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Stephen Henderson in the Detroit Free Press

April 25, 2011

Stephen Henderson in the Detroit Free Press has been writing an excellent series of columns regarding the state of education in Michigan today.  I recommend reading his columns:

State must radically raise school standards

Devise better ways to reward, improve and discipline teachers

Tests and beyond — state must choose smarter ways to measure school success

While none of his columns are aimed at gifted learning, implementation of his suggestions could benefit advanced and gifted students.

First, having better ways to reward, improve, and discipline teachers could help shift a very important mindset.  In “Why is Advanced and Gifted Education Necessary?“, I talk about the difference between egalitarianism of results versus egalitarianism of opportunity.  Current teacher contracts have egalitarianism of results.  No matter if you are excellent or atrocious, hardworking or hardly work, your results in salary are the same.  At the end of the day, everyone gets a B!  By focusing on a “value-added” methodology instead, teachers who excel can be rewarded and teachers that fail can be dismissed.  This is egalitarianism of opportunity.  Hopefully, this change will be passed on to the students.  Instead of focusing on getting every third grader to read at a third grade level regardless of whether they entered with kindergarten or fifth grade reading skills (egalitarianism of results), egalitarianism of opportunity for teachers should lead to egalitarianism of opportunity for students, where each student asked to succeed at the best level one can achieve with the skills and resources he or she has.  There will be an emphasis on how much value was added to a child’s education over the course of a year.

Egalitarianism of opportunity has made many athletic programs into great successes.  An excellent coach is financially rewarded.  But an excellent coach sees the importance of adding value to each player and developing each player’s skills.  A track star who can run the 1500 meter in 3:50 isn’t just congratulated with a medal and sent on his way or told to jog at the pace of the average runner, but the coach works with him to improve his performance even more.  And an excellent coach helps even the average and struggling athletes succeed.  These coaches are rightly rewarded, but a coach that can’t add value to his team members is dismissed.  Why can’t these lessons be applied to the classroom?

Second, Henderson also writes about raising school standards and better ways of measuring school success.  By moving off of the MEAP to a standard where the gifted learner’s contribution is valued, it becomes in the district’s, school’s, and teacher’s best interest to provide learning opportunities to for the advanced and gifted student.  Educating a gifted student who will already pass the MEAP provides little financial reward to the district and is one reason many districts do not implement gifted programs.  But when your gifted students can help raise the average ACT for a district, it becomes more important to provide them programs that will increase their abilities and intellectually stimulate them enough that they won’t drop out.

I applaud Mr. Henderson for taking what may be controversial views in the educational community while he supports needed changes for the students in Michigan.  I hope that he will examine raising standards for gifted students in a future column.

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