In this excellent piece in the Ottawa Citizen, Eva Schacherl outlines the serious problems with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board’s decision (consultations still in progress) to close most of the Board’s grade 1 to 8 gifted classrooms.
As she rightly points out, the research does not support the idea that regular classroom accommodations for gifted students are sufficient. To this, I’d add that among giftedness researchers, the gold standard for most gifted students is congregated classes where these divergent thinkers can not only be challenged, but feel better understood in a group of their intellectual peers. And in this article in the Calgary Herald, we see some of the potential consequences of not properly accommodating gifted students. Here, the message is in clear accord with Schacherl’s concerns: “Nearly all teachers and parents of gifted students . . . consider congregated classrooms essential.”
The athletic metaphor Schacherl uses is just right. The opening paragraph alone tells the story.
“The school board is taking a new approach that’s going to be fairer to all students,” he says when you meet. “Johnny’s a star player on our school’s hockey team. But we’ve realized there aren’t enough girls playing hockey. And not everyone can try out – some parents can’t afford the equipment. So we’re doing away with the competitive hockey program. We think Johnny will get just as much out of regular gym class.” . . . “Our experts say athletically gifted kids do just as well whether or not they get to play at a competitive level.”
And if this would seem like folly with respect to star athletes, how is it appropriate for gifted students? Will it develop or stretch their abilities to be accommodated in a regular classroom? Do regular classroom teachers truly have the ability to accommodate the intellectual and emotional intensities of gifted students without taking time away from the other students in classrooms of 20, 25, or even 30+ students?
My hats off to the devoted, hardworking principals, teachers and floating Educational Assistants (EAs) who must implement decisions made at Board level. They often do their very best to make it work. The question remains, however: Does it?