Closing the door on open classrooms Lessons for educators as they embark on another experiment.

October 11, 1995

THE LESSON of the failures of the open-classroom concept in Howard County, and elsewhere, should be taken to heart by educational innovators who feel that just because an idea sounds good on paper, they must proceed full steam ahead. Howard is now spending millions of dollars to retrofit or replace older schools that were built en masse during the Age of Aquarius schools-without-walls era.

Alas, if you think "open schools" represent the last tinkering with something that didn't need fixing, you're probably wrong. School officials are now piloting a modification of the system's successful gifted and talented program at the elementary school level. Perhaps this change will be good for a greater number of students, but we hope officials don't rush too fast to install it system-wide.

Until now, the elementary program for gifted-and-talented education has taken students out of the classroom for specific enrichment instruction. Under the new program, being tried in all second grades and throughout six pilot schools, gifted and talented students will remain in their regular classes for most of their enrichment activities. They will be assisted by both a regular and a resource teacher.

School officials say that teaming teachers will assure that enrichment activities are closely tied to the classroom curriculum. In addition, officials anticipate the new program will expose more children to enrichment activities.

The change is fueled by good intentions: making the education system work for as many students as possible. However, the system does a disservice if it fails to challenge students who perform well. The elitist-sounding title aside, gifted and talented programs address distinct needs, as much as other types of special education. School officials have promised a review of the change by next spring.

The problem with various fads in education is that on their way in, they have a goodly share of supporters, but on their way out, there always seems matter-of-fact unanimity that the experiment was ill-conceived. There are never any culprits left behind, no smoking guns, no fingerprints. It's just on to the next innovation. Meanwhile, another group of students has come and gone and they can never get those formative years in the classroom back.

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