Okay so that wasn’t one of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, but maybe that’s because the concept hadn’t been fully developed yet. But things are changing.
Despite unprecedented financial pressures, three of the poorest cities in Connecticut will be redirecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in education funding to create special academies for a small group of their most gifted students.
In what might be called the most bizarre turn of events yet in Connecticut’s “education reform” movement, education reformers extraordinaire, Special Master Steven Adamowski and Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, are teaming up with the University of Connecticut’s Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development to create three Gifted and Talented Academies in New London, Windham and Bridgeport.
The purpose of the new schools will be to educate the “brightest young students” of those three cities. The new schools, which will be called Renzulli Academies, are named after UConn Professor Joe Renzulli, who is widely considered one of the world’s experts on developing programing for gifted students. According to the plan’s proponents, the new programs will be modeled after the existing Renzulli Academy in Hartford.
Each of the new schools will start with about 50 students and will expand, over time, to about 100 to 125 students.
According to media coverage, a $500,000 grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation will be split between the three cities to provide initial seed money; however the money will not be used to “sustain the program or build new schools.”
Therefore, in addition to the $166,000 each city will receive from the grant in the coming year, the three local school systems will be expected to use a “money follows the child” approach and dedicate another $350,000 or so in taxpayer funds to run the special schools. That amount will increase as the programs expand in the coming years.
Traditionally, rather than permanently pull “gifted” students out of their schools; supporters of gifted and talented education have urged that schools develop additional academic programing for those that are especially proficient in certain academic fields.
In this case, Renzulli is apparently pushing for a far more dramatic approach to support gifted and talented programing by actually removing the highest performing students from the existing local schools.
In a Hartford Courant article, Renzulli supported the move saying, “I think the superintendents in those districts are very courageous, because with so much going on and schools under so much pressure, it takes courage to do this for a very targeted group of students.”
Although the gifted students are being segregated out of their schools, New London’s Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer explained to the Day Newspaper of New London, “We’re very excited about the possibility to create a Renzulli Academy in New London…It’s a great chance to highlight and encourage the potential of the young people in New London.”
The paper went on to explain, “In the model academy in Hartford, classes include weekly enrichment clusters on topics that appeal to the teacher and students and stimulate investigation and creativity, making learning fun.”
Of course, the whole notion of pulling select public school children out of the broad-based public education system is an extremely troubling one and fraught with problems.
In New York City, for example, the NAACP has filed a major law suit against the City because its “high performance” schools, such as Stuyvesant High School, use entrance examines that effectively discriminate by blocking equal participation by Black and Latino students.
And while one of the three superintendents explains that test scores will be used to identify which students will transferred to the new Renzulli Academies, Connecticut’s State Department of Education has been clear that CMT (Connecticut Master Tests) should not be used for individual student placement decisions because of their level of inaccuracy in determining future individual performance, let alone the fact that the test results so correlate so significantly with student poverty, language barriers and special education disabilities.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the players in this initiative are absolutely and totally silent about the biggest issue of all; If the Renzulli teaching model works, and I’m sure it does knowing his level of expertise on the subject, the logical and appropriate public policy decision would be to insert Renzulli’s approach into more schools and provide a broader range of children, included those “most gifted,” with the benefits of curriculum that includes “enrichment clusters that stimulate investigation and creativity, making learning fun.”
The proposal coming forward would move us in exactly the wrong direction.
When all is said and done, segregating students, diverting scarce resources and creating new administrative structures is hardly the “reforms” that Connecticut’s children need or deserve.
Yesterday, fellow blogger and political activist Jonathan Kantrowitz took a look at the overall proposal in the context of Bridgeport, see the CT Post: http://blog.ctnews.com/kantrowitz/2013/02/26/gifted-and-talented-school-coming-to-john-winthrop/ and you can read more about the proposed Gifted and Talented Academies at the Courant: http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-renzulli-academy-0226-20130225,0,3871187.story and the Day: http://www.theday.com/article/20130221/NWS01/130229925/1018