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A Publication of WTVP

Two recent National Public Radio stories highlighted startling developments in the academic world. First, Nashville, Tenn., public schools have abolished the honor roll, saying such a listing violates student privacy. Second, programs for gifted students in Illinois may become jeopardized due to changes in state funding for these programs. The developments are twin sides to the same coin: a change of heart in recognizing and supporting the development of academically talented students.

The rationale behind the Nashville decision was that student records are private, and announcing an honor roll violates student privacy by distinguishing those who've achieved good grades from those who didn't. The lack of a student's name on the honor roll inadvertently revealed they didn't get good grades, or so the argument goes. What's amazing about this story is that Nashville didn't eliminate awarding athletic letters, membership in the national honor society, trophies, and medals for excellent participation in speech and music contests, and so on. Apparently, singling out athletic stars is okay, but giving those with academic prowess a pat on the back isn't.

The second story reported a change in funding that's left some school districts without the monies to support honors or gifted classes, particularly at the lower grade levels. The story highlighted schools in smaller communities where separate funds for honors programs had become part of the general school budget through a change in the state laws. While the change was meant to give schools greater flexibility in using state funds, for some schools it had the chilling effect of diminishing the emphasis on accelerated or honors programs.

This turning away from academic excellence is disturbing. While the underlying motivation appears to provide greater emphasis and support for students who need extra help, we have to wonder if it's wise to de-emphasize recognition of academic achievement. For many students, the honor roll, the dean's list, and participation in enriched classes serve as the same kind of motivation as achieving an athletic letter in football or a first place ranking in a music contest. Public recognition for a job well done often inspires students to greater levels of achievement. Why would Nashville public schools want to squelch encouragement for academic performance while embracing it for extracurricular performance?

The inability of a school to offer honors programs should also worries us. In the "Trends in the International Study of Mathematics and Science" study, eighth-graders in the United States ranked 19th in math and 18th in science, behind such countries as Singapore, Korea, Japan, the Slovak Republic, Canada, the Russian Federation, and Finland. Math and science are essential ingredients for industrialized countries, particularly as the knowledge economy replaces a manufacturing economy.

While community colleges play an important role in developing the future workforce of our country, we know the importance of our elementary, middle, and high schools. As citizens, business leaders, and educators, we need to look for more ways to help our colleagues in primary education support academic excellence-not new ways to detract from it. IBI

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