not just teachers who know how to solve mathematical formulas or diagram a sentence. Of course they need to know their content too, but pedagogy--an understanding of how to design instruction to meet the social, intellectual, and emotional needs of individual children--is of equal importance. The new trend in licensing lateral entry teachers is a move away from research-based practice, and puts more emphasis on passing tests than on learning to think deeply, across disciplines. For any lateral entry teachers who read this and who are insulted, I apologize. I don't mean to imply that all lateral entry teachers are incompetent--just that I think, to repeat one of my earlier soap boxes, is that teachers should be trained, paid, and treated as professionals in the same way that doctors, lawyers, and engineers are.

Is this continuing sarcasm and negativity productive?


I was joking Melanie. Unfortunately, your school board is not.

Mark, Skywriter and Blind Faith (loved that band),

Education is a social science. Unlike the hard sciences, the subjects of our research and practice are incredibly variable--by age, ability, home life, interests, social interests, physical capabilities, etc etc etc. They aren't stable like the subjects of hard science, and neither is our understanding of what constitutes good support in helping them learn. I'm sure you've heard about all the progress in brain research and learning theories. Don't you think the district should be making attempts to incorporate that research into teaching practices?

I am not defending the district administration by these statements as I have some doubts of my own, but I am taking issue with the scarcasm in your posts. One of the huge problems educators have to deal with is the fact that since everyone has been in the education system, they all think they are experts in what should be happening, rather than trying to understand the intricacies and complexities of the system. That's how we got stuck with No Child Left Behind and all these "standards" that are really not standards at all.

Another problem teachers have to deal with is that some parents were educated during an earlier era when education was treated more like science...learn facts, be better than the Russians. We now know that memorizing formulas is a waste of time if children don't understand how the formula was derived. In math particularly, we are learning more and more about how a child's thinking develops and we can nurture their individual development by encouraging them not to memorize but explore. Unfortunately, they take homework home and parents want RIGHT ANSWERS instead of understanding. I know many very good, dedicated teachers who do one thing in class and give something altogether different as homework so that they don't have to deal with parents not understanding the homework and confusing their kids with their attempt to find a right answer. It's not a strategy I endorse but one that I understand the necessity of.

I'm not saying parents shouldn't be involved in their kids education--just that they need to put away their expectations that 1) everything done in the classroom will always be right or best for each individual child and 2) the way things were done when you were in school isn't necessarily the right or only way. Kids are very resilient. We, the adults participating in this discussion, survived the public school experience and flourished despite the fact that most wouldn't want their kids to have to experience school in the same way we did...your kids will survive too.

What grade was this?" Ms. See queries.

A very, very high grade in elementary school.


Just to clarify, my post was not sarcastice, but a real question based on my curiousity about the different approaches that have been used & will be used. I appreciate that Gloria & you took the time to address the question.

One response that I hope no-one takes as blanket criticism of educational science is that it seems to me that children (and adults) learn in pretty much the same way today as they did centuries ago. The natural ability to learn what is understood by the individual to be necessary to learn is a phenomenon that has been observed over the centuries. Some of these new (last hundred years) educational approaches seem predicated on the assumption that children can't naturally learn and therefore systems need to be created to help them get over this. Certainly, I am missing something since I don't interact with the school system on a regular basis and I'm curious what that is.



I now officially renounce any claim to know what the hell "gifted and talented" means, now that I know that they're assigning 1/2 (b1 + b2) h to elementary school kids routinely. Back in the dark ages of the seventies, my fellow g&t kids and I didn't get that until junior high in the advanced math track. (Granted, it was an early lesson in algebra.) So kids are either way smarter than we were, or the expectations have changed to such an extent that I can't possibly extrapolate from my own experience.

No wonder there's a poster at our pediatrician's office describing how best to rig a pre-adolescent's backpack for maximum load-bearing efficiency.

I agree that differentiation in high school is quite different than elementary or middle school.

Children begin to have a more of a sense of where they might want to go in their adult life or at least they have a sense where their interests/gifts/desires might be. In fact, this is actually what you want children to do. You want them to explore and be engaged in learning and find what excites them in learning through elem/middle school years. This is exactly why a school does not want to box a child at that time.

This question of positive high school models was an area that high school reform committee focused on. After looking at the research, some key areas were found. Here are just two points. I encourage you to look at

You will forgive if I use too much educational jargon here; I have worked on this committee for a long time.

1) Creating small learning environments where teacher and students can work together. Financially, it is almost impossible to create the desired 400-500 student schools. But, the idea of creating a ninth grade academy with the follow-up of academies is quite workable.

High schools in the United States have traditionally served the dual purpose of preparing some students for admission to four-year colleges and others for entry-level jobs.

Over the last decade, however, the educational community has become increasingly alarmed by reports that many schools are failing in both of these missions. Studies show that college-bound students often are ill-prepared for postsecondary education and lack direction in their choice of majors once they enter four-year colleges or universities.

According to these studies, non-college-bound students leave high school with weak academic skills, poor awareness of career options and requirements, and little training that will help them succeed in a changing job market.

Models have emerged, all of which organize vocational and academic curriculum, as well as work-based experiences, around specific career areas or industries. High schools that use these models assign students and faculty to participate in one career cluster (when there is more than one), usually based on interests and experience. In addition to enhancing enrollment, retention, and completion rates, the evidence suggests that career academies positively influence school climate and motivation. Students in career academies were significantly less likely to cut class, drink, or become teenage parents, and were significantly more likely to be clear about their career plans than students in a comparison group attending traditional high schools.

A number of research studies have explored what career academies are doing to improve student outcomes. These studies have identified four practices that are key to these schools’ effectiveness in raising students’ performance:

Establishing a close community.

Developing sustained, caring relationships between students and adults.

Promoting learning of occupational skills and knowledge in real-world settings.

Using problem-solving activities and project-based instruction.

2) Reorganize the school day into flexible, relevant segments

A number of positive trends can be gleaned from the many evaluations conducted on flexible scheduling such as:

Reduces discipline problems. A number of studies have reported that student discipline problems decline as a result of flexible scheduling. This is commonly attributed to having fewer passing periods, a more relaxed school climate, and a higher level of motivation and engagement among students.

Courses passed. Several studies have indicated that students attending schools with alternate scheduling earn more credits than students attending traditional schools

However, one study found that a 4x4 schedule in one school led to an increase in the number of courses failed, from 9 to 12 percent. It may be that semester-long courses made it easier for capable students to improve their grades, but more difficult for students with lower academic achievement to do so. However, there are many different types of flexible scheduling variation.

Who benefits most from flexible scheduling. There is some evidence that block scheduling appears to benefit certain groups of students more than others. In particular, at-risk students may benefit more than others from block schedules

Improvements in grades and academic achievement. Several studies have reported that students were more likely to earn higher grades and be on the honor roll after their schools introduced alternate scheduling.

I apologize for the length of my reply.

As I understand it differentiation works differently in elementary school than it does in middle school or high school where students are really delving into subject areas in deeper, more meaningful ways. Could you give a concrete example of how differentiation works at the high school level? Is the research on differentiation as positive for high school students as it is for elementary students? Are there ways in which high schools need to be restructured to make it more effective?

The Chapel Hill News tells us this:

"Differentiation works like this:

A teacher can choose to teach some material to the class as a whole, and that is encouraged when a general concept is being taught.

Students may then be broken into smaller groups, which may be given different assignments.

For instance, three different books on the same theme might be required reading in the same class, with each student reading the book that's on his or her reading level.

Then students would meet with their academic peers to discuss their respective readings.

Or, teachers could match students of different learning levels together in small groups after identifying who would work well together.

It is tricky, Bowling admitted, and that's why people on both sides of the differentiation debate want to make sure nothing's rushed."

The operative word is MAY, as in : "Students may then be broken into smaller groups, which may be given different assignments."

In reality this never happens. If anyone can post a concrete example of children being given different work in the same class , please join the discussion.

Why certainly, Mr. Leveque.

I would be happy to given you several "concrete" examples at the elementary level and one (brief one) at the middle school level. All of which have or are being done in our schools. No, I will tell you where because I don't want the school or any teacher hassled.

Lesson 1 - dealing with type of angles (showing options for ability grouping)

(Option 1 - for the struggling students)

Make a poster showing the three types of angles (right, acute, and obtuse). Draw and label an example of each type. Look through magazines and catalogs to find two examples. Teach the class about angles using your poster.

(Option 2 - for on-target students)

Compose a story or poem about angles. Use all three types of angles. Be sure your story includes the distinguishing characteristics of the types of angles. Illustrate your story. Present to class to teach the characteristics of angles.

(Option 3 - for advanced student)

Design and draw a building that has no right angles. Write three paragraphs describing your building and angles. Include what the building is used for. What will the doors and windows are like in your building.

Lesson 2 dealing with geometry (remember this is elementary school, but this showing options for style grouping)

(Option 1 – for the concrete thinker)

Draw and color your state flag or another state flag. List all the geometric shape that you see. Do you see an example of parallel, perpendicular, or intersecting lines? Is the flag symmetrical or asymmetrical? Explain your answer on your poster.

(Option 2 – for the emerging abstract thinker)

Choose 2 country flags or two state flag. Draw and color each flag. Write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the two flag using the terms parallel, perpendicular, intersecting, and other geometric terms. Be sure to tell the geometric shapes that you see. Which flag do you like better and why?

(Option 3- for the abstract thinker)

Imagine your state has decided to split into two states. You must design a flag for two new states. Draw and color the flag. Write two or three paragraphs discussing your design. Include the geometric feature of designs, the symbolism shown by the geometric features, and how the two flag are alike and different. Your design should include the shapes, angles, and lines that we've studied.

There is another lesson that I will not take your time to describe. So, I will be very brief. This lesson involves an entire group at the middle school level. Each group has different learning styles and ability types. Each group is a village that must deal with an epidemic. Each person in the group has responsibility – doctor, public relationship, federal aid worker, local elected official, etc. They must determine what is the disease, how to contain it, and how to have their village survive. All of the facts are based on previous social study, science, and language art lessons. Several teachers work together on this exercise over a week period. Some groups (or villages) die (in make believe) and some live. The groups also talk by Internet to national CDC agencies. The group each presents their finding and their results. The kids are excited, engaged, and they learn.

Any more questions?

Gee.. I just found my notes on differentiation from my campaign literature. Thought I would add it. I am sorry if I have too much educationa jargon in it.

A differentiation curriculum plan will contain:

- Solid and definitive staff development for teachers covering a range of differentiation strategies in the classroom. Creating a differentiated classroom is not a yes/no proposition but rather a continuum along which teacher move as they develop skills of responsive teaching.

o The teacher is clear about what matters in the content area

o The teacher understands, appreciates, and builds upon student differences.

o Assessment and instruction are inseparable.

o All students participate in respectful work.

o Students and teachers are collaborators in learning.

o The teacher adjusts content, process, and product in response to student readiness, interests, and learning profile.

o Goals are maximum growth and continue success.

- Define clear and easy understood assessment tools.

- Solid staff development for administrators on how clustering is applied to their individual student population. Clean definition to school administrators to insure that classrooms are equally balanced.

- An aligned and solid curriculum at all levels that includes comprehensive curriculum guides. Continue implementation and strong support for curriculum management plan.

- Define a clear path to create adequate teacher planning time.

Thank you, Ruby for providing a way to discuss these particular issues in a sane way.

Differentiation is way to identify a child's learning, a child's strength and build upon those strengths. In differentiation, children are grouped into cluster. That clustering can be done in many ways including ability grouping. The object of the lesson is the same for all children. However, the ways that a child can learn that lesson and prove that they learn that lesson can differ. A child is allowed to choose a series of assignments (these lessons may utilize a child's interest in art, writing, or math). Some children may choose an assignment that might go into more depth than another. Some children may select a project that defends (for example) a mathematical principal in an artistically, another group may choose to so in a scientific way. The idea is to excite the child, show the child how this principal may apply in their everyday life, and identify a way for the child to remember the how and the why of principal that is being taught. Children choose these lessons in a variety of ways. But, the methods of choosing are designed in such a way so that the child never picks just an easy way. In the process, the child does finds one project that interests him/her or allow him/her to expand on their strength. What occurs in the groups is that many "stars" arise in the class rather than just a few. What occurs in the group is that children learn to apply a fact rather than just memorize a fact.

For the child that might choose the artistic way to complete, the child's art is not graded but how they defend their position on understanding a fact or principal. How well the child can show how the lesson or fact to be learned is applied back to a real world example. The real world that the child will someday work and interact in. A beautiful example of economics was in classroom that I visited last year. Large appliance boxes were given to the 4th grade students. Class money was distributed. Each child designed, marketed and developed an individual product. Each product was bought and sold. Each group contributed to the well being of the village in a specific way. This little cardboard box village defined his or her own government, learned how commerce worked between each group as well as learning writing, reading, and math. The children were excited and proud of their creations and their process. I could give you countless examples of this type of teaching.

As we speak to the fact that we can only eliminate the achievement gap is by having caring involved parents. I agree, but what happens to the children who do not have that option. Also, it is interesting to note that a gap remains between African American children and white children even when you take social economic class out of the picture. Does that mean that all African American parents do not care about their children? That is completely false. They DO care about their children. However, they do face the other issue. All too often an African American child may and does face a different expectation than a white child. All children (regardless of their skin color) should be required to live up to the same expectation – reach their highest potential.

If you look around Chapel Hill, no one can deny the fact that we live a very affluent community. As Mr. Klavantnei noted, many, many parents do have the resources to provide tutors, prep course, etc to insure that their child will get into an advanced course. Yet, it is the school's responsibility to equalize the playfield so that all children have the same opportunities. Then, the next question to ask is a particular advanced course always good for the child. Is this a course that the child really wants to take? Or is this just the assumption that the parent makes because they want their child to go to Ivy League school. In other words, is this education or is it defining creditials. I can tell you that there is significant stress placed on our children because they are trying to ride the same high paced academic train to Harvard or Yale. Sometimes, they ride that train not by their own choice. The education of a child is creation of delicate triangle – the parent, the child, and the teacher. Allowing a child to explore his/her own interest, allow the child to see how education can expand on that interest is the heart of education. Insuring the teacher to see the whole child not just how the child ranks on a standardized test. Showing the parent ways that they can support their child educationally, socially, and academically.

The key parts of making differentiation work is to have aligned curriculum, providing time to teacher to plan lessons, providing ways for the sharing of ideas between teachers, and providing good staff development. It requires the building of a curriculum so that the child has a clear and solid way through their education career with repetition or gaps. The board definitively started an aligned curriculum management plan four years ago. This is why the 6th grade language and math program were merged into one program. Both the regular and advanced class at Phillips and Culbreth had gaps and repetition. This is critical problem when it comes to Algebra. Algebra is main building block of the rest of advanced math course. This is why many students reached high school (having been pushed to take the advanced course) and hit a brick wall. By that time, the child (whether they were AG or not) faced stress, fear, and confusion (oh my god, I am making a C and I don't know why and my parents are going to kill me). Did this mean that a child at any middle school who wanted to and was ready to take Algebra or even Geometry in 6th? Absolutely not.

Now, the curriculum is aligning. Now, there are conversations between elementary, middle school, and high school teacher to define how each grade level can support the next grade level. This allows children to have a smooth transition. There is continued and refined staff development on how to differentiate, how to build on a child's strength, education is provided for all children. Not just saying "well, the parents are the problem, too bad, the child is a lost cause." "Well, this child is advanced and that child is never will be".

In every child, there must be one adult that came into their life that believed in them, in their self-worth, in their ability to succeed. That one adult gave them a project or an assignment that demonstrated for that child how they could use their mind and their ability to succeed.

(Oops, I wrote this yesterday and forgot to hit 'post.')

Todd, I think Donna understands pretty well her own level of personal responsibility - she went all the way to grad school in spite of not having the advantages of some of her peers.

Worry about me if you need to. You can pray for me too if it makes you feel better. I agree with Donna that it is a basic responsilibity of any community that claims to aspire to "equal opportunity" to provide a baseline level of support for each member so that they may reach those opportunities. That is what it means to all be a part of one "nation." (And it obviously does not mean that we must agree with every elected offical in it to be a part of the whole.)

Policies can't take into account all the myriad ways children live in this country. By virtue of being POLICIES, they must make generalizations since they apply to everyone.* I really don't think that low-income kids are GENERALLY getting the same chances in this country as those of affluent and/or educated and/or suburban parents. And I really wish we could do something about this in our supposedly-progressive community.

* For example, I think I'm a great driver, but I'm still subject to speeding laws. i donl't expect cops to make an exception just for me or my ilk.

And now, back to the topic of EDUCATION . . . .

There is a very interesting article on the front page of today's (11/12/03) News and Observer. It provides some useful insight and is especially relevant to our district given our unusually high proportion of advanced learners.

Also, there was an article in the Sunday (I believe) New York Times about the controversy over differentiated teaching. It shows that this issue is not as "settled" and as much of a "no brainer" as some on the School Board and in Lincoln Center would like us to believe.

Hope many of you will check out these articles on EDUCATION and share your thoughts on this EDUCATION thread where we discuss EDUCATION.

I do not believe that Chapel HIll students are capable of doing advanced work. This may be the real reason that our school officials are cancelling advanced classes. If anyone on this list has a child who has been in CHCCS for the entire school careeer, who IS CAPABLE OF DOING ADVANCED WORK, please post to the list. Obviously your child is disqualified under any and all of the following circumstances:

A tutor has worked with your child

you have helped your child make up for the voluminous material NOT PRESENTED by CHCCS schools

you helped your child learn to read

your child recieved outside assistance in learning to spell, or usage of proper grammar.

you have purchased math workbooks or other assistance for your child

If you can honestly say your child has learned in CHCCS how to do advanced work, without any HELP from outside the school system, do let us know.

I am expecting to hear a deafening silence. . . .

The most important issue for people to realize in this area is that the achievement gap is not the fault of our school system, teachers, or facilities. Achievement gap starts at home. With 70% of black kids being born out of wedlock, 16% of them to an under 18 year old mother, what do you expect to happen at school?

The achievement gap needs to be filled by caring parents who set high standards and expectations for their kids. Until then, we all suffer--especially the under-achievers.


The post that cost 100 votes (at least)

"I am glad that you have the DNA potential that you have. I am glad

that you have the financial resource to insure that your children

have all the potential that they have."

The initial post almost seems to assume that gifted education is a goody for the white and affluent. Guess what, the Tier One classes at Glenwood are a regular United Nations and the childrens' parents come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Giftedness in the district cannot be ignored. It is estimated that between 24% and 31% of children are gifted. Bear in mind that a gifted child's IQ deviates from the average IQ (100) by as much as the IQ of a child with mental retardation. For this reason, these gifted children have their own issues and challenges that need to be addressed.

Is that happening? Not at all. My child was in a class with 20 children last year and received minimal intellectual stimulation despite the lofty promise of "differentiation". Most of the classroom focus was on children who were believed to be in danger of failing the End of Grade tests. My child and his peers were left to fend for themselves as they would not run afoul of "No Child Left Behind."

This year, he is in a class with almost 30 children in the Tier One Program. However, despite this less favorable teacher-student ratio, he is being challenged and is much happier than in his smaller, "differentiated" class. It is a night and day difference.

You don't have my name, but you don't need it. This is the story of loads of parents in the district.

Can someone explain "differentiation?" From the context, it seems to keep kids together instead of differentiating.

Good lord, Voter. You and I think alike! Well, not exactly, but close enough.

"The most important issue for people to realize in this area is that the achievement gap is not the fault of our school system, teachers, or facilities. Achievement gap starts at home."

I agree! And that's why I think the parents of gifted students -- who have special needs equivalent to (but of course different) those of kids with "mental retardation" because they deviate from the average IQ by the same amount, according to AG Parent -- better get their acts together.

As a former student identified as gifted and talented, I can tell you that it's a hell of a burden. In elementary school I was mainstreamed with the other dolts, and to this day I believe that's the reason I was rejected by Harvard and Yale, and had to go to (the horror!) Cornell. It's _very_ hard being smart; you can figure things out quicker, read faster, remember more -- you're a ticking time bomb! Any moment your prodigious talents -- which are, of course, by no means valued in our society or by the finest universities -- can reach critical mass, at which point you explode and are left slacking around small southern college towns obsessively writing about yourself and attending emo shows. It's enough to make you want to strike the "gift" from "gifted", and just go around calling yourself "ed." It's truly unfair to be expected to work up the motivation and gumption to make use of your talents on your own; people who can do that are, like, geniuses, man. The rest of us need help being stimulated precisely _because_ we're gifted. You might think that being smart and perceptive and gifted would mean that you could develop your own intellectual interests, but you'd be wrong. Wrong!

IQ! I haven't heard that concept thrown around in a serious debate in a long time. A blast from the (discredited) past, but a blast nonetheless.

The achievement gap needs to be filled by caring parents who set high standards and expectations for their kids. Until then, we all suffer--especially the under-achievers.

During my teaching days we called it heterogeneous grouping, the alternative to tracking. (I taught first in a tracking system, then in a system that eliminated tracks (or tiers, or whatever they’re called these days.) Here's a link:

One of the problems many of the opponents neglect re: differentiation, is that most teachers aren't very skilled at it. Invariably time and learning potential are wasted. Instead of helping to identify areas that are failing, the proposed solution is to can the whole thing. It's not hard to imagine the problems AG Parent describes occurring in a differentiated classroom where the teacher hasn't been adequately trained and has spent the bulk of their career working within a tracking system. Differentiation has been working very well for exceptional children on the other end of the spectrum -- LD, EMH, BEH, etc. Highly skilled EC Teachers with small classes have demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach in classrooms with even wider disparity of skill level among the students than is demonstrated in a typical mainstream differentiated classroom. I understand many parents concerns about the impact on their children -- I wouldn't want my child to be the guinea pig where instruction is targeted at the students most challenged by the basic curriculum; but there are enormous pedagogical and social benefits from teaching children in an environment of heterogeneous abilities. When I was a teach, I was an enormous fan. statewide PAGE

Partners the Advancement of Gifted Education (PAGE) are the local affiliates of the North Carolina Association for the Gifted and Talented (NCAGT). PAGE groups are parents, teachers and others helping each other with the purpose of providing appropriate educational and life experiences for gifted children. The PAGE chapters voted in October 2001 to change their name from "Parents for the Advancement of Gifted Education" to "Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education," with the acronym continuing to be "PAGE." The name change emphasizes the collaboration among parents, teachers, school administrators, higher education professionals, and other community members that is necessary to advocate successfully for gifted children.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro PAGE

Meeting Nov 13 @ CH Library

Mark is correct that differentiation will be received poorly if the teachers are not good at it. At the same time, the parents I have spoken with are aware of the theoretical benefits. We realize that, in some cases and on a limited basis, it works well. Unfortunately, in cases where it has failed, the district's first instinct is to attack the parents who bring this up or attack the teachers.

Parents just want school to work out for their children. No one I know is heavily invested in being "right" about the benefits or detriments of differentiated instruction, heterogeneous grouping, or any other idea. For us, this is not an ideological battle. But, when the schools fail your children and you are treated with condescension, what happened Tuesday is inevitable.

Mr. Murrell's comments are cute but most seven-year olds, gifted or not, are poorly equipped to cope with their unique "problems".

I take issue with the idea that being smart is a problem, even if you're seven years old.

Being a kid is hard, whether or not you're gifted. The problems I had as a child -- I was rambunctious, disrespectful and prone to fighting -- were not the inevitable result of being gifted. Sure, people will say -- and did say, at the time -- that I was bored because class wasn't going fast enough, and so I acted out. OK, that could be true. But then, there were other kids who acted out in the same way -- I had to have _someone_ to fight with -- who weren't identifed as g&t, and so what was their excuse? They were bored, too, for their own reasons.

In fact, being a smart kid made things easier sometimes, not the least because I would occasionally be praised by my teachers privately, and becauseI got through my school work quickly, which meant I was often allowed to read books or work on other projects. That was fun.

I'm sure many of the people on this site, including you, have their own memories of being a gifted child, and maybe their experience was wildly different. My memory of my childhood is 35 years old now, and maybe not reliable. But I think I benefited from being mainstreamed, in the early grades at least. I learned how to socialize with all kinds of people, and I learned how to be humble and gracious about my own gifts and to not take them for granted. It wasn't that hard for my teachers to give me extra work, or special projects, or to let me read ahead. I'm no expert in pedagogy, but the way my teachers responded to me seemed natural and commonsensical: they just gave us more work, and introduced us to different books in the school library. There weren't that many of us back in 1975 in my elementary school, certainly not 35%, and so maybe we were easier to deal with.

I'm willing to concede that trying to teach 35% of your students in one way, and the rest in the other way -- all in one classroom -- would be difficult.

Where the heck did all these gifted kids come from? Whatever happened to the good old days, when you were a curiosity and a freak?

Duncan (if I may),

From what I have seen, a lot of bright kids from that age group fare well in a normal classroom environment. A lot don't, however. That is why I described giftedness as a "problem" (in quotes). For those with this "problem", the way they are handled can make dramatic differences in their attitude toward school, overall emotional health, and happiness. The Glenwood program has been miraculous for a lot of families.

Where do these kids come from? Who knows. In my child's case, it is clearly not genetic (unless his mother supplied all the DNA)!

I have read the posts tonight and I am very interested in the discussion. The issues that parents of "gifted" students sounds much like the issues of parents whose students aren't gifted. They feel that their student is not getting the appropriate learning experience to reach their full potential. Have schools changed so much since I was a student there. Schools have never, and lets face it never will be able to meet the individual educational needs of each child. Schools can't do it. Schools, parents, after shchool programs, mentoring, and other resources working together can come much closer. I am not saying that parents should not have certain expectations about the level of education their children will receive when they go to school each day. I just feel they should be realistic in those expectations.

And as a black student raised by a single parent who managed to graduate high school, college and go on to graduate school, I say it is not being from a one parent household or being poor which are obstacles for children learning. It is living in a country that hasn't learned how to adequately feed or house all of its citizens, afford all its citizens health care, or recognize that the need for welfare is not a criminal act to be punished. When there is a base line of caring for basic human needs regardless of how rich or poor your are then we can start to question why children from poor or alternative families are not doing well in our schools.


I believe this is a dangerous entitlement approach that is holding back millions of Americans...

You said:

"It is living in a country that hasn't learned how to adequately feed or house all of its citizens, afford all its citizens health care, or recognize that the need for welfare is not a criminal act to be punished.


"When there is a base line of caring for basic human needs regardless of how rich or poor your are then we can start to question why children from poor or alternative families are not doing well in our schools."

We can't hold our breath waiting for this to happen. It won't be soon. Besides, there has always been relative deprivation and there always will be. At the time I was born, my family had one (unreliable) automobile and the four of us lived in an apartment of 500 square feet. My parents did not consider themselves poor but, by current standards in our school system, we would have been categorized as "fragile" for purposes of redistricting and we would be provided with "family specialists" who knew what was best for us. Despite the fact that the local school system failed to shower us with "services" and progressive reforms, my brother and I survived.

Interestingly, my backward, redneck community had no "achievement gap" in the schools. Every third HS valedictorian was African-American (which pretty much reflected the racial demographics of the town). As it was the 1970's and the delta region, my community was not exactly a beacon of enlightenment with respect to racial issues. But somehow, just a few years after integration, and with no known PhDs, we had no achievement gap.

Which begs the question of "Why do we have such a significant achievement gap here?" The School Board elite in our district and their sympathizers like to pretend that they are the cutting-edge progressives protecting the community from knuckle-walking reactionaries. If they could just run the show, they argue, the achievement gap would be eliminated. The problem is, they are the ones who have been in charge for some time. It's not as if Jesse Helms and Lester Maddox were running the school system a few years ago and we are now trying to recover. We are supposedly in some Mecca of Progressive Thought but we have an achievement gap that would embarrass towns full of "those people" that voted for George W. Bush. How much more progressive reform can we afford?

A blog named NCLawGirl was asked what her ethnic background is...this is her answer which I think Donna has lots to learn from:

No Assumptions Please

If you look in the text box on the left of this screen, you'll see that a person who calls herself anonymous has asked me: "I just have one question for you, what ethnic background are you?" I decided to take a moment and answer this question for all you readers.

But before I answer the question, I want to briefly speak about why I think I was asked this question. I think anonymous probably wants to make some assumptions about me based purely on my ethnic background. Isn't that what we are working to do away with in our society? Does just the fact that a person comes from a certain ethnic background mean that person has to have a set system of beliefs? If so, I guess then we should all just return to making assumptions about others based purely on where they come from.

Not that it's any of your business, but let's use my life as a case study and try to make some assumptions about me. I am a second generation American. My grandfather was a war hero in Macedonia during World War II. His family was incredibly poor, and he had ten brothers. He and his family fought Hitler and Tito. Some of the brothers were taken captive, and my grandfather's brother Peter was tortured in unbelievable ways before he was returned and left on my grandfather's family's doorstep to die. My grandmother was from Ukraine. Her family somehow lived through Stalin's torturing of the Ukranians and the Ukrainian famine. Millions of others in that country died during that time. Both my grandfather and my grandmother fled these hardships, which are just unfathomable to most Americans. They ended up in Brazil, where my father was born. They lived in Brazil for many years before coming to the US and applying for US citizenship. My grandparents had to learn a new language, a new way of life, and a way to make a living in unfamiliar territory. My grandparents were disadvantaged immigrants, but they didn't make excuses, they worked to overcome their hardships.

My parents met in Germany when they both were serving the United States in the army during the time of the Vietnam War. So, let's just say, I'm not the daughter of rich parents. I went to public schools my whole life and during my youth we moved a lot. We were lower middle class. There was never enough money, and a lot of the money that we did have my father spent on cigarettes and beer. My parents weren't religious. They separated a couple times in my life. At one point, while I was in high school, I was living in a trailer that belonged to my mother's friend and my mother and I were sharing a bed.

When I told my father I wanted to go to college, he told me I couldn't go to the university I wanted to attned and that he wouldn't pay, and he encouraged me to attend a local community college, despite the fact that I graduated 14th in my high school class of 400.

Okay, so now let's make some assumptions about me. Because my grandparents were disadvantaged, I must be trapped in a circle of poverty, which despite myself and despite my efforts, I can't escape. Because my dad was an alcoholic, because my parents didn't like each other, and because I was poor, I must be continually disadvantaged and those rich folks must owe me something. They need to take care of me because I can't take care of myself.

Now let's get to the truth of the matter. You shouldn't make assumptions about me based on my ethnic background and life experiences, just as I shouldn't make assumptions about you based on your background.

Despite how hard my parents tried to mess up my life, I wouldn't let it happen. Despite the fact, that I was poor, I wasn't going to allow myself to be a prisoner to poverty. When my dad told me to go to community college, I went to the bank and took out loans and went to college where I wanted to, with little support from my parents. When people made assumptions about me, I worked twice as hard to prove them wrong. I did it all myself. Most people have hardships in their lives. There are two ways to deal with the hardships: 1) let the hardships hold you down or 2) work your hardest to prove everyone wrong.

Check out her site at

What a heart-warming tale about an exceptional woman! What does it have to do with ethnicity or our school system?


Thanks for breathing some life back into the education thread.

That is the kind of a story that Leftists really hate. How dare the woman walk away from her obvious victim status! How dare she defy the simple categorization process that would allow us to make unlimited assumptions about who she is, what she thinks, and what she needs or wants.

The thinking that demands we categorize this woman also infects thinking about education. From the Leftist perspective, each child's value is largely a function of his/her membership in some group. To them, children are like uniform pawns in a class or race war board game rather than unique children. This is exactly how children were treated during the redistricting process earlier this year. The arguments over differentiated instruction, clustering, and heterogeneous grouping also revolve around what socioeconmic class gets what, as opposed to how might these approaches affect and serve individual children.

PS - Can "NCLAWGIRL" be trusted? Shouldn't she be NCLAWWOMAN? Or even better, NCLAWWOMYN?

I am still upset with Donna's comment above:

"It is living in a country that hasn't learned how to adequately feed or house all of its citizens, afford all its citizens health care, or recognize that the need for welfare is not a criminal act to be punished."

I really worry about people who believe that everyone is entitled to free food, housing, and health care. That is the crux of a huge problem that is holding back millions of people. Donna tells a story of making it despite the odds, but her conclusion that I have sited above is dangerous.

NCLawGirl on the other hand understands that her actions, rather than the sytem are responsible for her outcome.


One might presume that among the basic needs implied in the natural right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" would be the needs for food, shelter, and some medical attention every once in awhile. Whether or not those things should be "free," or whether we should be handing over $100 million in public money to the R.J. Reynolds corporation -- those are political questions.

But what is undeniable is that if food, shelter, and medicine is not affordable to some because of certain glitches in the system we've set up to provide them -- for instance, the Fed-enforced policy of ensuring at least 2-3% unemployment in the interest of inhibiting inflation -- then food, shelter, and medicine is being denied. And that would seem to be an abandonment of our founding principles as a nation, and much more dangerous.

I have no problem with short term welfare programs, and I thank Clinton for the reforms in our current system. I also believe in helping people get back on thier feet, and I have helped many do that while paying them to work for my company.

I am only saying that people should not feel entitled to having big brother provide them food, shelter, and health care free for life. That kind of entitlement mentality holds people back as they become enslaved by welfare.


I don't know, Todd. Since our system assumes and reinforces a certain amount of persistent poverty through our federal monetary policy, I think we ought to _thank_ people on welfare for taking it in the shorts so that the rest of us don't have to pay $10 a gallon for milk.

And as far as the "long-term" welfare recipients are concerned, most of them are not even counted in unemployment figures. The Fed would declare a National State of Emergency if those people ever got work. Even Milton Friedman ( ) couldn't save us!

This is, of course, not local or Orange politics, so I think we should save this discussion for a different forum.

It's kind of funny that people are talking about dismantling social welfare programs in a thread about the public education system. Thank goodness for the "entitlement mentality" when it came time for me to, like, learn stuff. While we're at it, maybe we should go ahead and dismantle OSHA, the EPA, the FDA, Medicaid and Medicare, Social Security, the Veterans Administration, and all the rest. I mean, these things are fine in the short term, but we've got to nip this entitlement stuff in the bud. People are starting to demand affordable health care!

Anyway, back to education. One of the things that's been missing in the discussion of "differentiation" is why people saw a need to move away from "tracking" in the first place. The problem with tracking, as it's usually implemented, is not only that it separates "gifted" students from the general population, but also that the gifted students end up having better student-teacher ratios and more per-pupil resources than the students who presumably need the most assistance. I'd be interested in everyone's take on this issue, especially as it applies to our local education system. I don't know if "differentiation" is the right solution, but we should at least recognize that it didn't just emerge in a policy vacuum.


"The problem with tracking, as it's usually implemented, is not only that it separates "gifted" students from the general population, but also that the gifted students end up having better student-teacher ratios and more per-pupil resources than the students who presumably need the most assistance"

First, thanks for getting back to education.

In this district, the "gifted" students that participate in the 4th/5th grade program at Glenwood actually have a poorer student-teacher ratio than other 4th/5th graders. The class sizes, this year, are about 29 students each while class sizes are as low as 21-22 in some schools. Also, the system goes to great pains to ensure that the kids in that program do not get any resources not available to other 4th/5th graders.

If anything, it is the struggling students who get extra services such as family specialists, occupational therapy, counseling, and tutoring. On a per pupil basis, I would assume that they are receiving more services and are more expensive for the system.

If this type of disparity indeed exists, I am all for it. More advanced students often require less hands on assistance from their teachers and can work alone more. At the same time, studies have shown that the greatest impact of smaller class sizes can be made among the struggling students.

Overall, I disagree with the assertion that the "gifted" students get a disproportionate share of resources (at least in this district) or that this disparity is the reason that systems are moving away from tracking. If the problem with tracking is resources, it could simply be "fixed" by mandating equal funding across "tracks."

The real problem is that tracking is politically incorrect. First, it assumes that there are meaningful differences in academic ability which is pure heresy in some circles. Second, the demographic profiles of the "high tracks" and "low tracks" are not identical, so again, a perceptual problem.

Heterogeneous grouping and differentiated teaching offer the perfect solution for those who are offended by tracking. Classes are created randomly, but different students do different work. Students are handled differently based on their ability, but no one's feelings are hurt because they are in the low "track". This is "tracking" with a fig leaf.

Schools of Education love this approach and promise that it is the greatest since canned beer with pull rings. In my experience, I have seen three major drawbacks. First, many teachers do not have the experience to effectively use the techniques. In the hands of a poorly trained or inexperienced teacher, this does not provide a robust experience for many students. Second, the curricula can get watered down and allow students to fulfill requirements by completing tasks that are too easy for them like "burning a CD", "drawing smiley faces to show how miserable it is to be a mine worker" or "doing interpretive dances." To quote columnist Dave Barry, "I am not making this up." They had a presentation on this stuff at Smith Middle School last winter and the staff is very proud of it. Just for kicks, check out the Smith EOG results! Third, the reality of No Child Left Behind is that the classroom will focus on students at risk of failing the EOG (End of Grade) tests at the expense of all other students who are assumed to be safe. With NCLB breathing down their necks, principals will be focused on insuring minimal proficiency. Excellence and challenge for those who need it will be considered a luxury.

I think the recent SB election will make for some interesting debate over the next couple of years. I don't know how the system can best meet the needs of the most or all of its students, but I do know that we will see fewer 7-0 votes than in the past.

Look forward to keeping this thread alive.

Todd said: I really worry about people who believe that everyone is entitled to free food, housing, and health care. That is the crux of a huge problem that is holding back millions of people. Donna tells a story of making it despite the odds, but her conclusion that I have sited above is dangerous.

Todd I don't remember ever saying that I want "free" anything for anyone. Although that is one way to assure distrubution of wealth. Another is to allow for a living wage for all workers in this country. I don't think peoples desire to see that their fellow citizens have the basics of life holds anyone back, in fact it gives me hope that we are still a human community and not a bunch of self serving individuals. We need to realize that there are people who need help and always will need help. We are not all born equal. We do not all have equal opportunity. Let's kill the myths here. Let's make sure that people can do the best they can with their resources and opportunities, and not penalize them because they are not as resourced or lucky as us.

Also don't take my story as some sort of "how I overcame" anthem. There were things that I had that helped me get where I got, and there were things we didn't have that made the path harder. Some of those things had to do with race, some didnt. Some had to do with economics, some didnt'. Some had to do with my parental resources, some didn't . My point is about education and its abiltity to succeed now with a huge influx of money, more good teachers, less bad teachers, and innovative school models is that there are a lot of different contributors of success or failure. The fact you are born black or to a single parent might by contributory, but these are not indicators of some inherent lack. ( Achievement gap starts at home. With 70% of black kids being born out of wedlock, 16% of them to an under 18 year old mother, what do you expect to happen at school?)

"I also encourage you to read Mr. Vaden's excellant editorial as well." says Gloria Faley

Absolutely, Ms. Faley! If I ever come across an excellent editorial written by Mr. Vaden, I will be sure to read it.

I encourage everyone to read the front page article in the Chapel Hill News today. Both of these students I know and they are quite wonderful. I also encourage you to read Mr. Vaden's excellant editorial as well.

Mark has taken a quote completely OUT of context. Here is Ms Hardebeck's quote in its original context (with a few elipses that describe indetail what the sign is GENERALLY used for):

"The Chapel Hill Herald ran aphoto on Feb. 6, 2004 that showed a quote attributed to George W. Bush. The quote, "Education is not my top priority," was placed by students on the ouside student government bulletin board, which faces the student parking lot at Chapel Hill High School.

The official school bulletin board, which is managed by the PTSA, did not bear the message.

Messages on the student bulletin board are posted by the Student Governament Association (SGA). The SGA typicaly used the bulletin board to inform the student body of upcoming events....In this instance, the quote was posted as the first semster was ending, and the students said they intended to express relief that the stress of exams had ended.

Afer I learned about the posting of hte quote, I discussed the situation with the SGA faculty sponsor, and the students removed the quote. At the last School Governance Committee meeting, representatives from the Student Government Association apologized for any distress that was caused by the sign.

While we honor the right of free speech at CHapel Hill High School, we need to clarify that students, staff, parents, and the community are not at liberty to use school property to espouse a political point of view."

I will leave it to the readers (if there are still any!) of this thread to judge the quote IN CONTEXT.

Melanie See



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