Carmel Clay Schools officials might have saved themselves some grief if they paid attention to news in Fort Wayne. The Hamilton County school district said this week it will not change the format of its gifted-and-talented program next year.
The announcement followed an uproar from parents concerned the plan to split up high-ability classes at the elementary level would hurt students academically. In response, an Indianapolis-area private school began advertising for families looking for a more rigorous academic setting for their children.
In late February, a similar scenario played out at Fort Wayne Community Schools. Word began circulating that honors-level courses would be eliminated at the high school level. Angry parents and students packed the next school board meeting to express their dismay, with some suggesting they would choose other schools if the plan was implemented. A local parochial school posted Facebook ads boasting of its honors curriculum.
Scarcely a week later, FWCS officials announced its honors-level coursework and honors credits would not be eliminated.
The Carmel schools had proposed “cluster grouping” high-ability students in classrooms with students at all levels, with teachers tailoring instruction to the needs of each group of students. A Ball State University expert on gifted and talented education said the concept is gaining popularity in schools with budget constraints.
As both FWCS and Carmel Clay have learned, parents will protest when they believe academic rigor is threatened – and plenty of voucher-supported schools are eager to step up if public schools aren't providing courses and programs families want. Look for more examples of marketing and advertising spending by public and private schools, even as the funding support for instruction stagnates. Where school choice flourishes, competition for students will grow.