Charters for the gifted and talented?

In Ohio, there were 368 charter schools open during the 2011-12 school year. Of these charter schools, there were 26 e-schools, 87 drop-out recovery schools, and 35 special education charter schools. And, there was one charter school dedicated to serving gifted students.

Menlo Park Academy, located in Southwest Cleveland, is the Buckeye State’s lone public charter school for the gifted. The school has consistently earned strong academic marks from the state, rated “Excellent” (A) for the past three school years. Menlo Park enrolls over 300 K-8 students, who come from forty plus school districts. The student body is nearly entirely White and Asian (over 90 percent).

Yesterday, at the invitation of school director Mrs. Paige Baublitz-Watkins, Checker Finn presented findings from Fordham’s 2011 study Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? and fielded questions about gifted education from a group of Menlo Park parents and educators. In the High Flyers report, Fordham found that nearly half of America’s top-shelf students “lose altitude”—failing to remain at or above the ninetieth percentile in test scores—from third to eighth grade.

From left to right: Assistant School Director Jim Kennedy, Board Member Michael Love, School Director Paige Baublitz-Watkins, Fordham President Checker Finn

Can opening more schools such as Menlo Park provide an antidote to the declining opportunities that Ohio’s gifted students have to reach their full potential? It very well could. But, of course, it will require concerted efforts from the parents of gifted children to push for, establish, and sustain charters that serve the needs of their kids. (We found that many of Menlo Park’s parents drive a decent distance to get their kids to school, and it’s not uncommon for parents to volunteer and help raise funds for the school.)

Nearly one-third of Ohio’s charters serve primarily at-risk and disabled students—student populations with unique needs. Likewise, gifted students also have unique needs, such as faster-paced and challenging curricula. Given the success of Menlo Park, surely Ohio’s parents of gifted students, and the educators who teach them, can consider ways to grow more schools dedicated to serving gifted and talented students.

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