Challenging the Gifted Children

Source: EducationNext, Spring 2011

I asked Davidson teachers and staffers what lessons public schools could take away from the academy. Their answers struck me a lot like the idea of getting rid of seat-time laws: logical, good for kids, and political showstoppers.

• Allow youngsters to accelerate by subject. Colleen Harsin, the academy’s longtime director, proposed that a school group its core classes—hold all math classes during 2nd period, say; all English during 3rd—so students can move up or down according to their ability.

• Promote dual enrollment so youngsters can take classes in both elementary and middle school, middle and high school, high school and college. That may strain transportation budgets, but students will graduate sooner, offsetting the costs.

• Individualize learning. Davidson students each have a learning plan that’s refined during weekly meetings with their advisors, semester meetings with Garcia, and yearly what’s-next meetings with Harsin. That might strain a school of 2,000, but so do discipline problems caused by bored or out-of-their depth youngsters.

• Group students by ability, not age. “You can’t teach to the middle,” Ripley said. “To say we’re all at an Algebra 2 level just isn’t accurate.”

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