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    #223340 - 10/06/15 12:47 PM Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy
    Kombre Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 03/10/14
    Posts: 34
    Hello all - I know a lot of folks here have tons of experience and insight on where to go with advocacy and I am hoping someone can offer advice on our family's situation.

    I have been advocating for more than a year for improvements to our school's gifted program/services, particularly in math instruction. I've also been advocating specifically for my kids, who are now in third grade. After limited success, I am wondering if/how I should continue to advocate or whether I should basically give up.

    Our school district is small and while it considers itself to be one of the best school systems in the country, it offers very little in the way of gifted education. In elementary, it's a pull-out model. There is no subject matter acceleration and classrooms are heterogeneously grouped with some clustering of a few gifted kids in each class. We have two tiers of gifted ID - Levels 1 and 2. Level 2 is higher and those kids go to small pull-out groups with the school's GT specialist in the areas of math and language arts. The specialist is a wonderful teacher and person but works within a framework that is not designed for kids at the top end. There is one GT specialist for three grades. The district has been identifying more and more kids as gifted each year, so that now, in my kids' grade about 50% of kids are id'd as gifted. About half of those kids are Level 2. Because the numbers are so high, each Level 2 kid now sees the specialist only for 45 minutes every 8 days, which is close to once every two weeks. (whereas it used to be that kids would go 2-4 times a week). The district does not want to hire additional GT specialists, from what I understand.

    I have been advocating (along with several other parents) for grouping kids by level for math instruction. The school used to do this but stopped a few years ago. The administration looked into it again over the summer (after we raised the issue) but they have apparently decided not to do it. I could not get any explanation why, other than that they would rather strengthen in-class differentiation.

    At the same time that I've been trying to make more systemic changes, I've advocated for something for my kids specifically. At the end of summer, the principal created a "Level 3" group consisting of a handful of kids (incl my two) (they are all in the same class by design this year). We were told that these kids are at a math level above all other students in the school, which goes from 2nd-5th grades. But the principal said that he will not allow them to go to a higher level math class. Instead, we were told, they would get accelerated math instruction in a small group with the GT specialist and in the regular classroom. We took this to mean that they would be getting truly differentiated instruction in math. It sounded great and I was excited for my kids, who have been dying to "do harder math."

    Turns out this was not true. Instead, they are seeing the GT specialist 3 times every 8 days and the other days they are in the regular classroom for math. (we have never been notified of this; I know only because I saw the schedules that were posted on each student's desk). So far in the regular classroom, they have either been doing what the rest of the class is doing (things they mastered three years ago) or they sit in the hallway outside class working on a packet of 200 math problems while the teacher teaches the rest of the class. Sometimes they get different homework. Again, I learned the above facts only from my kids. (This is not to bash their classroom teacher; I really like her but she is in a tough position and IMO too much is being asked of her).

    My question, finally, is - what should I do at this point? At the end of last year and over the summer, I spoke to the principal, the assistant superintendent, classroom teachers, gifted specialists. I joined the district's committee on gifted ed over a year ago but have not been able to make much progress there. I have recently started a parent advocacy group. No matter what I've done, the answer from the administration seems to be that in-class differentiation will solve everything...but that has not worked for my kids (and there are others in the same boat).

    Is it time to give up on this school district? Or do I have unrealistic expectations? What would you do?

    If you have read this far, thank you so much and I would love to hear your advice.


    Edited by Kombre (10/06/15 12:51 PM)

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    #223342 - 10/06/15 01:02 PM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: Kombre]
    Cookie Offline
    Member

    Registered: 05/28/14
    Posts: 599
    Sounds like your district has plenty of kids with acceptable high stakes test scores. My district and school could not afford to lose my kids score. I had currency with his score....and I had the ability to take his score away from them and homeschool.

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    #223346 - 10/06/15 01:33 PM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: spaghetti]
    Kombre Offline
    Junior Member

    Registered: 03/10/14
    Posts: 34
    Good questions.

    It is mostly math, though the lack of challenge extends to other areas as well. What I think is most harmful is that I already see signs of underachievement and my kids are not learning to work hard and struggle academically. They do not perceive school as a place for learning and ask why they get to learn over the summer, in camps, but not at school. This aspect has actually improved a bit so far this year. In the past, they would say they hated school. This year I have not heard them say that.

    Other options would include moving to a nearby district that has a much more robust GT program (e.g., self-contained GT classes). This would mean selling our house and buying another, but we wouldn't have to go far, as we live a few houses away from the district line. Not sure if private is an option but thinking about it (prefer public).

    I think one of the things that is bothering me is comparing the options in our district to the options in the district down the street and seeing how much more they offer.

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    #223348 - 10/06/15 01:47 PM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: Kombre]
    Dude Offline
    Member

    Registered: 10/04/11
    Posts: 2856
    My answer to the original question is, "when you've tried everything you can think of, the school/district has demonstrated that it isn't going to do anything significantly different, and/or the harm to my child reaches the point where no further patience is warranted."

    We reached that final breaking point with my DD's school system three separate times, and resorted to schooling at home. Each time she has returned to school with a different set of expectations... once because she was now old enough for their full GT pull-out program, again because we'd effected the grade skip they pointedly refused to consider. She's now homeschooling again, and we're considering re-enrolling her in public school when she's ready for middle school.

    Then again, we may not.

    Originally Posted By: Kombre
    I think one of the things that is bothering me is comparing the options in our district to the options in the district down the street and seeing how much more they offer.


    That might be an opening. Do the schools in the other district perform better on state testing? Some hints about how your district could learn from theirs might be motivating to administrators who are focused on state test results.

    But I caution you about moving to a new school district, because all is not always as it appears. We pulled my DD from public school twice from a district that offered daily GT pull-outs in math and language arts. It looked good on the surface, but her experience left a lot to be desired.

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    #223352 - 10/06/15 02:46 PM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: Kombre]
    polarbear Offline
    Member

    Registered: 09/29/11
    Posts: 3363
    Re when to give up on advocacy - there are many different times when it's "time" to give up - all based on your individual situation. I would recommend stopping for any of these reasons: you are advocating against a brick wall that will never change (the school/district doesn't want to hear from you and isn't going to change), you are spending so much time fighting/advocating that you are missing out on just being a parent, you are totally exhausted from it, or... your child is happy. There are some things I see as somewhat promising in your situation if you feel like continuing to advocate - the primary one being that your school has done *something* and seems to want to help, the issue you're having is the help they've offered isn't enough for your children. I think I'd go with something spaghetti mentioned - instead of focusing on what programs the district has, look at what can be done individually for your specific children. One idea that might work within the same school - let your kids do independent study math course during regular math instruction. I have no idea if that's something you'd think would work or that you'd even consider - it's just an example of how you might be able to think outside the box a bit, focus on your children's specific needs, and brainstorm other ways to solve the challenge for your family and your family only. Then propose that to the school, explaining why what is currently going on isn't working.

    I'm very risk-averse when it comes to considering moving just to change school districts. Perhaps it's just me, but even within my one school district I've found that experiences once you are actually enrolled in a school may be much different from what you think they will be based on reports from other parents and/or how a school advertises and promotes its program.

    Last question/thought - you said you don't want to consider private school. I also, a long time ago, didn't want to consider private school. We eventually pulled our kids out of public school simply because it wasn't working, and for us, sending them to a private school was the *best* thing we ever did for their education. Everyone's experience will be different, of course, as will each school - but the one thing I wanted to mention from our experience - not only was the new school a great choice in terms of academics/social/everything-child-related, one *huge* benefit that I hadn't anticipated was that I no longer had to beat my head against a brick wall advocating - if there was something that I felt my child needed, I was able to easily discuss it with the teachers and for the most part, the teachers were always willing to try to help. So I was now suddenly no longer in that position of wondering - how long should I stick with advocating.

    Good luck moving forward!

    polarbear

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    #223354 - 10/06/15 03:16 PM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: polarbear]
    eco21268 Offline
    Member

    Registered: 04/21/15
    Posts: 647
    Originally Posted By: polarbear
    Re when to give up on advocacy - there are many different times when it's "time" to give up - all based on your individual situation. I would recommend stopping for any of these reasons: you are advocating against a brick wall that will never change (the school/district doesn't want to hear from you and isn't going to change), you are spending so much time fighting/advocating that you are missing out on just being a parent, you are totally exhausted from it, or... your child is happy.

    Ditto this.

    I think also you don't necessarily have to "give up" but can simply take a break if needed. You're not marrying the idea--just stepping back a bit/for awhile.

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    #223356 - 10/06/15 04:59 PM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: Kombre]
    madeinuk Offline
    Member

    Registered: 03/18/13
    Posts: 1453
    Loc: NJ
    Almost from day 1 our DD has been advanced at least 2 grades above her school grade in Maths. I didn't even bother attempting to get the school to differentiate because honestly they cannot.

    They are typically under so much pressure to make silk purses out of sow's ears so to speak with the standardized testing that they haven't got the time to do a stellar job at that and look after the 1 child in the class that needs so much more but to the right of the line instead of the left.

    We used Singapore Maths, the SG Maths Challenge Problems, Zaccaro (too easy really) and an online game called Lure of the Labyrinth for K thru 5 Maths levels. After that we went to AoPS.

    I understand that AoPS now has something called Beast Academy for Primary Maths which gets good reviews. Were I in your shoes I would stop trying to stop the tide like the King Canute fable and just accept that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.

    Choose your battles and save your psychic reserves for the times when you have no alternatives - with Maths, at least, there are plenty of options outside of school - is what I would recommend. I mean, honestly, at primary levels - what exactly Is meeting the GT specialist really going to achieve that SG Maths or Beast Academy and later AoPS cannot?
    _________________________
    Become what you are

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    #223376 - 10/07/15 06:39 AM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: Kombre]
    blackcat Offline
    Member

    Registered: 05/23/13
    Posts: 2154
    So when they get the packet of 200 questions to do in the hallway or the different homework, is it the right level? If not, I would try to advocate for a different packet and different homework. I think that is probably the most that you are going to get of of that school and the question is whether it is still unacceptable. DS's last school, in second grade, sent him to do Khan Academy in the special ed room but he was never getting any direct instruction at the correct level at all, no one was checking or monitoring his work (other than me doing what I could) and he had no peers to work with. I appreciated the fact that they were willing to bend just a bit to do as much as they did, but there was no way that was going to work out long-term. We ended up changing schools (without moving) to a school that accelerated him 3 grade levels for math like it was no big deal. I was in awe. If you consider moving, call the other school district (or districts) and, without giving your name, ask what their poilicies are regarding acceleration.
    We did have our other kid in a self-contained program that involved giving advanced work for math. It looked good on paper and when the teachers gave a presentation but it ended up being a disaster, with all the kids working at their own pace. That is no better than sending a kid out in the hallway to work on their own. They did not make that clear. So programs that "sound" good may not actually be good. I think you need to talk to a lot of parents to get the true picture of what is going on, because I talked to a couple who had kids currently in the program, and they both told me it was fine. Meanwhile, other disgusted parents remove their kids. It's luck of the draw, depending on who you happen to talk to. I would have been so mad if we moved for that program--we would have been in for a rude awakening.

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    #223386 - 10/07/15 08:08 AM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: eco21268]
    HowlerKarma Offline
    Member

    Registered: 02/05/11
    Posts: 5181
    Originally Posted By: eco21268
    Originally Posted By: polarbear
    Re when to give up on advocacy - there are many different times when it's "time" to give up - all based on your individual situation. I would recommend stopping for any of these reasons: you are advocating against a brick wall that will never change (the school/district doesn't want to hear from you and isn't going to change), you are spending so much time fighting/advocating that you are missing out on just being a parent, you are totally exhausted from it, or... your child is happy.

    Ditto this.

    I think also you don't necessarily have to "give up" but can simply take a break if needed. You're not marrying the idea--just stepping back a bit/for awhile.




    Yes.


    I'll add to that list any situation in which the powers that be are actively placing your child in any situation that is harmful or dangerous as a result of that advocacy-- and that this situation appears that way not only to you, but to outsiders who have no skin in the game.

    What I mean by that is a situation in which your child is isolated from a social life as a result of the school subtly retaliating for your effort to advocate for his/her needs. That effectively says to you (as a parent and advocate); CHOOSE which of your child's basic needs to have met. It treats your child as a second-class person, and our kids sniff that out better than most do. It communicates to your child that there is something shameful and wrong about being the way that s/he is.

    Do NOT ask how I know this one-- but ignoring this one is bad, bad BAD news for the life lessons that it teaches and the personality quirks that it leaves behind.
    _________________________
    Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.

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    #223388 - 10/07/15 08:34 AM Re: Looking for advice on when to give up on advocacy [Re: Kombre]
    indigo Offline
    Member

    Registered: 04/27/13
    Posts: 4959
    Even while you take a break from advocating, you may wish to continue documenting events and incidents as they occur and/or as you become aware of them. This documentation would include dates and refer to work samples, assignments, etc. A private journal kept at home and used exclusively for education notes could contain the documentation.

    The parents in your group may also wish to coach your kids on developing and practicing self-advocacy skills.

    Unfortunately, retaliation happens. Here is a link to an old thread, Have you ever sensed "retaliation?"

    It may help parents to understand that in the current educational climate in US public schools, both school ratings/rankings and teacher evaluation/compensation are increasingly based on achieving equal outcomes for all. Therefore US public schools may be less concerned with helping gifted pupils achieve their potential and more concerned with closing achievement gaps and excellence gaps. Unfortunately, sometimes this is accomplished by capping the growth of the students at the top. Other threads discuss buzzwords for educational experiences and different grading strategies which may be utilized to accomplish this. While some of these may seem retaliatory, in general they are not personal but reflect the school has different goals than those aspired to by many gifted students and their families.

    Schools and parents may be considered to be working "at crossed purposes".

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