Monday, March 4, 2013

Breaks Gender Stereotypes, My Ass

Thing One is a bright kid, especially in math and science.  Yes, I am his mother and therefore more than slightly prejudiced on the subject, but the thing speaks for itself.  He's been in his school's Talented & Gifted program (TAG) since kindergarten.  For the record, this post is not intended to be a brag session on my kid...I'm just setting the scene for a rant!

One of the subjects my subcommittee of our school board deals with is curriculum.  If I have to hear the phrase "best practices" in this context one more time, I may well scream, but courtesy of this exposure, I happen to know what the best practices are for TAG.  I also know that we haven't been following them since Thing One was in kindergarten, for one reason or another.  That year was phenomenal.  Since then, not so much.

Part of the TAG experience is that every so often, the kids need to be reevaluated to see if they still qualify.  Thing One's membership in this club is currently up for renewal.  Left up to me, I'd consider yanking him and being done with it.  Although he definitely belongs there, I'm not sure that what he's getting out of it justifies the class he misses to be there.  But he's old enough to make the decision, and he wants to stay.  His reasons are primarily social, but fair enough.  His call, at least as long as he manages to keep all the other balls he's juggling in the air too.


Now we have to jump through all the re-eval hoops.  He has to take a couple of standardized tests for math and language arts.  The powers that be will look at his state assessment results from last year.  His teachers will weigh in.  He has to do an individual project.  And there is a required parental assessment, the subject of today's steam-venting.

I have two major issues with the parental assessment.

First, what is the incentive to be honest?  Assuming that you actually want your child to be in the program, why in the world would you ding your own child in your assessment, even where the child truly deserves to be dinged, when your evaluation carries the same weight as all of the others and could be the deciding factor in keeping him or her out of the program?

Second, and more fundamentally, the assessment questions all relate to how, in your opinion, your child compares to his peers in seven areas, with multiple questions in each.  Five areas are academic (math, science, etc) and the final two are leadership and creativity.  Now I ask you: how am I supposed to know how my son compares to his peers in these areas, particularly the first five?  I'm not in the classroom.  I don't see the other children's work.  I don't hear the questions they ask.  I don't know what their knowledge base might be.  I have no meaningful basis for judgment whatsoever.  Complicating things further, most of Thing One's closest friends happen to be other TAG kids, so those are the ones I know best.  Am I comparing Thing One to these peers, or his class at large?  Those would yield two different sets of answers on this assessment.

Himself and I did the assessment a few days ago, because we had to.  We got through most of it without too much trouble.  But then we got to the Creativity section: not Thing One's strongest suit, to be sure.  But one of the questions in that area was so freaking ridiculous that I just have to share it here.

On a scale of one to four, four being highest (a score of four meaning that your child displays this behavior to a level far beyond the level expected of a "typical" peer, whatever that is):  

Breaks Gender Stereotypes.

Any teachers who may be reading this: does the breaking of gender stereotypes really have anything to do with creativity?  And even if it does, does this mean that to score a four on this question, my son would have to be creative in a far more female way (again whatever *that* means) than his peers?  What a load of PC codswallop.  I actually wrote that I thought it was a ridiculous question right on the evaluation form.

We'll see if he gets back in.  It will be interesting...



  1. Sooo ... much ... to ... say.

    I get the impression that your schools are places where parents are very involved, and I can imagine the tantrums of many if they did NOT get to evaluate their younguns.

    I think with the gender stereotypes, it's to the extreme - does Thing One only run around with a gun and grunt? No, really. Or can he also play in other ways, some less Arnold Schwarzeneggeresque. You probably have very expansive gender ideas, but many people do not. And i have seen definite correlations between ability to do different kinds of play (like role playing different characters and not being very strictly limited) and intelligence in children.

  2. NOLA: I hoped you'd weigh in on this with your teacher perspective! My kids are in a public school, but one with an educated and relatively affluent (and generally very involved) parent base. Does it make me an abnormal parent that I trust the teacher's judgment more than my own on this? :) Your comment relating gender roles to creative play makes a lot of sense...I was thinking more with respect to art. He owns no guns other than a water gun for the pool and isn't into shoot-em-up games on the computer either, so I guess he does break the worst of the gender stereotypes!

  3. You know, I always preferred teaching in schools with less-involved parents because parents could suck all my time and energy. I would rather have little murderers (I'm not exaggerating) than constant parent dictates. Of course I could always impress the parents that I really did know what I'm doing, but some are just meddlers.

    Maybe this is the wrong attitude and I should appreciate how much they care about their kids - but there are more effective ways to care about your kids than to second guess their teachers. And most of the parents really involved are INSANE. Like the mother shrieking at her daughter to speak more quietly and ripping up all of her daughter's homework because the penmanship was not perfect. ("Legible is fine to me." "No! You may not accept anything less than perfect from her!" Um, sure, you crazy lady.)

    I think you're an abnormal parent in a GOOD way. If you disagreed with the teachers I'm sure you'd speak up, but why try to micromanage them?

    I also will throw out this: no school I was a teacher in regularly reevaluated kids for TAG programs - it was more of a once you were in, you were in - but VERY few children were truly in need of differentiated instruction - most were just kids with home advantages who were bright enough. And I quit TAG myself as a kid after just a couple of years because (I know now as somebody with training in this) it wasn't really enrichment, and I actually was able to modify my regular classes better (it made me an overachiever, but I didn't care what people thought of me).

    And I think if Thing One likes it for social reasons, that's a totally valid reason. Especially because you really encourage your kids to get to know people who are very different from them, too.

  4. I'm not one for micromanaging. God knows I couldn't do their jobs, either! Not enough patience. If someone messes with my kid I'll be in there like Mama Bear, but I think the school has done well by my kids so far and my involvement is purely at the parent helper/school board level. There are some nuts here, yeah, but not a staggering number.

    If there were no TAG, Thing One would do just fine. Which is why, as a school board member in these lean budget years, I am more concerned about $ going to other things like intervention and social worker resources and special ed preferentially. The other end of the spectrum needs more resources than he does, no question.

    Our principal is a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats sort philosophically. One consequence of this is that she deliberately separates the TAG kids when assigning homerooms, so TAG classes and recess are the only times these kids see each other during the day! But he gets along with pretty much everyone, and as far as I can tell, he hasn't really registered skin color or economic status yet. One of his best friends is both nonwhite and relatively disadvantaged and I've never heard him say a word on either topic...

  5. My philosophy is much like the principal's. I saw waaaay too much segregation happening unless it's deliberately thwarted.

    Sounds like Thing One has some pretty doggone good social intelligence, which I think is way more important than book smarts any day, and he's doing fine either way!

  6. Is there any value in your mind to the concept that clustering the TAG kids (or at least subsets of the TAG kids) allows them to bounce ideas off each other? There seem to be two very definite schools of thought on this. The second school of thought goes on to add that without the TAG kids in whichever classes lack them, the teachers there can target their lessons more specifically to the middle- and lower-end kids to help them. Interestingly, our principal does cluster special ed kids (I believe to make it easier to provide them services.)

  7. Overall, I'm very opposed to the clustering - in large part because TAG kids generally aren't any smarter than other kids, they just have more advantages. My "slow" kids often had way deeper and more creative ideas than my "TAG" kids, and them learning to speak to each other in their different ways and value that communication - I found that SOOOO much more valuable than the segregation.

    And about the "brain drain" from classes - also I find that a bunch of hookum. I've had classes of mixed abilities and more segregated, and everybody was much more successful with mixed abilities. I never had any problem targeting all of my 35 kids of widely different abilities, but I did have a problem not wanting to choke the everloving hell out of kids who have been told they're better and are therefore segregated.

    I know I'm not a normal teacher, but I'd like to see hard evidence that the segregation is really in anybody's best interests. Because beyond what I just said, it's really setting up a segregated future which is fundamentally anti-American.

    That said - I wouldn't be opposed to Thing One staying in TAG especially because of how the principal is cognizant of the potential problems. Sometimes it is fun to hang out with kids who perceive the world similarly. It just shouldn't be that way all the time.

  8. In our experience, the special ed clustering is a much bigger problem. It makes sense from an efficiency standpoint in a situation with limited resources, but when the special ed kids have behavioral issues, the classroom dynamic becomes suboptimal. There's only so much aides can do. We're having this issue with Thing Two...his issues are not behavioral but he has some classified kids with significant issues in his class (including one kid who attempted to strangle him in front of my horrified eyes last year.). And I also agree that if you look at the TAG population, at least in Thing One's class, there really is a very high correlation with the more advantaged population, so segregation would be a double whammy for the others.

  9. Also a double whammy for the advantaged. The best things in my life have come about due to people from less-privileged backgrounds. If I'd spent my life people who look and seem like me, it would be a miserable life indeed.

    Yeah, the SpEd clustering is an issue for sure. I'm a big fan of mainstreaming when it can be done well, but I've also seen kids really underserved by this model when teachers don't really have it together. And I'm sure there are good aides, but I was never blessed with one. My first year of teaching I kicked them all out and things got SO much better. But 35 kids and 8 IEPs on top of everything else (and that's just one class out of 5 or 6) - it's intense.

    Enjoy your meeting tonight!

    Sigh. It's all so complicated.


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