Mission: Inform Ohioans of effective steps to secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State.
Chairman Metzger and members of the subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify.
In our district most gifted students meet their needs beyond elementary school through honors courses and AP courses in junior high school and high school. Recently, district administration brought in consultants who recommended adopting a "middle school philosophy" which opposed honors classes in the middle grades. The adoption of this philosophy eliminates a source of cost-effective programming for our gifted population: they will not have the same opportunities as their peers in districts such as Strongsville. This situation will only be addressed by a funded mandate to serve all gifted students.
The proponents of these changes included two consultants, Dr Sinclair and Ms Hunt, and the district administration. As I followed up on the claims made by these parties, they all proved to be unsubstantiated.
These follow-ups are illustrative of the unwarranted politics that frustrate gifted education. By adopting the recommendations of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children, this opposition can be overcome so the high standards desired for Ohio schools can be met.
Dr. Sinclair was a principal of a middle school in Huber Heights and led the transition of Kettering Junior High School to a middle school during his tenure a principal from 1993 to 1996.
The gist of his comments before the board was that parents should not expect to understand the literature of professionals in education. Also, since he is a doctor, parents should depend on him much as they rely on a physician or dentist.
What our administration chose not to disclose was that during his last year as principal at Kettering Middle School, four students from the school appeared on the Sally Jessy Raphael show entitled "My Teen's Afraid To Go To School." One of the students had earlier withdrawn from the school rather than submit to continued bullying.
Nonetheless, we were constantly assured that the "middle school philosophy" improved student discipline.
Dr. Sinclair's dismissive attack on parents was not professionalism. I believe he was using inflated professional credentials to preclude an honest review claims he could not substantiate.
When I objected to Dr. Sinclair's lack of qualifications, I was assured that "all psychologists supported" the district's plan that reduced services to gifted students.
This claim did not check out. As psychologist Jerome Bruner notes in the forward of Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress:
The gap between doctrinal positions in teaching and the evidence required to support or refute them is notorious. ... if educational practice is to achieve any rationality, and is to be freed of its addiction to passing fashions, we shall need a more regular assessment of how yesterday's enthusiasms are faring in the cold light of today.This book goes on to refute the administration's claims that gifted students would thrive under district's proposed "developmentally appropriate, student centered, differentiated education."
The proposed reduction to gifted services would also expose students to the sort of abuse documented over 30 years ago, when a psychologist observed sixth grade students sabotaging the learning of their highly creative peers. "Techniques of control include open aggression and hostility, criticism, rejection and indifference, the use of organizational machinery to limit scope of operations, and exaltation to a position of power involving paper work and administrative responsibility."
When I stressed to the administration the outstanding credentials of the opponents of reduced services, including one mother with Ph.D. in materials science, I was rejoined that "There are four Ph.D.'s in the central administration; we must do as they say."
Again, the claim didn't check out:
An article in the November 1997 Phi Delta Kappan asks, "Does graduate training in educational administration improve America's schools?" The authors claim that, taken collectively, graduate programs in educational administration seem to have little or no influence on the attributes that characterize effective schools.
When closing down graduate studies in education at the University of Chicago, Dean Richard P. Saller, head of the social sciences division, noted the frequent lack of peer review for publication in education, scholarship unworthy of Chicago's standards in the social sciences, and although 20 percent of the Ph.D.'s earned in America are in education, the field has failed to live up to its promise.
Also consider the February 1998 testimony of Dr E. D. Hirsch before the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Early Childhood, Youth and Families Subcommittee:
The powerful status-quo organizations like education schools and state departments of education are perpetuating our problems rather than relieving them, because they are animated by guild slogans rather than by mainstream science concerning what actually works. Independent-minded people within these status quo institutions are silenced by social pressure to insure their intellectual conformity. Congress needs to help the public break this intellectual monopoly.Full and consistent funding of a gifted services mandate will help break this intellectual monopoly by encouraging the training of educators prepared to meet world-class standards. In fact, gifted education professionals within schools of education are the exception which prove Dr. Hirsch's rule.
Consider the assessment of James A. Kulik, Research Scientist at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan:
... research ... is often misinterpreted to the disservice of our students. ... Our children will be the losers if reviewers continue to twist research findings to fit their personal and political philosophies.
Likewise, the comments of John F. Feldhusen, the Robert B. Kane Distinguished Professor of Education (Emeritus) from Purdue:
... we must be alert to the distortion of research findings to fit certain political and social agendas. ... The question we now face is how to call a halt to a runaway national agenda in which some school reformers have arrogated unto themselves a political-social agenda that is based on misinterpretation of current research evidence.
Next, the district brought in Kathy Hunt, a professional middle school promoter from Boulder, Colorado and former assistant principal at Broomfield Heights Middle School, known among middle school advocates as an "exemplary middle school". Like many middle school advocates, Ms Hunt is an opponent of the honors classes which serve our gifted students.
Her claims did not hold up. Broomfield Heights is an underachieving and overspending school which that state's superintendent recently ranked second to last among the many Boulder Valley middle schools.
A Boulder Valley parent currently completing here Doctorate in cognitive psychology reviewed Hunt's claims as follows:
I am utterly amazed at what Kathy Hunt is claiming about the conclusive research evidence and the utterly amazing increases in test scores for the bottom performers. I don't know whether she is intellectually dishonest or just doesn't understand statistics and research evidence, but it is pathetic how educational consultants can dupe well-intentioned school board members and get paid big bucks for it.Moreover, it also turns out that middle schools have been a phenomenally divisive issue for Boulder residents. It is noteworthy that Boulder is among the best-educated communities in the nation; the politics that lowered achievement in Boulder schools go on throughout the nation, mostly undetected by parents and school board members.
Eric Sondermann, a Democratic political consultant from Denver Colorado, writing of the bitterly contested Boulder School Board elections in November 1997 apologized for supporting opponents of gifted education:
[After participating] in the concerted effort to isolate and ostracize [two school board members who supported gifted education] ... I became increasingly appalled by the manner in which "excellence" and "egalitarianism" were regarded as incompatible, polar opposites, and with the lack of accommodation offered to those who legitimately sought high standards and opportunities for high achievers.One of those ostracized board members wrote to me as follows:
I am a practicing attorney in Boulder, and I have lived in Boulder for over 40 years. I attended Boulder public schools beginning in the second grade, and ultimately graduated from the University of Colorado. I know, too, the depth and extent of public upset, polarization and community fracture that occurs when middle schools and the attendant middle school philosophy is implemented-or forced-upon a population greatly concerned with academic success, achievement, and careful fiscal management of limited resources.Our final position was simply to ask the school district for a baseline measure of student performance using a nationally-normed, standardized test. Again, we were turned down by the administration, this time on the basis that no time was available for additional testing beyond proficiencies and off-year proficiencies. Unfortunately, the Ohio Proficiency Test is not an indicator of world-class achievement and is therefore an inadequate accountability tool for use on behalf of the state's gifted children. For similar reasons, Judge Lewis held that Augenblick's use of the proficiency test did not provide a rational basis for education funding. In contrast, assessment methods such as the Tennessee Value Added Assessment do not share this flaw. In particular, TVAAS has shown:
- High achieving students are the most under-served of all Tennessee students.
- Black high achieving students are even more under-served than whites.
- High achieving students gain little or nothing during years when they are taught by the lower performing 60% of Tennessee teachers.
It will take five years or more to institutionalize mechanisms to hold schools accountable for providing world-class education. The only near term solution to ensuring appropriate education for the state's high-achieving students is a mandate for gifted education. A fully funded gifted services mandate will allow the energies and intellect of parents of gifted children to focus on local accountability rather than legislative agendas such as funding or state-wide accountability. The State of Ohio has no stronger advocate for accountability to world-class educational standards than the parents willing to hold their own children accountable to those standards.
The agenda of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children can potentially spur the reformation of public education throughout the state. The reason is this: once the bar is raised and success stories exist in local buildings, other parents will not tolerate missing out on opportunities for their own children. We can generate an upward pressure for high standards for all children. But we must protect gifted funding from political pressure to equalize achievement by dismantling gifted programs, and insist that the schools renounce those practices that prevent them from delivering world-class education to all students. This can be achieved by accountability systems that ensure each child learns to the extent he or she is willing and able.
As my experience indicates, it is educational ideology, not just funding inequity, that reduces the achievement of most students in the state's schools. But without the funding and accountabilty requested by the Ohio Association for Gifted Children, no group of parents is likely to prevail in challenging the counterproductive educational ideologies with national constituencies which make a cruel hoax of local control. Even the most meritless educational fads can have more appeal to school administrators than the legitimate needs of gifted students. As illustrated by Benjamin Bloom's 1972 School Review article, "Innocence in Education:"
In education we continue to be seduced by the equivalent of snake-oil remedies, fake cancer cures, perpetual motion contraptions, and old wives' tales. Myth and reality are not clearly differentiated, and we frequently prefer the former to the latter.
Throughout this state, snake-oil salespeople hold our gifted students hostage. We need near-term financial leverage and long-term accountability. Please support the recommendations of the Ohio Association for Gifted Children.
Thank you for your time.
Eric V. Price, parent
April 13, 1999
Testimony of E. D. Hirsch
TVAAS Welcome Page
OAGC Legislative Positions for the 123rd General Assembly