Where the smart people are

I was reading a Washington Post op-ed article written by George Will when I was struck by a quote from an executive at Intel,

“We go where the smart people are,” says Howard High of Intel Corp. “Now our business operations are two-thirds in the United States and one-third overseas. But that ratio will flip over [in] the next 10 years.”

Though not surprising to read, the quote did make me uncomfortable.  Not because I begrudge those nations whose “smart people” are luring away Intel.  Nor am I invested in Intel, as an individual company, employing primarily American workers.  But, my discomfort arises from my own advocacy and the points I have raised to promote educational reform.

I have spoken of the need to change our classroom practices based upon data such as the achievement gaps, high school drop out rates, attrition rates in high school math courses, and faltering test scores.  Have I been contributing to the imposition of a “capability penalty” upon our best and brightest students?  By concentrating my rhetoric on how we must better serve student populations who have been underserved, am I engendering a sense that our smartest students can thrive on their own?  In an educational eco-system with limited resources, we risk allowing our brightest students to languish while we direct all reasonable resources to bridging the achievement gap and dealing with drop-out rates.

Educational funding is too often segregated by use, for example:  technology (EETT and E-rate), special education (IDEA), impoverished students (Title 1), ELL funding, and so on.  Since educational funding will be under pressure for the next few years, it is likely that districts will need to decrease non-dedicated general fund expenditures.  Therefore, the students most able to impress Intel Corp. will be among those who feel the greatest pinch of decreased funding.  Yet, it doesn’t have to go this way.

I have seen classes where both the profoundly gifted and the severely limited thrive through peer activity and discourse.  I have seen 17-year old students flourish in blended learning structures in which they spend 2 hours per week with an instructor and the rest of the time online and with their peers.  I have witnessed a spectacular geometry teacher give her students a “chunky” problem that allowed the most modest achieving student to determine that alternate-interior angles were congruent while the most high achieving student ventured into non-Euclidean projective geometry.  These observations are not trends, but they are “proofs of concept” that it is possible to reach the underserved without penalizing future Intel prospects.

For this to happen, we need to be open to alternative teaching methods and be willing to abandon current practices.  Continuing current practices with larger class sizes and fewer support systems is a recipe for teacher disillusionment and burnout .  We need to question every practice that is now entrenched and open our classrooms to our peers so that we learn from one another.  We need to prove Howard High of Intel Corp. wrong by showing that the United States is “where the smart people are.”  And, I must include the needs of our brightest students when advocating for education reform.

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