I know there are some excellent public schools. I went to schools in Huntsville, Alabama where students excelled all around me, and 80% of my senior class went on to four-year universities, some of them the most selective in the country. I know it is possible.
We were fortunate to live in a community where families emphasized education, and the best teachers in a technology town taught at our school. And expected a whole lot out of us,
But most schools are not like that. I can see now that public school systems are focused on competency, not excellence. They set minimum goals, rather than feed unlimited potential. My daughters first grade teacher signs her emails with the tagline, "Failure is not an option." My sons second grade class spent a month on "spiral review" to make sure as many kids as possible made passing scores on the California Standards Test.
My son made a perfect score on the language section, and the principal stopped me in the hallway to congratulate Jimmy and say they're proud of him. I, on the other hand, am troubled by the news. He spent a month doing busy work. Instead of working and learning and reaching for more complex concepts.
Here in California, they test kids for the GATE program in second grade. Gifted and Talented Education, that is. Now that my son is in 3rd grade, we just today received the official notice the he "has qualified for . . . enrichment opportunities." It says we may contact his teacher or principal for information on opportunities at our school.
I have already heard from other parents and his teacher that there really are no "enrichment opportunities" at his school right now. There used to be a parent volunteer who helped organized some . . . "enrichment" activities. But this year there is no plan for that. I will be meeting with the principal, and will have to calm down pull my thoughts together to figure out what I am going to ask, because this is clearly an emotional issue for me.
Another teacher I know told me that I need to ask how my son's teacher is "differentiating instruction" for him. I can only imagine how warmly teachers welcome that request for students who are ahead of the curve already.
And I should probably stop now, because I want to grumble about inclusion vs. tracking, and the pragmatism behind grouping kids in a classroom of students with widely varying needs and abilities. There are benefits, yes, but also disadvantages.
In college, my Introduction to Education professor spent a lot of time discussing natural "dilemmas" in education. A major one being "Equality vs. Excellence." When schools push hard for everyone to be equal, they stunt the potential to excel beyond the standard.
Indeed, if a kid masters the standards quickly, that's one less kid to worry about.
If a kid has lots of potential, they might get a form letter saying they "qualify" for "enrichment opportunities."
But not for an education that reaches for excellence.
Because in this country, where we have the freedom to excel, supposedly unlimited opportunity for achievement and success, the standard 99% does not like the 1% that reaches for more.
Why should we spend public money, and public educator's time and energy, on excelling beyond the standard?
If excellence and potential were tangible, I have no doubt there would be many decrying it's injustice, the "excellence inequalty", the gap between the supersmart and the average. And demanding someone do something about it.
But they wouldn't have to. It's already been done. It's todays standards-based public education.