[Paleopsych] WP: Leave No Gifted Child Behind

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Leave No Gifted Child Behind

I should not repeat all my criticisms of NCLB, which should be renamed Gifted 
Children Left Behind (GCLB). NCLB does Federalize education to an extent, but 
this is in reaction to the *nation-wide* lobbying of the teachers' unions. 
(Likewise for tort reform, which apparently went nowhere.) This is justifiable, 
I think. But it was handled poorly. The net effect of NCLB is to promote 
centralization at the State level, away from counties and school districts.

The situation is much worse than the Washington Post article has it. That
article simply dwelt on the opportunity cost: less will be spent on the
gifted than before, in order to capture Federal money. Less is being spent
on art and music, too, and for exactly the same reason.

What is more serious, but under the radar, is curriculum shift toward
teaching so that "adequate yearly progress" can be shown. This means
drill, drill, drill, discipline, discipline. The results of ddd,dd can be
easily measured on tests, now standardized at the State level. Before
NCLB, there was a general movement toward skills needed for the 21st
century, like critical thinking, a movement that was taking place more at
the school, district, and county level (each at its own pace, drawing from
the "particular knowledge of time and circumstance" (Hayek)).

That gradual movement has come to a halt, thanks to NCLB. What might have
beens are not noticed, except by a few oddballs like me. But it is the
most serious drawback of NCLB.

The article was very, very good in pointing out that nothing above
"proficient" matters. I wish Secretary Spellings will wake up and alter
NCLB to reward an increase in performance at levels above proficient. But
she'd have to convince President Bush about it, which will be very tricky.

At the Department's Christmas party, I gave Sec. Spellings a copy of Deane
and David Heller, _The Kennedy Cabinet: America's Men of Destiny_, a
paperback that came out the Summer after JFK was inaugurated in 1961. It
had chapters on each of the cabinet members of the New Frontier. I told
her that such a book could not be written today. She suggested I write one

I didn't get to talk with her further, but one of her advance men came up
to me afterwards to get my name. I told him that, such is our age, that
Bush simply has no authority at all and mentioned Robert Nisbet's
_Twilight of Authority_ (1975) to him. Kennedy commanded authority, just
for being President. And Nixon, as Watergate was unfolding, cautioned the
nation not to destroy the Presidency, as distinct from the President,
namely Nixon.

Those days are gone, whether permanently or as a matter of Strauss-Howe
generational cycles, I don't know. Clinton had no authority in this sense,
but he did not care. Bush does care. Reflecting on the matter afterwards,
I felt sorry, actually and truly sorry, for Bush. No, I don't like his
policies, I don't like the way he was conned by the neocons, but I think I
can see how he became increasingly isolated.

Bush wants authority and not in a small measure because he has redeemed
himself from alcoholism and gained a clear measure of understanding right
and wrong that comes with Christian redemption. (Clinton was also a
redeemed man, a huge source of his popularity. I sent a CHE piece on this
earlier, the best piece on why Bush got reelected I have come across.)

So Bush is surrounded by loyalists, those who share his absolutism and
most of the same absolutes. Most of the critics of NCLB come from the
left, and Secretary Spelling has said repeatedly that, while she will
allow administrative changes she will most definitely not allow any
watering down.

Bush, of course, loves this, and it would be incredible if Sec. Spellings
could get him to ask for major reforms in the law that do not look like
caving in to the education lobby. Immodestly, but I do know Public Choice
theory and understand Federalism, I might be the best one help Sec.
Spellings understand that weaseling out is not the only possible way to
reform NCLB and thence to convince President Bush.

But I have no voice. I think I'll write to her advance man, though. If
anything comes of it, I'll let this group know. I absolutely must not give
any hint that heredity is the reason why some children will inevitably be
left behind. My record of such self-restraint is not good.


By Susan Goodkin
Tuesday, December 27, 2005; A25

Conspicuously missing from the debate over the No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) Act is a discussion of how it has hurt many of our most capable
children. By forcing schools to focus their time and funding almost
entirely on bringing low-achieving students up to proficiency, NCLB
sacrifices the education of the gifted students who will become our
future biomedical researchers, computer engineers and other scientific

The drafters of this legislation didn't have to be rocket scientists
to foresee that it would harm high-performing students. The act's
laudable goal was to bring every child up to "proficiency" in language
arts and math, as measured by standardized tests, by 2014. But to
reach this goal, the act imposes increasingly draconian penalties on
schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" toward bringing
low-scoring students up to proficiency. While administrators and
teachers can lose their jobs for failing to improve the test scores of
low-performing students, they face no penalties for failing to meet
the needs of high-scoring students.

Given the act's incentives, teachers must contend with constant
pressure to focus their attention simply on bringing all students to
proficiency on grade-level standards. My district's elementary school
report card vividly illustrates the overriding interest in mere
proficiency. The highest "grade" a child can receive indicates only
that he or she "meets/exceeds the standard." The unmistakable message
to teachers -- and to students -- is that it makes no difference
whether a child barely meets the proficiency standard or far exceeds

Not surprisingly, with the entire curriculum geared to ensuring that
every last child reaches grade-level proficiency, there is precious
little attention paid to the many children who master the standards
early in the year and are ready to move on to more challenging work.
What are these children supposed to do while their teachers struggle
to help the lowest-performing students? Rather than acknowledging the
need to provide a more advanced curriculum for high-ability children,
some schools mask the problem by dishonestly grading students as below
proficiency until the final report card, regardless of their actual

Perhaps these schools, along with the drafters of NCLB, labor under
the misconception that gifted students will fare well academically
regardless of whether their special learning needs are met.
Ironically, included in the huge body of evidence disproving this
notion are my state's standardized test scores -- the very test scores
at the heart of the No Child Left Behind Act. Reflecting the schools'
inattention to high performers, they show that students achieving
"advanced" math scores early in elementary school all too frequently
regress to merely "proficient" scores by the end. In recent years the
percentage of California students scoring in the "advanced" math range
has declined by as much as half between second and fifth grade.

Many gifted students, of course, continue to shine on standardized
tests regardless of the level of instruction they receive. But whether
these gifted students -- who are capable of work far above their grade
level -- are being appropriately educated to develop their full
potential is not shown by looking at test scores measuring only their
grade-level mastery. Nor do test scores indicate whether these
students are being sufficiently challenged to maintain their academic
interest, an issue of particular concern in high school. Shockingly,
studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are

When high school faculty members face the prospect of losing their
jobs if low achievers do not attain proficiency, what percentage of
their resources will they devote to maintaining the academic interest
of high-level students? How much money will administrators allocate to
providing advanced courses? How many of the most experienced teachers
will teach honors, rather than remedial, classes?

Surely we can find a way to help low-achieving children reach
proficiency without neglecting the needs of our gifted learners. If we
continue to ignore gifted children, the NCLB may end up producing an
entire generation of merely proficient students -- a generation that
will end up working for the science leaders produced by other

The writer lives in Ventura, Calif., and is an advocate for the
education of gifted children.

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