So you’ve got a bright elementary school kid who used to love school, but now says he’s so bored that he hates it. You’re sure that he’s not being challenged. You try talking to his teacher, but she says he’s doing just fine.
What should you do?
That was the premise behind a recent forum on gifted education at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville hosted by Joshua Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools. It’s one of four forums this spring; special education is the focus of an April 16 session at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown.
More than 350 parents, educators and school officials turned out for Thursday night’s session, billed as a panel discussion followed by small group discussions. The forum centered on the example of a first-grader who was bored in class and his mother’s attempts to solve the problem.
A panel of educators and experts offered their advice before audience members, seated at round tables, broke into their own discussions over issues concerning gifted education in MCPS schools.
Participants raised lots of issues, including the need for consistent and equitable services in all schools, worry about retaliation after advocating for a child, fatigue over fighting the same battle year after year, the importance of highly qualified teachers and effective instruction and the need for earlier identification programs, among others.
But back to our hypothetical parent. What should she do to help her child?
Ask lots of questions, panelists said.
Monique Felder, director of the MCPS Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction, said the mom needed to gather more information from her son and his teacher. “A child coming home and saying he’s bored doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bored. He may not like the genre he’s reading. He may not like what he’s doing,” Felder said. “She shouldn’t rush to judgment. She should get more info.”
Nancy Green, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, noted that parents have “got to build a partnership with the teacher from the beginning. As soon as it becomes destructive, it hurts your child.”
If the discussion at my table was any indication, those answers did not sit well with parents, who said they’ve tried talking with teachers and school officials. One thing was clear: These parents aren’t happy with Curriculum 2.0, the new elementary school curriculum implemented in kindergarten and first grade, mostly because it’s taken away accelerated math classes.
In fact, one parent said she’s paying for online courses for her son because he’s not getting the accelerated math he needs in school.
And a couple said they’ve signed a petition to continue advanced classes at their daughter’s school. “We hit the school hard,” the father said. But “we hit a brick wall. Our child is not getting the education she needs.”
Sandra Reece, principal of Bradley Hills Elementary School in Bethesda, explained that parents need to understand that Curriculum 2.0 is focused on building number sense in elementary school—a much different philosophy for MCPS.
“Sometimes children excel at computation, but when you ask them what they’re really doing, they can’t tell you,” she said. This curriculum emphasizes developing critical thinking skills and the teaching is “very different.”
And that presents a big challenge. “How do we know when they’re there?” Reece said. “Obviously, we’re not going to get it right this year or next year. We’re all kind of wading through water and it’s murky right now.’
Later, some parents said privately they’d been expecting a more direct discussion with Starr about the issues around access and equity in gifted education.
Starr took note that “it was distinctly unsatisfying to start a conversation and not finish it.”
“As educators, we wrestle with not knowing what the right answer is,” he said before repeating a favorite line, “We do not have a student learning problem, we have an adult learning problem.”
Afterward, Starr acknowledged the problems with Curriculum 2.0 and the concerns it has raised among parents of gifted kids.
“We know the implementation has been uneven,” he said. “You don’t hit a home run every time you get up to bat.”