Just when you thought the Madison School District had enough on its plate — perennially tight budgets, teachers incensed at Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting, minority achievement gaps — it's under a gun of a different sort:
Get your program for talented and gifted, or TAG, students in order, the state told the district in March, after a group of parents complained their kids were not being sufficiently challenged in the classroom.
I am dubious of efforts to devote additional time and money to students who already have the advantage of being smart — and often white and upper-middle class — and who have similarly situated parents adept at lobbying school officials.
Money, time and effort generally not being unlimited commodities in public school districts, the question over what is to be done about Madison's TAG program strikes me as one of priorities.
Improving TAG offerings would seem to require an equal reduction in something else. And maybe that something else is more important to more students.
Not that it's likely anyone on the School Board would ever acknowledge any trade-offs.
It's a "false dichotomy," said School Board member Ed Hughes, and "not an either/or situation." Can the district be all things to all people? I asked. "Sure," he said. "Why not?"
Intense optimism aside, I'm undecided about TAG. No school can meet every conceivable educational need of a student. At the same time, if classes are so insufficient as to drive some bored kids to emotional distress — as Vicki Bier, one of the parents who filed the complaint with the state, alleged — then their parents are right to demand change.
Besides, Bier said her group is working for more than just their kids.
"One of the big motivations for all of us ... is we recognize our children have options that other TAG children do not have," she said.
In other words, their efforts could benefit the gifted children of lower-income, often minority parents who don't have the money for educational services outside the district and fear supporting a school-reform effort seen by some as racially divisive.
I don't pretend to know TAG families' history with the district or what it feels like to have a kid whose needs are not being met in school.
But I do know my children possess gifts — just none that any school has identified.
My 7-year-old is a gifted maze-drawer, for example, and my 4-year-old has the gift of gab. My 2-year-old is a gifted teller of jokes, all of which begin with "Guess what?" and end in "chicken butt!" or some variation thereof.
But then all three are themselves gifts from God to my wife and me, and as such, we are allowed our biases.
Which perhaps speaks to the most important thing to keep in mind as the TAG debate moves forward: School districts shouldn't be expected to value your kid like you do. But they do a pretty good job valuing yours along with everyone else's.
Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or email@example.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.