Many GA school districts have magnet and advanced placement schools. These programs primarily focus on science, math, and technology with little to no focus on the arts, languages, social sciences, and humanities. Many of the schools present a large draw for families who live outside the zoned school areas who do not care for the schools in their residential zones. Cobb County School District, which is the second largest school district in the Metro Atlanta area, has eighteen high schools each with at least two elementary schools and one middle school that are considered feeder schools. To the family looking for the right fit for their children, there appears to be much from which to choose; however, for students that are gifted or talented in areas other than science, technology, or math, the selections are limited to one performing arts magnet school.
There is a tremendous amount of funding that flows into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. A few schools have added A for all, and do strive to offer opportunities to students who are identified as gifted in other areas. However, there is at this point not a great focus on these extra programs and the district does not appear to place a heavy focus on drawing teachers who excel in other academic or extracurricular areas such as English Language Arts, Social Studies, or Performing or Visual Arts. There are some students within these STEM programs that were identified as gifted in elementary school, however, by the time they reach high school they are only making average grades in math and science. A great deal of this may have to do with the much researched shift that occurs between fifth and eighth grade. It is during this time that students tend to falter, and sometimes even fail. It is during this time that that they are beginning to actually narrow their focus on what they really enjoy and for what they actually hold a talent. This makes a great deal of sense as most children in their formative years are very interested in how things work. Science helps to satisfy that curiosity, as does math. Those students who maintain that interest are the ones who are probably most talented in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. Children who are offered a broad range of opportunities during their formative years will have an easier time of narrowing their field of vision than students who are pegged as the next Madame Currie in third grade after winning the science fair for growing the most impressive mold farm.
There has also been such a push for reading programs to improve literacy skills that many children who have a talent for reading comprehension, drawing inferences, and using advanced critical thinking skills, actually lose their desire to read. If science and math had been pushed on students to the degree that AR (advanced reading) programs and summer reading programs have been done in many Cobb County Schools, there might have been a decline in the number of students wishing to apply to these magnet programs.
Cobb County School District does have clear guidelines for entering into their gifted program. The means of identification and placement range from early testing, to teacher recommendation, to parent request, and wavers. According to the majority of Cobb County high school gifted teachers, they have very few students who are actually gifted. Many are waivered in by parents due to the fact they do not wish their children to be in on-level classes with students who are either a-motivational, or otherwise present disciplinary issues. In fact, in conversations with many teachers from different schools, most agree that AP is the new honors, honors is the new on-level, and on-level is actually remedial. The disturbing part of this is that truly gifted students are not receiving what they need in order to feel challenged, and teachers are becoming so jaded that they do not feel inspired to challenge. Alternatively, many students actually feel their classes are “easy,” with the classes they view as difficult being so not due to the rigor, but to the amount of homework. Where is the challenge in juggling homework assignments, and projects with extra-curricular programs, family, and social activities? With the exception of preparing high school students for adulthood, there is none.