What to look for in a gifted or classical program

December 11, 2009 at 11:48 am 16 comments

Well, now that I am working I am going to have to rely on the writings of other to make posts.  Today I offer up a great new comment from a reader who has made suggestions on what to look for in a gifted program but I think many of these are great guidance for assessing any school.

Of course the issue is that you’d need to do a lot of this homework before you even find out if your child has a remote chance of getting placed!  And to do everything on this list could make even the most obsessed parent crazy.  Finding people to talk to who attend the school is always your best bet since they can give you real insight into a lot of this stuff (and sometimes what you read on paper doesn’t reflect that feel/vibe of the school.)

I’ve put a few of my own notes with ** by them.

Thanks to reader CM for the great advice to parents!

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A SCHOOL:

A friend went to the school on a normal school day to observe; she didn’t make her decision only by attending their Open House.

Visit a few schools so you have something to compare it against. Ask a lot of questions:

-Is the school a happy, buzzy place?
-Are there parents around doing work in the office or library or lunchroom?
-IS THERE RECESS EVERY DAY, inside in inclement weather and outside otherwise?
-By how many years is the curriculum accelerated? Don’t be surprised but this varies a good deal among gifted regional centers.
-What language do they teach? Native speaker?
-How much homework does the principal and asst. principal think is typical for the primary grades and for the upper levels?
-Ask if they differentiate in their upper level math curriculum, i.e. do they test students for entry into either Algebra 1 or Pre-Algebra in 7th grade? Or must the entire class move on to taking Algebra in 7th grade? The latter approach happens when the school only has one math teacher for the upper levels, and they simply can’t differentiate. It’s obviously bad for a gifted student to be pushed into Algebra in 7th grade if s/he is not ready. So differentiation of the math curriculum is important. (** For neighborhood schools, I am guessing that many do not have their middle school curriculum totally buttoned up yet.  This will be one of the next frontiers to conquer for new CPS parents.)
-Does the administration allow parents in the school to do meaningful volunteering? Ask for examples. How many social gatherings does the school offer? Is there a PTA and Athletic Association? Are there subcommittees on the LSC? How many? How often does the LSC meet? -Check out the extracuriculars offered at all grade levels…. don’t assume if they mention tennis that it is available for all grades.
-Is there an after school program?
-You can ask the principal for the School Improvement Plan (SIPAA) to see what the administration and LSC have deterined are the important areas to improve. (** The SIPAA plan is on the cps website if you look up the school.  SIPAAs are done every 2 years so the current version may be out of date, especially if there is a new administration.)
-Compare the schools’ plans and budgets.  (**CPS budgets can be a nightmare to decipher.)
-Check out the motility rate on each school for the past 5 years — that’s the number of students who have left. It should be on the CPS website or you can send in a FOIA request. Parents are dying to get their kids in these schools, but if one has a much higher rate, it should be a concern. (**For neighborhood schools, mobility can be impacted by specific populations.  If a ‘hood is gentrifying quickly, unfortunately there can be high mobility if lower-income families are squeezed out of the local housing.)

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I’m now a CPS working parent Some resources for gifted/classical test “prep”

16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Y  |  December 11, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    The mobility rate is an interesting statistic since it can be affected by the housing stock in an area. A well-regarded school situated in an area with primarily rental units can have a high mobility rate, which is usually associated to poorer performing schools. BTW, the mobility rate doesn’t seem to appear anymore on the CPS school descriptions online.

  • 2. To y  |  December 13, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    It is on an exel spreadsheet on the cps rea website.

  • 3. chicago parent  |  December 14, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I think that this is an excellent checklist of things to look for. If I had only known — one crucial thing that I did not fully appreciate in my search for the perfect gifted/classical school was the social element. Kids need to have fun!!! I would add to the recess requirement — make sure that there is 30-40 minutes of recess every day! Not just 15 minutes!!! This is so, so imporant since recess is not only the only time kids can play but also the main time that they make friends which is very important since these schools are commuter schools. Is there a uniform requrement? DING. No peanut butter? Ding again, 10 minutes for lunch. Ding, ding & another ding. No candy? These indicate a school administration overly concerned with control. Recess once a week. Ding. I wish that the administration of these advanced schools had a better appreciation for the fun element. The only thing that I would add academically would be specialization by subject. Do students rotate from one class to another where a teacher just teaches science, just teaches math, and so on or is there one teacher for most everything. How much writing happens — real writing not dummy responses to writing responses to prep for the ISAT. But these issues pale against the social one.

  • 4. chicago parent  |  December 14, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I didn’t mean recess once a week — I meant phys ed once a week. My apologies also for the various typos in the above submission.

  • 5. 2 cents  |  December 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    SOAPBOX HERE: Edison Regional Gifted has a school day which is 45 minutes longer – this allows the kids to go to recess twice a day, gym twice a week, and split classes in half for attendance to specialties like science, art, music, etc. How come more schools don’t offer these perks?

  • 6. chicago parent  |  December 16, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    2 cents: my point exactly. It seems that many of the accelerated program and better magnet programs do not appreciate the importance of recess, gym & specialities. Why don’t parents rattle the cages at these schools? When I was choosing schools I did not know how little lunch, recess, phys ed, art & all was the standard so I did not think to ask.

  • 7. CM  |  December 23, 2009 at 10:39 am

    (I understand why you deleted my references to gifted schools since the list has wider applicability. But that is where my experience lies, so I’ll continue in that vein. Gifted and magnet commuter schools have parents who aren’t from the same neighborhood and can’t easily get together to exchange information or ask for change.)

    If a school doesn’t care about childrens’ happiness, you won’t find daily recess, gym 2x a week, a reasonable number of social activities for the family, and an active athletic association and vital PTA.

    Some schools like Keller, Bell and Edison, invite parents to participate. Others, like Lenart, actively seek to prevent it, then pretend that they offer more than they do.(Try visiting a PTA or AA meeting to see how well things work.)

    At Lenart, if parents “rattle the cage” their child is targetted by the principal, asst. principal, the security guard and the gym teacher, who happily collaborate in making the child miserable. The principal may initiate things by screaming at the student at the top of her lungs. Then the rest of her cronies join in taking a turn. The gym teacher will pick on her for the most minute thing (“Don’t turn your head!”). The security guard will smile at the mother and let the door close in the child’s face. The asst. principal will refuse to let the child use the north stairway with the other children, she must take the back stairway, etc.

    The asst. principal taught first grade for about 25 years and she has a subspecialty; she routinely refused to let children use the bathroom so that they soiled and wet themselves — year in, year out.

    The Lenart parent not permitted inside the school except on rare occasions. One mother asked to visit her child in the kindergarten since she had received a report that he had difficulty adjusting. The principal refused her entrance to the classroom, She insisted, saying she was within her rights. The principal called the police to escort her out. It just so happened that the policeman who responded was a family friend. Still no entrance to the classroom.

    CPS cares only about the test scores and never intervenes at Lenart despite lawsuits, etc., unless the child happens to have a well-connected parent. Typically the parent eventually pulls the child, that is why the motility rate is so important. You can get it using a FOIA request.

    I’ve known kindergarteners at Lenart with migraines, second graders who pull out their own eye lashes and eye brows, and who chew on her shirt collar — all because of the inappropriately accelerated curriculum. Many teachers are neutral, but not all. None dares cross the administration. And no one is to be trusted.

    At Edison, they clearly care about the childrens’ happiness. They have an great curriculum that they have written themselves, and supportive parents. The parent support helps with many expenses including technology, which I have never seen used as well in an elementary school.

    For example, I was impressed with Edison’s daily TV news program, which transmits the morning announcements into every classroom. Even the kindergarteners are involved in the a.m. show; they get to provide the joke of the day.

    Lenart has a challenging curriculum, but it is a dull, repetitive and heavy grind that refuses to take into account a child’s developmental stage, and this often sets up extremely bright children to fail.

    As I said before, differentiation in math is very important in the middle school years, and Lenart doesn’t bother. Edison, Keller and Bell do, others may as well. (BTW many elementary schools offer Algebra I, not only gifted or magnet, more than 3,000 students systemwide. CPS has a list online: google CPS Algebra I exit exam results.)

    Lenart, despite having a great science lab with a separate lecture room, offers only textbook science — as opposed to hands-on lab science — which is way, way behind the times. Compare this to Edison’s hands-on science program.

    Social studies is taught in the most boring fashion. Starting in 4th grade the students read round-robin-style from the textbook — day in and day out. They then complete packets of worksheets on each chapter. (The teacher is a former kindergarten teacher who likes history.) Ten or more kids routinely fall asleep in this class. She’s nice enough to let them sleep.

    In 2007 the Illinois State Board of Education instituted quality control on middle schools that were teaching students freshman high school courses. They now require that middle school teachers have high school certification in the subject they teach, and the school must apply and be accepted by the Office of High School Programs in order for the student to get placement or credit.

    That should improve the quality of the education, because a typical complaint of many accelerated curriculums is that they are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

    So when you go to the open house, ask if they accelerate their curriculum, by how many grade levels, and if the middle school teachers are certified appropriately so that your child can get credit or placement in high school.

  • 8. hopeful  |  December 24, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Wow. CM, either you are a teacher at the school or you know someone who is, because if what you are saying about Lenart is true (and I have heard of from teaching colleagues or seen similar things happening at different schools around the city, including corporal punishment!) then the only way to identify them as fact is through being in the building everyday.

  • 9. 2cents  |  December 25, 2009 at 8:04 pm

    As a parent of a gifted child, CM, you must be aware that ‘gifted’ kids may have obsessive compulsive behaviours such as ‘second graders who pull out their own eye lashes and eye brows, and who chew on her shirt collar’. I really don’t think you can or should blame the school or curriculum. I see it in my son’s class at Edison and my daughter’s class at Stone. As well, the parental involvement definitely needs to be corralled or directed to be most helpful and not intrusive…otherwise there are way too many cooks in the kitchen.

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