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SCHOOLS NEED HELP FROM THE PARENTS

Q. My 5-year-old has always been extremely inquisitive and seems to have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He started public school kindergarten this fall already knowing how to read and perform single-digit multiplication. (He's pretty much self-taught in both areas.)

Because he has a late birthday, the school won't go ahead and put him in first grade, where he'd be eligible for gifted and talented programming. The problem is, he's not being sufficiently challenged in kindergarten. His teacher agrees but tells me she doesn't have the time to write a special curriculum for him. What can I do?

A. I'm sure a lot of my readers can identify with your dilemma. In a perfect world, public schools would be able to "individualize" instruction for each and every student. In the real world, however, public schools are unable to be all things to all people.

As I recently heard a retired college professor put it: "Of course public schools aren't good enough. They never have been, and they never will be!"

In this case, the problem is money. Public schools operate on fixed budgets that dictate teacher-pupil ratios, materials expenditures and so on.

These economic realities place limits on the extent to which any given student's "special needs" can be addressed.

The school probably is right to not promote a late-birth 5-year-old to first grade. I furthermore doubt whether, in fact, gifted and talented programming at the early elementary level -- which usually consists of nothing more than a few hours a week (at most!) of advanced instruction -- is going to adequately address your son's intellectual needs.

I'm getting around to telling you that you need to accept the realities germane to your son's school situation and take personal responsibility for addressing whatever educational deficiencies you identify.

A personal example: It became evident to me that my children were not learning what I consider proper writing skills in the public schools they attended.

I could have moved them to a private school where instruction in this area was superior, but I was satisfied with their education in all other respects. So I took it upon myself to teach them how to write.

For a time, they brought all writing assignments to me for critique. Beyond that, I was always available to consult with them concerning such assignments. It's called "getting involved in your child's education."

Again, it's not realistic to expect that public schools can be all things to all students. When a parent identifies a problem, and if it's obvious that the public school in question isn't able to address the problem to the parent's satisfaction, the parents need to take the proverbial bull by the horns.

What I'm essentially saying is, every child needs some measure of home-schooling, not to ensure that he makes straight A's, mind you, but to ensure that he receives an education that is adequate to his individual needs.

One more thing: Your dilemma, which is not at all uncommon, is one more argument for school choice. Not just freedom to choose among available public schools -- to which the National Education Association and President Clinton limit their advocacy -- but freedom to choose among the full range of educational options available in a community.

In your case, for example, there may be a private school in your community that would be a better "match" for your son. The school choice philosophy rests on the premise that it is ultimately in society's best interests that your son receive the education that best suits his needs -- that is, that private school.

A non-restrictive voucher system would enable your access to that option.

It is for reasons of this sort that I encourage my readers to support non-restrictive school choice initiatives at the local, state and national levels.

Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at http://www.rosemond.com/parenting on the World Wide Web.

If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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