Click on the post for Wisconsin State Journal Columnist Chris Rickert's take on AP programming. Anybody who knows me will tell you I am passionate about this topic. So much so that I wrote a ten page report for the Board in 2009 on funding for Gifted and Talented staff resources in our district as compared to that for Special Education. My premise was that GT students were special needs students and deserved equal consideration even if there wasn't a law with no funding to protect them.
The level of dedicated funding for Gifted and Talented (GT) programming in our district is abysmal. GT students comprise approximately 15% of the student body on average and, coincidentally, in our district as well. Our district serves about the same percentage of special needs students as well. At the time of my report there was only two full-time equivalent (FTE) positions dedicated to GT education in our district serving 266 students. To contrast, there were 52.3 FTE staff dedicated to special education serving 300 students.
The educational buzzword these days to solve this problem is Differentiated Instruction (DI). The comments on Chris Rickert's column indicate to me that the general public has not experienced successful differentiated instruction at this time. It's a mystery to me how teachers are supposed to successfully teach students whose skills can realistically span 3 or 4 or more grade levels. More power to them if they can, but this is expecting an awful lot from a bunch of teachers who are already stretched taut or past the breaking point.
But Chris Rickert struck one note that hit home with me. What's wrong with having high expectations OF EVERYONE? Once my oldest was in high school, she was on the AP English track. But some of her friends took the "regular" English classes. These are bright kids who weren't necessarily as passionate about language arts as my daughter. But the books they read could hardly be considered literature. I would even classify some of it as tripe. After I learned this, I informed my poor younger kid that they will be taking AP English in high school and don't even consider otherwise. Every kid should have the priviledge of reading "the classics." They help form a cultural norm and, especially living in white bread Evansville, can broaden horizons and give world views that kids might not otherwise have the opportunity to have. Classics are thought provoking and fabulous. That's why they're called classics. So Rickert is right in the sense that every child deserves exposure to AP curriculum if the standard curriculum is tripe. Perhaps the expectation of the teacher would change based on the incoming level of student, which again would rely heavily on a teacher skilled in DI.
What do you think? Can teachers successfully navigate teaching students of such a wide variety of skills in one classroom? Does taking AP classes diminish a student's opportunity to socialize with a diverse population? Doesn't gym, art, health and all those other graduation requirements count in the socialization spectrum? I'd be curious to see what Evanston Illinois student achievement looks like in a few years and whether students there believe they are prepared for college under the new curriculum.