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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ross Rambles:A solution without a problem

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

We have received a visit from the sages at the Iowa Department of Education who let the Cherokee School District know what the school system is doing right and what it is doing wrong.

Administrators are rather pleased with the report, which lists more positives than negatives, but the primary area in which the visiting DE team found fault has local school officials scratching their heads.

Once again, ill-defined objectives of fuzzyheaded idealists override common sense decisions made by those who deal with the day-to-day practicalities of educating kids.

The report cited the absence of a high school Talented and Gifted (TAG) program as a non-compliance issue, meaning something for which school officials are expected to plead forgiveness and promise repentance.

The school district, like many other non-compliant districts in the state, spends most of its small allotment of talented and gifted state funds for a K-8 TAG teacher. (TAG has other names in other districts; for example, it is called SEARCH in the Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn School District.)

A small portion of the Cherokee District's TAG funding goes to the high school guidance counselors' office for helping students find advanced level opportunities beyond the regular curriculum.

The elementary and middle school focus seems natural, since there are already opportunities for high school students to specialize and excel. High school has Advanced Placement Biology as well as college credit classes in Psychology, Sociology and Fundamentals of Public Speaking.

Students can get dual credit by taking courses at the Cherokee campus of Western Iowa Tech, including courses in two vocational areas and in two academic classes for those interested in health care careers.

Principal Larry Hunecke reports that about 30 students are taking online courses.

Even within the regular curriculum, elective offerings provide students with opportunities to pursue particular interests. For example, students who take four years in art or band or a foreign language can get to a fairly high level of instruction in that particular field.

It seems that this is not enough for the DE. An elite group of students needs to be identified and offered instruction that is unavailable to anybody else.

There seems to be no reason for this other than that this is how the program was originally defined by legislators or bureaucrats operating on the "wouldn't it be nice if…" philosophical approach to educational priority setting.

I'm not certain that the TAG program was well conceived, even for elementary students. Pullout programs are disruptive and giving extra projects to specially identified students might be regarded as penalizing the students.

It would make more sense to set aside time in which all students pursued individualized projects based on each student's interest.

The school district has had an enrichment program in the past (maybe it still does) that was broader based than what the TAG program was traditionally used for. Rather than just being open to a select few, the enrichment program provided opportunities for all students in specialized areas.

I doubt that this could continue using TAG funds. It would make too much sense.