A fundamental conservative belief is that all radical departures from tradition have unforeseen negative consequences. Therefore, change should be thoughtful and incremental.
Among the unintended results of No Child Left Behind has been the further deprivation of an already under-served segment of our school population, the high-achieving and gifted students.
NCLB has been framed in noble causes. Who would deny the necessity of elevating the basic skills of low-income and minority students?
However, the irony is that economically disadvantaged students who are extremely capable are suffering under the draconian demands of NCLB.
Consequently, NCLB is failing the purpose for its existence.
In a recent hearing before the House Education Committee, research was presented that revealed the disturbing truth.
Millions of low-income, high-achieving students are being devastated by the one-dimensional remedial demands of NCLB.
An estimated 3.4 million children from low-income backgrounds start school performing at high levels but lose ground in every stage of their education, says the report presented by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
It is a convenient myth that gifted students will meet their potential without special attention. The myth becomes more tragic when it is applied to low-income students who have more obstacles to overcome than their higher-income counterparts.
The Cooke Foundation found that as low-income students got older, 25 percent fell behind in math.
Only 56 percent of these same students finished college, compared with 83 percent of their higher-income peers.
The damage is done early! From first to fifth grade, nearly half of the lower-income students in the top 25 percent of their class in reading fell out of rank.
I have worked with gifted students for 15 years. My observations are supported by a legacy of research that demonstrates that gifted students have special needs.
They have a need to be challenged, to search creatively for alternative answers, to express themselves in analytic thought.
Students with these needs are being ignored in favor of remedial, scripted classes that stifle creativity and discourage passion for pursuit of knowledge.
The Cooke Foundation report hit a personal note for me.
Two summers ago ago, I worked with GATE (gifted and talented education) students at a Tucson West Side middle school in an effort to encourage more low-income and minority students to consider coming to University High School.
The students were highly capable; some were truly gifted. Many did not believe in their gift. But when they were challenged to learn a unit in Comparative World Cultures at a high school level, they more than met the expectations.
The Cooke report predicts the fate of many of these students. These brilliant children must be identified early and nurtured.
It is the intellectually gifted who are being left behind. They are doomed to being teacher aids in scripted remedial classes.
The long-term implications are frightening. Knowledge and intellectual ability are the commodities of our times. We cannot fail to cultivate the most intellectually capable among us.
Future leaders come from all areas of society, and they must be encouraged at a young age within an environment that rewards greatness and does not impose the deadening conformity of NCLB remediation.
NCLB should not be renewed by Congress. Any federal mandate for educational reform must embrace the needs of our most capable children.
Patrick F. McAndrew is chairman of the Social Science Department at University High School, where he teaches advanced placement classes in Comparative Politics and in American Government and Politics.