John F. Crone: ‘Equal access’ to a lesser education?
I feel I must weigh in on the current debate over “equal access” education. I have two children in the school district and I am very involved in their education. Among other volunteer opportunities, I served on the committee that wrote our state’s new social studies standards, and I conduct undergraduate admissions interviews for the University of Chicago (85 Nobel Prize winners).
First, let us define the problem. According to equal access proponents, our school district was not adequately preparing those students who were not on the “honors track.” To date, I have not heard complaints about the way the honors track prepared our top students. It seems as though the honors program was working the way it was intended, it was at the other levels that our district was having problems. Yet, our district’s answer is not to fix what’s broken but to change what works. Apparently, equal access means our top students will have equal access to a lesser education.
Aside from the district’s approach to the change, I have serious doubts about the way the district will implement the change. Our elementary schools used to provide separate instruction for gifted and talented students, but they have recently moved to a mainstream model of education. It is up to the classroom teachers to identify and challenge the gifted students within the confines of the general classroom. I recently saw the CSAP scores from a current fourth grader at SCE. This student had perfect scores in eight of the 13 areas tested. Yet, the report sent to his parents only identified the areas where his scores were less than perfect. The plan for this child’s education doesn’t address areas where he excels. Because this child excels at academics, our district has made the determination that he does not have the right to an education in all areas. The only conclusion I can come to is that the district feels he has learned all that there is to teach in writing and math. Why devote resources to our top students? What good is learning to an intelligent kid?
The problems with the approach and implementation of equal access are exasperated by the failure to outline specific goals and outcomes for the project. I can certainly address one potential outcome: college admissions. When top tier schools like Chicago, Harvard, Yale and Stanford assess their admissions classes, the first thing they look at is the student’s school records to see if they are prepared for the academic rigor they will experience in the classroom. Admissions departments want to see if the student took classes that “enriched and challenged” them. When colleges look at students that did not have an opportunity to take an honors curriculum, these students are at a severe disadvantage. Often the only way these students gain admittance to our top universities is to have outside or supplemental activities that demonstrate the student’s ability to face strenuous academic challenges. Short story: when a college compares an Aspen student and a Summit student, the Summit student will have to have done more outside work just to be put on equal footing with the Aspen student. We are putting our own children at a disadvantage.
Our school district does not need to settle. We do not have to pay for the improvement of some of our children’s education with the degradation of their friends’ educations. We do not prepare our children for the challenges that they will face by showing them how to lower the bar. We need to show them how to use their skills and talents to succeed at whatever they choose. It is not No Child Left Behind his or her peers; it should be No Child Left Behind his or her potential.
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