Kids are taught from infancy that every person is special – that each child has his or her own talents and strengths to bring the world. Yet K-12 education policies tell a very different story by implementing blanket assessments and declarations that do not take the individuality of learning into account. How can today’s students be expected to recognize their strengths when they are all treated as one collective group by educators and policy makers?
The Obama administration has made it perfectly clear that plans to redesign the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act because it has “reinforced the wrong behaviors in attempting to strengthen public education.” The current version of the law, No Child Left Behind, is already five years past its reauthorization date and the Obama camp believes that the “pass-fail, one-size-fits-all” mandates deter full learning potentials by punishing students and schools that miss their goals. Any spirited argument of NCLB has those who enthusiastically agree, or vehemently disagree, with the President. What is not up for debate is that NCLB is outdated and does not adequately meet the needs of the American K-12 student population.
In 2010, the administration proposed a Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that addressed the problems with NCLB and also made recommendations for closing the achievement gap. There has been no official move by Congress to modify and authorize NCLB, so the administration has moved forward with a system of granting waivers to states, and even individual districts, that can come up with a better plan for addressing their own weaknesses in teaching and learning outcomes. NCLB has provisions that allow exactly what the President and his education advisors have done in the way of waivers, making it possible for schools to take control of their learning experiences to meet the needs of their unique student bodies.
A look at NCLB waivers
In 2011, President Obama said that his administration would grant NCLB waivers to specific states that provided rigorous plans to benefit K-12 learning in their communities. As of last week, all but nine U.S. states have been approved for these waivers, along with the District of Columbia and some districts in California. Many of the districts that have been approved for ESEA flexibility have a heightened teacher evaluation system in place that is meant to override Obama’s goal of 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Just this month eight individual California school districts were granted waivers with the idea that each one would create customized plans that take local influences into account. The eight districts banded together when the state of California decided against requesting ESEA flexibility for this school year.
Each NCLB waiver is different. For example, the Colorado Department of Education was approved for a waiver of the 14-day notice requirement to inform parents of public school choice in 2009, while in the same year Hawaii was given a one-year waiver of the requirement to spend 20 percent of its fiscal yearly spending on choice-related transportation. In the Colorado waiver documentation, the state agreed to still provide public school choice notices to improvement districts. In Hawaii’s application, the governing educational bodies of the state agreed to use the funds released by the waiver to fund specific student needs based on data. In all of the waiver requests, states were required to carefully craft their requests and provide a reasonable alternative.
The idea of individual states and districts asking for control over their student directives when it comes to achievement is a smart one that makes up for some of the flaws of NCLB. Every student population is different so one federal mandate regarding assessment can never work for every district, school or student. Even with the NCLB waivers, individual K-12 students are grouped together but at least the waiver makes specificity of assessment and teaching a little bit more possible.
Future of Educational Policy
Waivers are a step in the right direction when it comes to policy reform simply because they give states and districts a voice in the teaching, learning and assessments processes. Even a complete overhaul of NCLB would mean applying monotonous standards to a diverse K-12 student population, assuming that it included federal mandates again. Giving more power to individual districts, right down to specific schools, is really the right way to address the needs of custom student bodies. But would accountability suffer if there were less demands from the top?
What should be included in educational policy reform to truly benefit the next generation of K-12 students?
As mobile technology continues to steal the spotlight in K-12 classroom methodology, certain areas of study tend to be gravitating towards the trends more strongly. Last week an Education Market Research report found that 28 percent of class time for math-based courses is spent using digital tools or interacting with digital content. The report goes on to outline a strong shift towards digital teaching methods for math since 2009. While students’ positive response is one of the reasons mobile technology is rapidly gaining speed, EMR’s report says that educator enjoyment of the technology is also a contributing factor to its snowballing implementation.
The conversation about the benefits of mobile technology for students is constant but should there also be a discussion about educator preference? It seems the debate is always student-centric but for these students to excel, teachers need to thrive too. This means administrative plans beyond simply purchasing mobile devices, or implementing bring-your-device policies, that include teacher empowerment of the technology.
Mobile technology has potential to change the student-teacher dynamic for the better but only if implemented correctly. Here are a few ways I think all teachers can benefit from smart mobile technology use:
Anything that makes educators’ jobs a little easier, without sacrificing student achievement, benefits K-12 learning as a whole. The discussion of mobile technology in classrooms as it relates to students is vital but the teaching aspect matters a lot too. Schools need to provide resources for teachers to feel comfortable teaching though in mobile technology formats. This needs to happen in order for educators to really notice the positive impact it makes on their jobs.
In what ways will mobile technology positively change the teaching profession?
As the news headlines regarding the current U.S. economy continue to improve, there is one area that is still feeling the squeeze from the recession years: K-12 public school spending. A report this month from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 34 states are contributing less funding on a per student basis than they did prior to the recession years. Since states are responsible for 44 percent of total education funding in the U.S., these dismal numbers mean a continued crack down on school budgets despite an improving economy.
In practical terms, these findings make sense. Property taxes pay much of public education costs and that revenue source is still low. Overall, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that districts collected just over 2 percent lower on property taxes ending in March than in the year before. Furthering the problem is the fact that while states have been cut throat in reducing spending, they have not been as vigilant in raising revenue sources through taxes and fees.
Loss of federal aid to states is also a problem. Even if a state does not need emergency federal funds for specific education needs, they must use school money to cover the cost of natural disasters or other projects that are no longer receiving aid from the federal government.
In extreme cases, like in Philadelphia and Chicago, individual districts have had to tap into other money and reserves to cover the basics of public education in their areas. Take a look at some of the most-telling numbers from the CBPP report on school spending:
14. This is the number of consecutive quarters state revenues have increased, despite stagnant or reduced school spending.
1.3. This is the percent that state funding fell for elementary and secondary schools from last school year.
20. This is the percent that Oklahoma and Alabama have sliced on student spending since the recession began in 2008.
13. This is the number of states, including Wisconsin and California, that have cut school spending budgets by more than 10 percent since the recession began.
15. This represents the number of states that have lower school spending budgets than they did one year ago.
72. This is the amount in dollars that New Mexico increased its per student spending for the current school year. It may seem like a bright spot, but barely dents the $960+ the state has cut per student in just the past five years alone.
20,100. This is the number of teaching jobs that were added in August – but that figure is still over 320,000 less than education jobs in 2008.
12. This is the percent that funding to low-income Title I schools has decreased since 2010, from $17 billion to $15 billion.
11. This is the percent that special education funding has been slashed since 2010, from $13.5 billion to $12 billion.
57. This is the amount of administrators that believe they will need to reduce class sizes this school year to offset budget cuts.
16. This is the number of states that cut pre-K educational per student funding in the 2011 – 2012 school year and 27 had to reduce enrollment numbers.
What do the numbers all mean?
The fact that state revenues are on the upswing but K-12 spending is still at recession-levels is disheartening. It seems that a reprioritization needs to take place in the 34 states that are still in the red when it comes to per student spending today as opposed to 2008. Less state spending on education certainly affects the learning experience but it also impacts other areas of the economy. Unemployed teachers and administrators have less to pump back into the economy and the viscous cycle of K-12 underfunding is furthered.
If we cannot find the funding for our public schools how can we expect things like the achievement gap to close or high school graduation rates to rise? It was understandable that budgets had to be slashed when the bottom dropped out of the economy but now that we are in a more stable place, it is time to get back to funding what matters most: the education of our K-12 students.
Why do you think that per student spending is still falling?
In theory, parents and educators would do anything to keep students safe, whether those students are pre-Kindergartners or wrapping up a college career. Nothing is too outlandish or over-the-top when it comes to protecting our kids and young adults. Metal detectors, security cameras, more police presence in school hallways, gated campuses – they all work toward the end goal of sheltering students and their educators and protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens.
Emotions aside though – how much does school security really increase actual safety? And do school security efforts actually hinder the learning experience? It sounds good to taut the virtues of tighter policies on school campuses but is it all just empty rhetoric?
Recently the University of Kentucky came under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union for plans to install 2,000 security cameras on campus. Representatives at UK say the move is a response to the increasing randomness of school violence at all levels of the learning process and a way to better ensure student safety. The ACLU says it is a blatant violation of privacy.
I say it is money wasted because all the security cameras in the world would not have prevented the largest school tragedies of recent history, from Sandy Hook Elementary to the Virginia Tech massacre. Security cameras and other monitoring devices give us a false feeling of security and an actionable course when there are no answers to pointless questions.
While extreme, UK’s camera monitoring plans are in sync with what is happening in K-12 schools across the nation. In the 2009 – 2010 school year, 84 percent of high schools had security cameras for safety monitoring. Over half of all middle and elementary schools had them too, with 73 and 51 percent respectively. Despite this, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the percentage of high schools with controlled access to school buildings during normal hours is lower than that of middle and elementary students. Though not expressly stated in these findings, it would seem that in the case of high schools, cameras are more of a way to catch rule-breakers after the fact than a way to prevent violence and other criminal activities.
Students are not the only ones who are the subjects of safeguards like surveillance cameras. Teachers, administrators and other staff are also vital when it comes to putting school safety into place – and in the case of teachers, they are on the front lines of what is going on with students. Limited access to K-12 campuses is meant to protect outsiders from harming the many people who are supposed to be there. But what about student-versus-student violence, or student-versus-teacher physical altercations? In 2011, 12 percent of high schoolers reported being in a physical fight at school that year. Nearly 6 percent reported carrying a weapon, like a gun or knife, onto school property in the month preceding the survey. By the time a security camera picks up on the fact that a student has a knife or gun, is there really any timely way to prevent the inevitable.
Given the fact that state spending per student is lower than at the start of the recession, how much should schools shell out in the way of security costs? Perhaps the best investment we can make to safeguard our students and educators is in personal vigilance. Perhaps less reliance on so-called safety measures would lead to higher alertness.
What role should school security play on K-12 campuses, and should it be a financial priority?
Recently, President Obama made waves when he visited three college campuses and talked about plans to make higher education more affordable. His proposals include implementation of a rating system that would provide the general public with greater details about the total cost, graduation rates and alumni earnings of individual colleges and universities. Students choosing schools with higher ratings would have more access to Pell Grants and affordable loan programs. The plan is twofold in nature – first, getting more useful information into the hands of consumers and second, providing better affordability for young people who seek out higher education.
The rising cost of a college degree has been a concern of the Obama administration throughout both terms in the White House. College graduates in 2010 left their schools with an average of $26,000 in debt, leading to higher student loan debt in America than credit card debt. In order to reach his goal of leading the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020, Obama has been vocal about lowering the cost of the college process and providing more targeted, useful programs that address the needs of the economy. He has also called for more investments in community colleges and individual vigilance on the part of colleges to help rein in costs of higher education.
This new “college scorecard” proposal is just one more step in that direction. Like public K-12 schools, colleges would be held more accountable by the federal government and would be compared to each other through data that truly matters. Right now federal student aid is doled out mainly on college enrollment numbers, to the tune of $150 billion annually, and there is no accountability for that money. This plan would ensure that the schools benefitting students the most would be rewarded.
Numerous publications claim to have the perfect formula in place for ranking the “best colleges and universities” based on a variety of factors but none are officially sanctioned by the government. The President’s ranking plan would avoid the fluff of other rating systems and address the core of educational matters: cost, graduation success and chances for achievement in the career that follows. These are the real stats that all students, whether recent high school graduates or those returning to campus for the first time in a few decades, need to make informed decisions.
In terms of minority students, the college ranking plan is beneficial. Though minority college student numbers are rising, 61 percent of college students in 2010 were considered Caucasian in comparison to just 14 percent Black students, 13 percent Hispanic students and 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander students. Based on these statistics alone, minority students are at a disadvantage when it comes to attending and graduating from college. Every student situation is different but the cost of college and accompanying loan interest rates certainly play into the unbalanced collective college population.
A rankings system that effectively provides more grant money and more affordable loan options to students will make the dream of a college education a reality to more minorities. As more first-generation minorities attend colleges, choosing schools with high graduation rates (many of which likely have strong guidance policies in place) and good job placement will mean more career successes. Not only will the plan drive down individual costs of college attendance, but it will better ensure that those same students complete their college training and find work.
The time has arrived for colleges to be held more accountable to their consumers. A ranking system with federal oversight will certainly put the pressure on institutions of higher learning to perform well, benefitting attendees.
What do you think the college scorecard system should definitely include?
Students in urban schools tend to have stereotypes attached to them. Rather than see these students as individual learners, many urban kids and their schools are often thrown into the “lost cause” category. Problems like deteriorating buildings and overcrowding often become too overwhelming for reformers.
In a 2009 article in the Harvard Political Review, writers Tiffany Wen and Jyoti Jasrasaria discuss the “myths of urban education.” The article points out that many people are quick to label urban schools as lost causes without actually investigating individual issues or how they can be resolved. The authors also shed light on the juxtaposition of the basic American ideal that anyone from anywhere can make it big with some hard work and the reality of urban schools. If urban students are truly not at a disadvantage, per the American dream, then why do they graduate from high school at a rate of nearly 20 percent lower than their suburban counterparts?
Overcrowding as enemy
In an Education Week guest blog post, urban music teacher Mike Albertson said that “overcrowded classrooms are one of the most common qualities of urban schools.” He went on to say that the students themselves are not the actual problem in urban schools but that the overcrowded conditions are to blame for many perceived behavior issues and academic disengagement. More likely, it is a combination of high student-to-teacher ratios and behavior problems.
Studies have found a correlation between overcrowding and lower math and reading scores. Teachers also cite overcrowding as a definite contributor to student behavior problems. Too many kids in classrooms means too little individual instruction. It also means that academic time is spent dealing with issues that distract from education. Overcrowding is only one problem that contributes to urban student disadvantages but one that deserves the spotlight.
Bridging the Urban-Suburban Gap
As with all aspects of K-12 improvement, finding the answers to higher achievement for urban students is a complicated process. I believe that technology can work to teacher and student advantages though. The implications of mobile technology in K-12 classrooms are still being realized but one thing is certain: more individualized learning is now possible. In cases where overcrowding is detrimental to learning experiences, mobile technology can serve as a placeholder teacher in terms of directing students and keeping them engaged in learning when the physical teacher is unavailable.
More student guidance is also necessary. Statistics tell us that not only do urban students more often come from tumultuous home lives, but they are often punished more harshly for the same infractions than suburban peers. Over 68 percent of all incarcerated adult American men do not have a high school diploma.
Removal from school, while potentially the easiest short term solution, feeds the school-to-prison cycle that is built primarily in urban schools. Mentorship programs would go a long way toward directing urban students toward higher academic engagement and graduation rates. Many colleges have implemented mentorship programs for at-risk students, like first-generation college students, so why can’t K-12 schools do the same?
With budget cuts a perennial complaint, though, more money for K-12 mentorship initiatives is unlikely. The bottom line is that urban students need more individual attention in order for their academic outlooks to improve. Technology has the potential to reach a wider number of students but the human connection is what will have a lasting positive impact on urban students.
What is the key to urban school improvement?
There has been a lot written about the plight of federal workers who are currently furloughed because of the government shutdown that became official on October 1. If I stopped receiving my paycheck, I’d be angry too and certainly worried about my finances. But with all due respect to federal workers, there is another group of people who is suffering from the historic government lack of compromise: students.
I talk a lot about the way that mobile technology enhances instruction and how diversity in the classroom benefits every student. I still stand by my convictions in those regards but those learning advancements only work if students are actually in the classroom. Federally funded programs like Head Start have been forced to close their doors because of lack of funding under the shutdown.
In Florida alone, 19,000 3 and 4-year-old children have been impacted by Head Start programs closing their doors and nine other states are impacted too. Since 1965, the Head Start program has been a way for children from poor homes to get a jump on elementary learning with the hope that early academic immersion will blaze a trail for lifelong success. The abrupt halt to the program is not only jarring for parents who must fumble for backup child care but it means an unwelcome change in routine for the students.
A few days off from Head Start may not seem like a “big deal” to some citizens and may even seem trivial in comparison to the other shortfalls of the shutdown. That’s because many parents could find a trustworthy babysitter or a way to pay for one temporarily without it impacting their work schedule. That is often not the case with parents who take advantage of Head Start programs and are balancing a job or college coursework too. It is also easy for adults to take lightly what is being taught in pre-K classrooms around the nation – after all, how hard is it to learn ABCs and finger paint? In truth, the simple lessons of preschool make an incredible impact throughout life.
A study by the Ounce of Prevention Fund found that the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students begins as young as nine months of age. At-risk students who do not participate in guided early childhood education are 25 percent more likely to become high school dropouts and 70 percent more likely to face arrest following a violent crime. Studies have found that even short durations of time off school can negatively impact academic momentum, particularly in areas of literacy and especially the younger the child. The removal of funding from Head Start programs is more than a minor educational setback that can be fixed later; it has potential to derail the educational strides of at-risk students.
Head Start programs are in the immediate crossfire but K-12 education could also face some financial problems if the shutdown lasts for longer than one week. Nearly 90 percent of the employees at the U.S. Department of Education are furloughed and so any state applications that seek federal funding, like for Title I programming, are on hold. Access to information on sites like the National Center for Education Statistics is also at a standstill as the site is not operating during the shutdown.
There are a lot of reasons to end the government shutdown and some of them are too small to speak up for themselves. As educators, we should be demanding a solution in order to give all of our students the academic opportunities we say they all deserve. One day away from this pursuit is a day too many.
What are some other ramifications of the government shutdown that could impact K-12 education?
Many educators view standardized testing as a necessary evil of the improvement process. More cynical educators view it as a completely useless process that is never a true indicator of what students actually know. Proponents of K-12 assessments say that without them, there is no adequate way to enforce educator accountability.
Love it or hate it, K-12 standardized testing is not going away. It is just changing.
The No Child Left Behind Act uses standardized testing results to determine progress and outline areas for improvement in K-12 schools. This standards-based approach to education reform has often been attacked for its disconnection with what kids should really know and what they are simply required to regurgitate for the sake of a test.
The Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education released a report in March that outlined steps needed to make K-12 assessments vehicles “providing timely and valuable information” to both students and educators. Among the recommendations made by the 30-member commission was a permanent council to evaluate standardized testing be created. The report also calls for a 10-year research study intended to strengthen “the capacity of the U.S. assessment enterprise.” The Gordon Commission Report admits that the assessments of the future are not yet in existence but that their creation needs to begin now.
Commission chairman Dr. Edmund W. Gordon said:
“Technologies have empowered individuals in multiple ways -- enabling them to express themselves, gather information easily, make informed choices, and organize themselves into networks for a variety of purposes. New assessments -- both external and internal to classroom use -- must fit into this landscape of the future."
Based on the report, and what we know as educators, what do future standardized tests need to include to be successful in an increasingly digital classroom?
• More assessment of HOW to obtain knowledge. Dr. Gordon touched on this point when he mentioned access to information and networking. There is more information available than can ever possibly be processed, so the way that this and future generations of students make informed decisions matters more than ever. Assessments of the future will need to ask more questions about the how of knowledge and not just focus on the what.
• Higher levels of digital access. All facets of education are being impacted by the rapid evolution of technology and assessments are not immune. Not only should educators be able to tap into digital resources for assessment preparation, but students should be able to take assessments using the technology that makes them most comfortable. Filling in bubbles with number two pencils needs to become an assessment relic, replaced by convenient, streamlined technology options.
• More critical thinking options. This goes hand-in-hand with how to obtain knowledge, but takes it a step further. Everyone can agree that applied knowledge is crucial to the learning process so standardized tests need to do better when measuring it. Every child needs to be able to articulate what he or she knows, not just repeat it.
Assessments in K-12 learning are sure to change in the next five years, and beyond, in order to adapt to changing classrooms. There will never be a perfect formula for assessment, but educators should never tire trying to make standardized testing as applicable and helpful as possible.
What changes would you like to see in K-12 assessments?
As a student-centered instructional method, culturally responsive instruction is focused on catering to the social, emotional, and educational needs of the student. Among the first goals that teachers must achieve in order to successfully create a culturally responsive environment is convincing their students that they genuinely care about their cultural, emotional, and intellectual needs. There are several strategies that you can use to build trusting relationships with diverse students. These strategies include such subtle gestures as being sure to learn the proper pronunciation of student names and expressing interest in the etymology of interesting and diverse names.
Also you can have your student’s research and share information about their ethnic background as a means of fostering a trusting relationship with both fellow classmates. Students are encouraged to analyze and celebrate differences in traditions, beliefs, and social behaviors. It is of note that this task helps European-American students realize that their beliefs and traditions constitute a culture as well, which is a necessary breakthrough in the development of a truly culturally responsive classroom.
Another important requirement for creating a nurturing environment for students is reducing the power differential between the instructor and students. Students in an authoritarian classroom may sometimes display negative behaviors as a result of a perceived sense of social injustice; in the culturally diverse classroom, the teacher thus acts more like a facilitator than an instructor. Providing students with questionnaires about what they find to be interesting or important provides them with a measure of power over what they get to learn and provides them with greater intrinsic motivation and connectedness to the material. Allowing students to bring in their own reading material and present it to the class provides them with an opportunity to both interact with and share stories, thoughts, and ideas that are important to their cultural and social perspective.
Maintaining a strict level of sensitivity to language concerns is another important component of a culturally responsive classroom. In traditional classrooms, students who are not native English speakers often feel marginalized, lost, and pressured into discarding their original language in favor of English. In a culturally responsive classroom, diversity of language is celebrated and the level of instructional materials provided to non-native speakers are tailored to their level of English fluency. Accompanying materials should be provided in the student’s primary language and the student should be encouraged to master English.
High expectations for student performance form the core of the motivational techniques used in culturally responsive instruction. Given that culturally responsive instruction is a student-centered philosophy, it should come as no surprise that expectations for achievement are determined and assigned individually for each student. Students don’t receive lavish praise for simple tasks but do receive praise in proportion to their accomplishments. When expectations are not met then encouragement is the primary emotional currency used by the educator. If a student is not completing her work, then one should engage the student positively and help guide the student toward explaining how to complete the initial steps that need to be done to complete a given assignment or task. Once the student has successfully performed the initial steps for successful learning it will boost his sense of efficacy and help facilitate future learning attempts.
While popular among educators in traditional classrooms, reward systems should be considered with caution in a culturally responsive setting. Reward systems can sometimes be useful for convincing unmotivated students to perform tasks in order to get a reward (and hopefully learn something in the process) but they have the undesirable long-term side effect of diminishing intrinsic motivation for learning. This effect is particularly strong for students who were already intrinsically motivated to learn before shifting their focus toward earning rewards. Given that one of the prime goals of culturally responsive instruction is to motivate students to become active participants in their learning, caution and forethought should be used before deciding to introduce a reward system into the equation.
Another potent method for helping students become active participants in learning is to reframe the concept of testing. While testing is usually associated with grades (and therefore stress) in traditional classrooms, in a culturally responsive classroom frequent non-graded tests can be used to provide frequent progress checks and ensure that students don’t fall behind on required material. Teaching students to self-test while learning new information will help them better remember and use what they’ve learned in class and will help them realize on their own when they need to study a topic in greater depth.
The “talented and gifted” label is one bestowed upon the brightest, and most advanced, students. Beginning in early elementary grades, TAG programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives. Though the ideology is sound, the reality is often a monotone, unattractive look at contemporary American public schools.
Earlier this year the New York Times visited Public School 163 located on the Upper West Side of the city to take a look at the disparities caused by the talented and gifted program there. This is what it looked like: a bunch of white kids on the “gifted” side of the school, and mainly children of color on the general or special education side. Teachers interviewed for the story admitted that it looked bad but did not seem to have a way to solve the problem. Just under a third of the talented students at P.S. 163 are identified as black or Hispanic – combined. Only 18 percent of the students in the average-student classes are white. Though unintentional, a modern-day segregation is taking place at New York City’s P.S. 163 and in other district schools across the country that employ talented and gifted programs.
Clearly white children are not always more gifted, so the selection process and operational procedures for such programs must be flawed. Education experts have long said that white, middle-to-high class students are at an advantage when it comes to standardized testing. Is the same true for talented and gifted programs? In both cases, the actual academics are not in question, but rather the methods of delivering learning and analyzing student performance are challenged.
Many TAG programs start around second or third grade. Though these students are old enough to read and write, the intricacies of an application for a TAG program are certainly the responsibility of parents. For working class parents, time is of a premium and even a one-page talented and gifted program application may rank low on a family priority list. To other parents that lack a college education, or even a high school diploma, the application process may seem foreign, uncomfortable and even cryptic. I use this example of the application process to highlight a larger point: the lack of minority students in talented and gifted programs oftentimes reflects poor communication between the parent and the school district. Better guidance for parents regarding the application process and program expectations can lead to more diversity in student representation in TAG initiatives. Parental comprehension is not a given thing; guidance through these programs for the benefit of the students is the responsibility of program administrators.
Parents are not the source of all the blame, however, when it comes to skewed numbers in talented and gifted programs. District schools need to find ways to better recognize different types of learning talent and look beyond the typical “gifted” student model. The CEC-TAG Diversity Award is a good example of thinking outside the box on minority inclusion in gifted programming. Established in 2010, the recognition goes to schools that look for innovative ways to include under-represented groups (read: blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans) in advanced K-12 programs. In addition, winning schools must be Title I certified. This national push to make talented and gifted programs better mirror the contemporary and ever-evolving student body as a whole is a step in the right direction. Real change happens on a smaller scale though, in individual districts, schools and TAG programs. That progress must start with understanding of the makeup of a particular student body and include innovative ways to include all students in TAG learning initiatives.