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'All the children are above average': Should schools separate gifted students?

Published: Thursday, June 19 2014 4:05 a.m. MDT

“A testing regime that is so focused on reading and math performance tends to distract attention from other talents that are important to the children, but also very important for our nation,” Hess said.

In a traditional classroom, he argued, the focus tilts heavily toward testing and accountability on the core-tested subjects. “It makes sense to at least create a haven where these kids can develop their gifts, rather than asking them to be patient in classrooms that are not geared to developing their talents.”

Resource demands

Potter acknowledges that the Renzulli approach — the differentiated classroom — may not be not easy to pull off. At the very least, she says, to do it properly teachers would need more resources and probably smaller class sizes.

But where resources are scarce, skeptics argue, teachers will have to make choices about how to spend their time and gifted kids will be left to drift.

“Of course, teachers should try to customize what different children need,” said Chester Finn, president of the Ohio-based Fordham Institute. But Finn is skeptical that teachers can effectively personalize instruction across enormous ability ranges. “When I taught social sciences, I had 150 kids. There was no way I was going to customize day in and day out around even 30 kids, let alone 100.”

Finn remains deeply skeptical that a differentiated classroom can address the needs of students of all skill levels without leading an exhausted teacher to focus on the middle segment.

And, Hess says, he knows whereof he speaks on the matter. “I failed out of AP calculus in high school,” he says. “If that teacher had held it up the class until I got it the rest of the class would have been harmed.”

Correction: The quote from Rick Hess about failing AP calculus was originally mistakenly attributed to someone else.

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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