My husband and I are parents of elementary school students in Chapel Hill. We are concerned about how the school district is handling enrichment education, including LEAP, which educates the top 1 percent at the expense of the rest of the student body.
Our children were receiving adequate gifted programming in the classroom. This is no longer the case. Each elementary school now has only one gifted specialist, who is responsible for the needs of the entire school. The number of teaching assistants has been cut, so the classroom teachers spend more time maintaining discipline and less time teaching. This is a disservice to all teachers and students. Our children, who previously loved school, no longer do because they are tired of watching the teacher maintain discipline, hearing what they were previously taught, and being unable to get their work done at school because of classmates’ disruptive behaviors.
Admission to LEAP depends on test scores. This puts extreme pressure on very young children to do well on tests. Parents can coach their children for the test, giving an advantage to higher-income and aggressive parents. Why does the small group of students with test scores in the 99th percentile need a different setting, while students in the 90-98 percent (a statistically insignificant difference) can have their needs met by differentiated classroom education?
This distinction makes bright students feel inferior, at a developmental stage when children are beginning to understand these distinctions (Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society). This means that the very existence of LEAP discriminates and hurts the self-esteem of children whose parents choose not to push them into LEAP. LEAP and all children would do well in the regular school population, with gifted/honors classes and extra credit activities for work that suits their talents.
Because CHCCS has no formal expectations of students who are above average but not in LEAP, these students are not being prepared to excel. In this town, where most parents completed college, this simply makes no sense.
As a result, some students lose their passion for school or never develop it. These students, who are not exposed to the more challenging work, can get lost in the system and develop anti-social behaviors. CHCCS has serious drug, alcohol and gang problems. The kids involved are bright, but were implicitly told at a young age they are not good enough (e.g., for LEAP) and then left to learn on their own, while the “1 percent” need LEAP services. We pay high taxes in Chapel Hill to give all our children a better education, and LEAP is discordant with educational democracy.
We believe that the district would be better served by eliminating LEAP, increasing gifted programming at individual schools, broadening the criteria for gifted to include students with above-average performance, and increasing the number of teaching assistants. This would allow above-average to gifted students to receive the enrichment that they need, without being separated from the rest of the student body, by having separate “honors” classes in the elementary and middle schools for those who would benefit from enrichment. Students would be placed in one or more of these classes based on their needs. More teaching assistants would help children at all levels.
A review of the Board of Education meeting minutes from the past few years indicates that we are not the only family concerned about this issue; it has been raised before. I hope that my fellow parents will take these concerns seriously. All our students should have the opportunity to excel in the areas where they have the abilities and not be “left behind.”
Alice De Bellis lives in Chapel Hill and blogs at onethinganother.blogspot.com.