The Gifted Education Debate or The Real Brain Drain

OK. So, everybody wants to talk about gifted education. I hinted at the topic last week and already there were some excellent comments. I’ll get the ball moving. Then you all can go at it.

First of all, let’s all show our cards. Judging from all the statistics that I’ve read about blog readers and bloggers, we’re a pretty well educated bunch. Probably all have fairly high IQs and, either because of good genes or environment, our kids aren’t dummies either. They probably score as low gifted or within spitting distance of it. (Low gifted is just the new fangled way of saying smart.) When they offer a gifted program at my kid’s school, I will be the first on line to make sure that he gets in.

Theoretically, I have no problem with the idea of gifted education. Some kids can pick up some information very quickly and can benefit from an accelerated program of education. I was completely spaced out in school, until I was put in the honors classes in high school. Being bored sucks.

The problem with gifted education is who benefits from these programs and how they drain resources from others. I got a first hand look at this when I lived in Manhattan. My oldest son’s preschool was geared at middle class, educated families who lived in a small enclave within a larger Dominican neighborhood. At the beginning of their second year, we went to a presentation where they taught us how to navigate the public school system in NYC. For most, city schools are the pits. But if you know how fill out the correct paperwork and tutor your kid for the IQ test, you can get them into a gifted program. These gifted program in the city have the best teachers, the best resources, and low class size. The kids learn to play chess and fence and take amazing field trips. You can get a suburban school experience in a city school, if your kid can qualify.

After the presentation, we all raced out and had our kids tested. Everyone qualified as gifted or close enough to try again next year. A few were off the charts, but mostly the kids all clustered at the low gifted end of the scale. If everybody is special, then nobody is special.

The gifted program in a Manhattan is just a scam to keep middle class parents in the city.

On a wider scale, it is unfair that one group of kids gets preferential treatment. Smart kids should be given more challenging work. But they shouldn’t be given the best teachers, the most interesting assignments, and the most resources. These programs shouldn’t drain resources away from everyone else.

It is also unfair that these programs benefit elites. It is no accident that the main proponents of gifted and talented education have been Republicans.

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52 thoughts on “The Gifted Education Debate or The Real Brain Drain

  1. “The gifted program in a Manhattan is just a scam to keep middle class parents in the city.”
    Well, more specifically (and generically), gifted programs are a scam to keep kids from the middle class in public schools (and a scam to keep good teachers; who wants to teach kids who are spending more time in the school discipline office than studying?). Virtually every kid with a pulse and a modicum of IQ in my high school in Florida was in an “Honors” class.
    Of course, the fair counterargument is that middle class parents are, by and large, the ones paying for the schools and ought to get something for their money.
    And there is something to be said for the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” argument; middle and upper class parents are much more likely to participate in the political decisions that govern schools. Elites (broadly defined) win because they are organized. And they also win because they can “exit” the system (either by moving or sending kids to private school) in a way that most poor parents can’t, and this is a credible threat to school authorities.

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  2. My child will attend a traditional public school next fall. She will be a freshman in high school. I got on the school website and looked at lesson plans for a couple of weeks. The difference between what they are teaching in advanced placement classes and the regular ones is staggering. The advanced english class was going to have Socratic seminars “Catcher in the Rye”, the regular class was going to have spelling tests. I’m not kidding. Every kid deserves to talk about good (or bad) books, to learn to think critically and be exposed to be ideas. Yes my child qualifies for AP, but there is a part of me that thinks it should be our job to give everyone an enriching education. We “haves” should be fighting for it.

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  3. Lisa V,
    Thanks for reminding us that we should be thinking about standard tracking, as well as gifted programs. Part of the tragedy of it is that a good many of the kids from the remedial class wouldn’t WANT to be in the AP class, even if by some miracle they could get by there.

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  4. Republicans in public schools in New York? I don’t know. Somebody keeps voting for a Republican for Mayor in the city, so there’s got to be a lot of closeted Republicans hiding about.
    But it’s true at least at the national level. Whenever there has been a move to fund a gifted program at the national level, a Republican has championed the policy. Don’t know much more about the party politics about this issue other than that.
    Lisa’s point is my point — Everybody deserves to getting the chance to read Catcher in the Rye, not just the smart kids.
    Chris — Of course, we want to keep the smart kids in the public schools. And if helps keep the good teachers around, too, then great. We should challenge the smart kids. There’s no reason to short change them. Isn’t there a way to challenge all kids?

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  5. I will never make my kids suffer through the crap that people try and play off for gifted and talented, having had friends and family members suffer through it. Let’s stop giving kids extra homework in an attempt to make their parents feel empowered that their kid is labeled as being intelligent.

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  6. “Isn’t there a way to challenge all kids?”
    I think the only way of doing this–and I agree that this is what needs to be done, assuming we 1) want our public education to be basically egalitarian, and 2) want to continue to have public education, stemming the flow of both students and teachers fleeing it–is through some version of charter schools. As the many forms of choice and personal development have filtered through our society, we’ve come of with dozens of new ways to categorize ourselves. The big boxes of “gifted” vs. “normal” vs. “remedial” contained too many acknowledged variations; defending only those increases competition for the one good category, increases disillusionment when you don’t get it, and makes it easier to justify the huge disparaties between the boxes.
    Keep education public, but break it up and mix it up. More smaller, cheaper schools; more curricula at more levels; more niches and rewards for more teachers with various kinds of expertise. The variety of the present system was enough for less independently informed, less diverse citizenry, but no more.

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  7. Where I grew up, anyone could get into the gifted program/AP program if their parents petitioned. There were exams or minimum grades that had to be reached, nominally, but….
    However, everyone had to take 12-year civics (well, Government and something else that I’m forgetting–whatever it is that the NY Regents mandate) untracked. And I think that it’s a good thing to have some non-tracking. Without it, the kids of the blue-color class and the kids of the rich or academic classes might not have mixed much at all.

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  8. Maybe I’m being idealistic here, but there’s a lot of genuinely gifted kids out there who aren’t upper middle class. In my gifted class, there were quite a few of them, whose parents were surprised they were there, but had a great time, and for the first time, so genuine friends.
    Isn’t the key to figure out a genuine and inclusive way of testing for them, and risk pissing off some of the upper middle class parents?
    My dad (now a retired nuclear physicist) was the 5th child of a farmer who left school at 12. Without genuine gifted education, he wouldn’t have been a nuclear physicist.
    Gifted education is important to those kids, and just because it’s been hijacked in NYC by those who don’t need it doesn’t make it bad.

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  9. I was a gifted child in a very rural, small school system. Technically, I live in Appalachia, though my area is not as dreadfully poor as coal mining communities in West Virginia after the mines closed. About a third of the kids in my school got free breakfast and lunch, bump that to half if you include the “reduced” price — families that still had to pay something, but not full freight.
    When I went to school, gifted education was fairly new. The school system (we’d just moved into it) decided that I was gifted in fourth grade. That was the 1980-1981 school year, if that helps place it in time. The vast bulk of the enrichment offered to me was what I’d characterize as more of the same. There was, if I chose to do it, more work at the same level and of the same sort that I was already expected to do for class. I was not impressed with that and frequently opted not to do it. (This came as something of a surprise to the administration, as they didn’t have any mental space for gifted children who preferred not to be enriched. Me and Bartleby the Scrivener, I guess.) Sometimes I had a teacher who generated an IEP that I could live with (Of course I read them. How else was I going to decide if I wanted to do them or not?) and when that happened, I did the IEP. Otherwise, I didn’t. I was lucky to have parents who were willing to support me in this. Much later, when I asked Mom why she let me opt to be enriched or not-be-enriched as it suited me, admitted that trying to make me do things I did not want to do or could not see the point of was a complete waste of time.
    I don’t know what it’s like now or what the standards are for giftedness in New York. The standard for where I went to school was scoring 130 on the Standford-Binet except for music and art, which were assessed by the appropriate teachers. We also got hit with the Henman-Nelson group-administered screening test in high school for no reason that I could determine. The teacher said it was state-mandated when I asked why we were taking it. She also said that I wasn’t allowed to refuse to take it (hinted that there’d be detention for troublemakers) even though it had no bearing on our grades and even though I would not receive my score. On most IQ tests, I score somewhere between 145 and 170, a factoid I know because the day I turned eighteen, I went to the guidance department and demanded, as a legal adult, to see my scores. (When I was not-yet-eighteen, they refused to show them to be me because it would not be good for me to know. My parents also refused to tell me, likely because I had two brothers and they didn’t want us comparing scores. *sigh* Doing crap like that was just guaranteeing that I’d keep after it until I had the information.) The particular score I get depends on the test, how much effort I’m interested in putting forth, and whether or not the questions are fun.

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  10. My elementary school gifted classes were excellent, and also full of students from all classes; but our gifted program only went up to 6th grade, after which we were just tracked into honors classes. Most of the poorer gifted kids gradually dropped back into lower tracks, so I’m not convinced that, achievement-wise, the program made any long-term difference to those kids. I had at least one white-trash friend who made it all the way to MIT from gifted classes, but I suspect she would have made it to MIT from Antarctica too, so while, like the rest of us, she was grateful for the program, it was probably not necessary to her success.
    In my school system, the gifted program was very, very different from honors or AP classes. Gifted students spent one day each week in gifted class rather than in their regular elementary school class. In the mornings, we did enrichment activities independently on our own schedules: there were several different stations, but the only one I remember were the logic puzzles. Afternoons we worked on a semester-long project. One semester it was “Dig”: in small groups, we invented civilizations, made and buried artifacts from them, and then dug up another group’s artifacts and presented reports on what we thought about their civilization. It was an amazing, amazing program.
    But it’s wrong to assume that only gifted students are bored in elementary school classrooms. I think most students find that most of the enormous amount of time they spend in school is wasted. No matter how small classes are, they’ll never be small enough to ensure that a teacher can know what each child knows, what each child is interested in learning right now, and how best to help that child learn it.
    I live in an excellent school system (and pay for it in property taxes), but my husband and I are planning to homeschool our kid at least through the first few elementary school years. This is not for everyone, of course, but it’s not just for James Dobson types either. Before anyone jumps down my throat, I do totally support public education, and I hope that my public school system will work with me to make some of its resources available to me and my kids. I just don’t happen to believe that full-day classroom learning (even of the ‘enriched’ variety) is the best thing for small children or adults, for that matter. Like Russell Fox, I’d like to see the public schools offer more variety, though I’m not sure how I feel about ‘charter schools’, they seem to be failing everywhere I look. Some kids (and parents) need the structure of traditional schooling, some could do with a resource center and some group classes for things like music, art, and sports.

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  11. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t consider kids at one end of the spectrum to have special needs, just like kids at the other end of the spectrum. No one (any more, I hope, anyway) would argue that kids with other special educational needs—like those arising from dyslexia, developmental delays, autism spectrum disorders, and so on—aren’t entitled to programs that match their particular learning requirements. Why should it be different for the brightest children, who are simply exceptional in a different way? There’s a tendency to dismiss these kids’ needs by saying “they’re smart, they’ll figure it out, too bad if they’re bored.” But for many of them, it’s not a matter of just being a little bored or not challenged to their full potential—some of these kids are not able to handle the slow pace of the class and they tune out (so don’t learn anything and actually fall below grade level) and/or become discipline problems or distractions. After all, emotional maturity does not necessarily correlate with intelligence.
    I agree that there are complicated questions regarding definitions of “gifted,” especially as they affect race and social class, and systemic inequalities need to be addressed throughout public education, but I don’t think the solution is to ignore gifted (what an awful term) children or complain that they are unfairly draining resources from other kids. They don’t actually need much—I think the one absolutely essential requirement is a teacher who is the kids’ intellectual equal and who understands how to deal with highly intelligent students. It’s not a matter of assigning piles of extra work of the same caliber as what they were already doing or making them memorize multitudes of arcane facts, a distinction lost on some teachers.

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  12. hey, suze. There is a huge disparity between the education offered to the gifted in NYC v. the regular student in PS 187 or , even worse, some of the schools up in Inwood. That’s just not fair. Everybody needs good teachers and the good ones shouldn’t be clustered in the gifted programs. The gifted kids shouldn’t be the only ones who get to go on the cool class trips. That’s all I am saying.
    The gulf between gifted educational programs and regular ed is probably starkest in areas like NYC. It’s less of an issue in the suburban areas, where everyone gets a basically fine education.
    And, in a perfect world with limitless resources, gifted kids should be given every opportunity to learn at their own pace. School systems that are geared to the average student aren’t well equipted to deal with them. Then you’ve got the real oddballs like Ian who can’t talk but can read. Gifted and disabled at the same time. His teacher refuses to go beyond the ABCs, and has no clue what to do with him.

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  13. Sounds to me like Gifted Education is kind of a scapegoat for unaccountable schools.
    If schools are responding to concerned middle class parents by giving them “gifted” classes for their kids, why aren’t they responding to the other parents? I suspect because they aren’t receiving any pressure from that quarter.
    As an example of unaccountability, my very smart brother-in-law was pushed into a vocational track in highschool. He was a pretty crazy kid and barely graduated. Now he’s advancing quickly in the restaurant business. Turns out (I asked him) when he was taking vocational cooking classes, he was the one kid who really flung himself into the work. Most of the other students hung around the kitchens doing as little as possible. The teachers made no effort to get them to learn anything.
    So, the issue is only partially about how school systems create different tiers for different kids. The bigger issue is holding every kid accountable at every level.

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  14. My most salient memory of the “enrichement activities” I was offered as a kid who was labeled ‘gifted” is of being pulled out of my regular class to make hallowe’en-themed napkin holders. You know, sewing onto the plastic canvas thingies?
    I don’t think I got much out of that, although it was fun to sit around and chat with a few friends and the teacher.
    It seems to me that there are so many different theories on what education should be, and how it should progress, that gifted education gets as jumbled up as anything else. I agree that gifted classes should not detract from the rest of the students, but arguably some form of tracking allows teachers in the non-gifted sections to tailor their classes to better meet the needs of their students as well.
    All this, of course, assumes that we really can measure “giftedness” in any reasonable way, and can thus appropriately segregate students.

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  15. I saw an interesting situation in my city when I was growing up, and as far as I know it still prevails. Granted, we still have magnet programs, etc., that parents all over the city can apply to. But in a very gross display of inequity, there was (and still is) one high school that offers a suburban-quality education that is available to all who happen to live w/in that geographic district of the city, while others in the city (whose parents are presumably still paying megabucks to the district coffers) can (or at least could) only get in there if they cajoled and nodded/winked w/ the right people. (Some could go there part of the day if their home school did not offer advanced classes they wanted/needed.)
    Anyway, this is a far cry from even the Stuyvesant-type situation in NYC where at least kids from all over the city have a (nominally) equal chance to apply and be considered. No, here, if you were fortunate enough to just happen to live w/in certain neighborhoods in the city purely by accident of birth (or whatever) then the quality education was available to you, no strings pulled, no questions asked.
    It was said that the parents in the district in question for years kept clamoring over and over again for quality education for their kids. Also, for the longest time, the school board was appointed only and overrepresented by interests from that district, and a situation virtually arose where, from the standpoint of furthering the interestg of educating the city’s children, the rest of the city may as well have not existed.
    So to wrap it up – and I don’t know if this _closely ties in to the original topic here – it would at least appear that gifted schools, where you can competitively apply and which are nominally available to _all children in the school district who wish to appy, at least have a greater measure of equity & “democracy” to them then the very inequitable situation I just described.

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  16. Hey back, Laura. I didn’t mean “you” personally, I was just making a point about the existence of a whole range of special educational needs, and not being dismissive or afraid to address some of them on account of the politics of the debate. And being gifted does not exclude the possiblity that the child also has other special needs like a learning disability or ADHD or any number of issues (maybe even an indigo aura??).
    NYC is of course its own thing, though I’m sure that the practice of parents lobbying hard to get their kids into programs that label their children as gifted is not singular to this area. And I’ve got real problems with that. But I don’t think that some school systems practicing what appears to be segregation based on parental enthusiasm, to put it generously, is a reason to dispute the wisdom of gifted programs in general. It’s a call to fix that problem. In some schools in the South, a similar segregation exists by means of an opposite mechanism—they simply channel black and poor kids in large numbers into remedial programs, then shuttle them onto the playground for the bulk of the day. No gifted program, but no less wrong. You and I are in complete agreement that all kids need good teachers and academic work that is challenging for them. If there’s patent unfairness in the resources allocated to different programs in a particular locality, then addressing that problem should be the focus.
    Part of the complication now, I think, is the extreme competitiveness found among both parents and kids. My experience in a gifted program was in the early 1980s, in high school English and History (all that was offered) in a lower to middle class suburb of Baltimore. It was considered undesirable by most of the kids to be in the gifted class because it meant harder work. The parents were highly suspicious of the classes—they didn’t want their kids to be considered “weird” (though, as the English teacher responded to one parent: the other kids already think he’s weird, we’re just putting all the weird ones together). And the teacher who taught a gifted class had to take a remedial class to balance it out (a dubious plan actually). There were a number of teachers who were very good, excellent in fact, but who were not well suited to the gifted class—I later heard from some of them that the year they spent teaching gifted was the most miserable of their lives.

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  17. I was lucky enough to spend the first 2 years of HS in the middle track and the last 2 in the AP track, at least in English, so I’ve seen both sides. I’d say that for English the gifted side wasn’t a whole lot nicer or more challenging. People who stress Catcher in the Rye and its ilk have a very narrow view of the purpose and scope of education.
    I can see the disproportionate use of resources being justified in two ways (I don’t know that either is true, just that they might be). First, it may be that spending 50% of the resources on the top 15% of students gives greater economic returns. This is the case in the hard sciences, where 15% of labs generate 50% of the papers. This is a version of the increasing returns argument.
    Second, it would be justifiable if all those who are capable of it had equal opportunity to get at it. This is almost certainly not the case now, but with outreach it might become the case.
    But with something like 75% of HS grads graduating with very poor literacy, I sincerely doubt that money is the main issue.

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  18. Let’s look at this from the other angle.
    If teachers are given the choice, I imagine most would prefer to teach more dedicated students. That means teachers will fight for slots teaching the gifted students, or, barring a job in a private or suburban school, bailing out of the teaching profession entirely. In a system where pay is based on seniority, the “brain drain” then is as much about teachers as middle class parents or, heaven forbid, Republicans.
    A merit pay program (more money to better teachers) joined to a hardship pay program (more money to teachers willing to take on the toughest students) might get you somewhere. But this means taking on the teacher’s unions.

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  19. Hey Laura, just wondering what your thoughts are on No Child Left Behind. That legislation attempts to do just what you’re arguing for: ensure that all children reach a baseline level of education, in the case of NCLF ensuring that baseline level through testing and benchmarks.

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  20. OK, here’s my K12 educational history:
    I was an early and enthusiastic reader, but not a student. By the end of second grade I had read a Moomintrolls book, Watership Down, all the Chronicles of Narnia, and the LOTR books. I didn’t have any sort of social life, which made me read more, and that made me even less popular! Also, my family was well educated, Pentecostal, and financially insecure, all of which came with a social price. I had a tendency to just tune out and read my books, and by fourth grade my academic career was in real jeopardy. My teacher (a friend of my parents) sent me to help the librarian with cataloging work. A fine idea (I suppose it counts as a “gifted” program), but it was like sending a wino to work at a liquor store as community service. In fifth grade, I was lucky to have two ex-nuns who team taught a double class together. I was very eager to please them, especially the one who taught writing. So, by sixth grade I was doing fairly well academically. I was in some sort of kiddy discussion group put together by the middle school administration. In seventh grade my dad had me take the SAT for the Johns Hopkins program, and I wound up with the best seventh grade SAT verbal score in Washington State. I skipped eighth grade, which made me the object of quite a bit of peer hostility in ninth grade, but I brushed it off and gave as good as I got. Highschool was not at all a bad time. I had my share of mediocre instructors, but also several good teachers and intellectually challenging subjects, even in our small rural school. I had the opportunity for much more congenial companionship than in earlier grades, but of course I didn’t have any real friends until college. I took Russian by correspondence from the University of Washington and was given a free period for my homework. Having run out of classes to take, I skipped twelfth grade and went straight into an early entrance program/honors program at the University of Southern California.

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  21. The atmosphere at my schools among students and most teachers was deeply anti-intellectual, and there was very little sense of what school was supposed to be preparing students for. One rarely got the sense that school was for learning. Ten years after I left school, I got a little booklet from a class reunion with paragraphs about nearly all my classmates. An amazing number of young men were just plain dead, thanks to bad luck and fast living. When I told my dad the numbers, he said that it was more than had died in Vietnam from his class.

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  22. Just to be clear. I am advocating not for the equality of student ouputs. The high IQ kids shouldn’t be held back from learning things in order to get everybody at the same level. The kids with lesser abilities should be helped as much as possible, but there shouldn’t be a cap placed on the development on the smart kids.
    I am advocating for equality of inputs for each student. The clever teachers should be spread around equally. The latest teaching methods applied everywhere.
    And when it comes to education, there’s the theory and the politics. Two very separate things. Yes, the Teeps and the Amys have had a tough time adjusting to an education system designed to reach the average. They absolutely should be provided access to read and learn at their own speed.
    But then there’s how the whole thing plays out. With pushier, more educated parents taking advantage of these programs. With these students getting access to more resources.
    Can we keep the good idea and eliminate the abuse, as Suze suggests?
    We also have to question whether the plight of gifted kids is the worst problem we face in education. If had to triage educational travesties, the fate of an average kid in a school in Hunts Point, Bronx ranks higher than a smart, white kid in Washington Heights. Take care of average kid in the Bronx first, then the smart, white kid. I guarantee that the horror they face is much worse than anything that we’ve faced.

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  23. How do you know? How is it worse? How much difference could school make, for the Bronx kid? How many more gifted people have to take their own lives before this argument goes out of fashion?
    Sorry for the ranty rhetorical questions. But I don’t believe comparing pain levels helps much.

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  24. “Chris — Of course, we want to keep the smart kids in the public schools. And if helps keep the good teachers around, too, then great. We should challenge the smart kids. There’s no reason to short change them. Isn’t there a way to challenge all kids? ”
    Yes, but you have to be willing to flunk some of them. The upside of that would be that, by keeping diplomas out of the hands of idiots, it becomes possible for 18 year olds to prove to potential employers that they’re not idiots with their diplomas, and fewer of them have to go to college to get a good job. And since diplomas have higher market value, people are willing to work harder to get them, which leads to higher academic achievement overall. (After all, a good teacher can’t do much if the student isn’t trying to learn. Give him an incentive to put forth the effort, and grade his learning and his work fairly, and it would then take a spectacularly malevolent teacher to stop him from learning by any means necessary.

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  25. Some purely anecdotal remarks…
    Up to the time that I started in a gifted program in grade 5, I looked down on almost all the other kids (with one exception) and their interests–sports, dolls, movies, etc. I saw myself as superior. In grade 5, I got taken out of class about once a week for an hour or two and went into a small gifted program (about five students in an elementary school of about 400). Finally, I had a larger pool of students whom I respected. That was good for me: a constant feeling of superiority is morally destructive. What suffered severely was my French–French was the class I was usually taken out of (this was Ottawa, Canada).
    In junior high (i.e., grade 8, since I skipped grade 7), we had a slightly larger gifted program, where I got taken out of boring classes like music and home economics. I finally met a student who–I feared–was smarter than me at a number of subjects. This was a very healthy experience. The elementary and junior high schools were government funded Catholic schools.
    In my public high school (i.e., grades 9 and 10, since I dropped out after grade 10 and went into the second year of a math/physics program at U of Western Ontario), I was in a school with a superb gifted program. It was coordinated by one of the counselors and consisted in gifted-level science, English and Personal Life Management classes (the latter was largely a loss, except maybe for the entertainment value of some wacky speakers). The other value of the school and the counselor was flexibility–in my first year they let me enroll in 12th grade comp sci and take a grade 13 equivalent math class at the university–and had a superb math contest team (two of the members went on to the Int’l Math Olympiad).
    The school attracted gifted students from all over the city, and so we had a fairly normal class size, and so I got to meet a significant number of people with whom I actually enjoyed socializing and some of whom enjoyed socializing with me. I met intellectual peers, which no doubt was preparation for later life. I could socialize instead of just reading books and programming and playing video games. And I was no longer the best in the class at every academic subject–some of the fellow gifted students were better at English than I, and most were better at biology, while I was better at math and physics. In hindsight, it was a valuable way of seeing the diverse strengths of different people. I was a stuck-up kid who thought himself superior, and some puncturing of self-esteem was very valuable.
    My elementary and junior high programs had a relatively high cost, namely very small class sizes, though that this was only for a couple of hours a week would mitigate the cost. These were Catholic schools, hence significantly underfunded compared to public ones at the time (Catholic schools in Ontario are fully government funded, but at the time received less money than public counterparts). The public high school program probably did involve us taking up a significant chunk of the time of the counselor who coordinated it, but because it was one of only two programs in a city of 350,000, the class sizes were only somewhat below normal, and so the teacher time cost was probably not that high.
    All that said, I had some educationally excellent experiences outside the gifted program, such as excellent grade 5 and 6 teachers, one of whom let me get out of regular math assignments and work at my own pace. But meeting intellectual peers is important. It seems to be generally acknowledged that being with peers is supposed to be a benefit of school, but if the peers are such only in age, then they are peers in appearance only.

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  26. “We also have to question whether the plight of gifted kids is the worst problem we face in education. If had to triage educational travesties, the fate of an average kid in a school in Hunts Point, Bronx ranks higher than a smart, white kid in Washington Heights. Take care of average kid in the Bronx first, then the smart, white kid. I guarantee that the horror they face is much worse than anything that we’ve faced.”
    I would argue that what Laura is describing is not two problems, with one being less important than the other, but two manifestations of the same flawed system. I don’t have the answer, but I think that the two issues may have a single solution. Or that if you can figure out how to motivate children to learn who don’t want to, educating those who want to learn MORE will be a snap.
    That said, I have to question Laura’s contrast between the “average kid in the Bronx” and the “smart, white kid” combined with her statement that “the horror they face is much worse than anything that we’ve faced”. A lot of the posters in this thread came from pretty tough backgrounds. Without doing too much of the Monty Python Yorkshiremen thing, I’m an escapee from the lower middle class, and I can match just about anybody horror story for horror story from the experiences of my family, my classmates, and my sister’s classmates. There were three of us kids and I was probably ten years old before we owned a sofa or a TV, and I was in seventh grade before my dad had a steady paycheck-every-month type job. The only time I went to homecoming, I wore a dress borrowed from a very nice Mexican family living in a trailer park. There was a lot of pointless death and violence around when my sister, brother, and I were in school: the usual wrecks and fatal car crashes, an accidental decapitation, a boy paralyzed after a stupid cafeteria prank, etc. For a while, it seemed like one student a year at our small high school (360 kids or so) was dying. And what about the drugs! What about the neighbors addicted to painkillers, or my sister’s classmate, a woman in her mid-twenties with her front teeth rotted out, most likely from meth. Just being white (or even smart) won’t save you from dealing with any of this stuff.
    Sorry for mouthing off to you, Laura!

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  27. Heh. Girlfiriend, that’s not mouthing off. It’s healthy debate.
    Lots of us have some scars from being the brainy kid in school. But who survives childhood unscathed? At some point or another kids torture other kids if not because of their brains, but because they have zits or are fat or have an unfortunate name. Kids are shits. The only kids that don’t get picked on are the couple of popular kids. But then life has a way of kicking them in the ass and they end up six months pregnant checking out my groceries at the supermarket.
    I do think we have compare the plight of smart kids with the vast majority of average kids and kids from poor backgrounds who really get shafted in American schools. I mean look at us. Despite all of the scars from youth, we’re professors and teachers and computer professionals. The poor, average kids that Amy went to school with are dead.
    There is only so much energy to make real change in education. It’s almost impossible to really do anything. Let’s take the poor, average kids who have a future in a pine box and help them first.

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  28. I guess my kids acount as smart white kids from Washington Heights–I’ve been here since my divorce evicted us from the Upper West Side. Still, having previously lived there got my younger kids into PS 87 on the now-defunct sibling acceptance policy, and living here now got my middle one into Mott Hall. The older one is at Stuyvesant.
    We moved to NYC for the schools, because we didn’t care for our assigned NJ elementary school and were paying for Montclair Kimberly. PS 87 is very similar except with a larger class size. Of course, knowing that you can afford to move into the catchment makes a decision like that easier. We were also familiar with Stuyvesant and Bronx Science because some of our classmates from Caltech were graduates, and they provide a damned fine free education.
    My satisfaction with my kids’ schools is of course based on the fact that they have better funding than most NYC public schools–provided by the parents at PS 87, by longtime corporate sponsors at Mott Hall, and I don’t know how Stuyvesant gets its money but they sure have it. The elementary school expects the parents to provide everything from paper to kindergarten aides, and I shudder to think what the school would be like without it.
    This is, of course, wrong.

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  29. There are ways a teacher can educate a multiplicity of IQ’s within the same classroom. This doesn’t work well in some subjects (like math as they get older) but does in a number of them. There are still some pull-outs for children on IEP’s on both ends of the spectrum, but one group’s needs shouldn’t take priority over another’s.
    I do believe every child should be exposed to interesting innovative education. My children’s school has both a higher special ed rate and gifted and talented rate than the district we are in. We still have the decent to high test scores that the unfunded mandate NCLB requires. We have graduated children off their IEP’s through intervention. We recognize not every child learns in the same manner. We also don’t consider children “idiots” unworthy of education or diplomas. Many of those kids are unsupported at home and frankly just need some adults to care about them and help them realize why they need to value their own education. All children get the enriching experiences. They all discuss books. They all make dioramas of ancient Mayan cities. They all go camping to re-enact the journey of Lewis and Clark. We are a public school, a public charter school. We struggle with funding and constantly worry about paying the bills. We have a huge waiting list from all socio-economic areas. Frankly any public school could do what we do, it just takes a lot of work from parents and teachers. The only problem is that we are a K-8 school. So next year my daughter will enter traditional public school. It’s a good one, but it certainly caters to AP students. I am glad she is one. I worry about her classmates who aren’t, who will now get lost in the system.

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  30. I started to write a comment on this, and it turned into a post of its own (it was longer than your original post!).
    Short version: I agree that it is bad that “average” students get boring, unchallenging classes. Middle class parents have the social capital to demand more for their kids, and often can work the system to get their kids into special programs, while working class and poor kids get left by the wayside, in part because the school system is less likely to recognize them as gifted. I believe that my own achievements came despite my school experiences. It also left me rather unprepared for college level work, though I managed to adjust eventually.
    On the other hand, lack of adequate educational programs for gifted students can drive middle class flight from the school system, as the parents with the most money and social capital decide that without more enriching programs, they can’t place their children there.
    Also, Catholic schools aren’t necessarily the answer.

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  31. The gifted problem

    Laura at 11D has a very interesting rant about gifted education. This is something I am very interested in, since I probably would have been considered a gifted child, and I’m quite confident that Lyra is also gifted, parental bias aside. I did not h…

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  32. Most of the ressearch on Catholic schools shows that their success has little with being Catholic. But these schools have what is known as a constrained curriculum. All students take college prep courses. Those that struggle get extra help. There is no low track, or middle track. There is the high-track to college.
    Perhaps the real problem isn’t whether the kid is gifted or not. Maybe the problem is that we don’t know much about how to teach.

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  33. I think we’re mixing in a lot of issues that schools, even excellent ones, are not capable of addressing. Their sphere of influence is necessarily confined, and you can’t look chiefly to schools to remedy all of the myriad social ills and individual problems that are leading kids to end up in pine boxes. The school has to be involved, it has to do what it can for the child in terms of social safety nets, but it doesn’t bear the entire burden of a child’s success. And the fact that the school can’t cure everything isn’t a reason to let it off the hook for the problems that are within its power to solve, and for me that includes providing an education that is appropriate to each child’s needs, whatever those needs are. I don’t think you can really argue effectively for “equal inputs.” Some kids just need something different: kids with learning deficits or delays, English language learners, and yes, the freaky genius ones too.
    I recognize that there’s the ideal of theory (or is that the theory of ideals?) and then the messy practice of life. I know that resources are limited—then again, I’m all for experiments with redistributing wealth, at least when it comes to funding education. But I don’t accept that jettisoning one child’s needs assures that another’s are met.
    Triaging gets tricky too—who trumps whom? And who decides? In your formula, Laura, “poor, average” trumps “smart, white,” but does “white, average” trump “poor, smart” or is it the other way around? Race/ethnicity, class, academic performance, and ability, however we choose to measure it, are all a pretty complex web, and I don’t think we want to be creating a hierarchy based on those things. I suppose you could construct an argument for a system based solely on reversing traditional privilege, but I wouldn’t want to do it. And you couldn’t possibly “triage” your own kids—no parent could. They all deserve your time and attention, though they need different things from you. And we as a society shouldn’t be so willing to accept it on behalf of public school kids either.
    All right, I’ll stop. But first, a request for clarification: Laura, your main disagreement seems to be with the school choice offered in NYC, like Anderson or Hunter Elementary, rather than with gifted education provided in local schools, which requires few resources, is that right?

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  34. I read some, but not all of the comments, because my blood was beginning to boil. Most of you commenters, as well as the blogger, mistake what giftedness is all about. A gifted child usually does NOT benefit from the so called ‘gifted’ programs because those programs are indeed planned only for the moderately gifted, those in the 125-135 IQ. If you understand the statistics of giftedness, you’ll quickly note that there are levels of giftedness that show the standard deviations above the norm. Modeerately gifted kids are those who are ‘bright’ but not exceptional. They do well in AP and honors classes, but tend to not have any specific gifted tendencies. However, as a child moves up the giftedness scale, the ability to fit into any school setting tends to wane as the IQ gets higher. Highly gifted kids, those with IQ’s <145, tend to manage in school, with some help from counselors, etc. Those are the kids we all know as 'nerdy geeks'. They're very smart, but have some social and emotional issues.
    As you go up the scale to the exceptionally gifted, (150-170) kids are less and less able to handle ANY type of traditional schooling. These kids are 3-4 standard deviations above the norm, and they learn to quickly and retain information to easily to be in any school setting unless they have been racically accelerated.
    And then you get to the profoundly gifted, the kids with IQs over 180. These are kids that cannot possibly be in a normal school setting unless they are radically accelerated and subject accelerated, and these kids usually are college bound very early. I've got one of these kids and I can tell you that what you're talking about is so foreign to my kid that it's silly. First, we are on the lowest possibly economic scale. Second, my child is 13 and in 10th grade, and will probably be in college within a year. He is subject accelerated as well as radically accelerated. He has been in private, public, theraputic schools, and has been homeschooled. This is a child who absolutely could not function emotionally or socially in any gifted program a public school would offer. He would not make it in a magnet gifted school either. He needs to be in honors/AP classes that move very quickly, and he needs to have instructors who will supplement his learning as well as understand his emotional needs.
    This isn't what gifted education is about nor will it ever be. And I haven't even touched upon the twice exception, gifted kids with learning differences. Believe me, those kids fail in gifted programs in record numbers.
    To learn about giftedness and to see what the research shows about educating the gifted (not the bright) I suggest
    http://www.hoagiesgifted.org

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  35. I’m a political scientist. All I care about is how programs are implemented and who benefits from them.
    In areas like NYC, the gifted and talented program, though it has great intentions, collects children only from parents that know enough to get their kids tested and are equipt to fill out the paperwork. These schools then monopolize the best teachers and receive special benefits. The abuses do seem much more stark in urban settings, than elsewhere.
    And, as Margalit points out, the word “gifted” itself has been abused. The really, really rare kid who fits in her definition of gifted wouldn’t even benefit from the traditional gifted program. My cousin’s kid is like that and is struggling in her gifted program. The teacher can’t deal with her daydreaming.
    The reality of education reform is making any change is nearly impossible. If I had to pick one thing to devote my time to it would doing something like finance equity or charters, something that would help a larger number of kids.
    I might spend all of my time on gifted education reform if I thought that these reforms would lead to an educational trickle down effect and a means of roping in money and resources for the larger school district. Instead of putting the bright kids in a separate building, they should be in the same building as regular ed. The teachers in the gifted program should have to teach one class of regular students. Any dollar that was targeted to a gifted school, should have .20 go to a poorer school (that’s a city-specific proposal). Teachers in the gifted programs should have to give regular demonstrations to regular education teachers about latest methods. All kids should be tested for the gifted programs, free of charge, in the first day of Kindergarten.

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  36. Margalit: very interesting. Thank you for sharing that website. Clearly the profoundly gifted are not going to fit into any organized program–but such children are also clearly very rare, so I can’t see how the existence of profoundly gifted children nullifies the rest of this discussion. Your comment that “gifted” programs don’t serve those children who are “highly” or “exceptionally” gifted is very concerning to me on a personal level (as opposed to the public policy discussion), since my husband and I both tested off the scale as kids, which according to the website you recommended, suggests that we are both probably “exceptionally” gifted (and in fact, my husband did very poorly in a public school gifted program and his parents ended up putting him in private school). If children do indeed tend to test within 5 points of their parents, this suggests that my hope that my own child will thrive in our local public school system’s G&T program may not be realistic.
    However, none of this challenges Laura’s larger point, which is that G&T programs often draw more resources and better teachers than classes aimed at the “average” students. G&T students go on more field trips and have more hands-on learning. Parents of bright children are very much aware of this difference, which is why they push so hard to get their bright but perhaps not gifted children into these programs. From a public policy standpoint, we need to figure out how to better serve the largest possible population, not just the gifted and not just the bright. Material aimed at “average” students doesn’t have to be boring and unchallenging.
    Oh and Laura–I would argue that giftedness testing should be repeated at intervals amongst the general student population, lest a child get missed in earlier round of testing.

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  37. But how do you deal with gifted kids without giving them more resources? How do you ensure that classes move quickly enough, that lessons are challenging enough, without extra resources? I’m not being combative; I genuinely don’t see how it’s possible.
    I’m thankful to Margalit for introducing the definition element of the debate–in my school board district, “gifted” was not “smart”. There were several divisions by the time we entered highschool: technical/trade, basic, general, advanced, and gifted/enhanced. What most of you seem to be talking about is “advanced”–kids who are heading for an acadmic career after highschool (university) but who aren’t necessarily brilliant. Basic was for kids with remedial issues; general for kids who were heading for college after highschool.
    From the gifted program entry-point on, “gifted” was defined as 98th percentile on the standardized tests or above. I don’t remember anyone studying for it–good god, we hated those tests. You didn’t get extra resources. You got shipped to another school, farther from home, stuck in a class labelled “enhanced” which did not make one popular with other kids in the school, and got exactly the same resources as the other kids. Whatever gifted kids there were went in the one class, unless there were too many for one class, in which case, there were two. For three years, I was in a split-grade class–grades 6, 7 & 8 all in one room, because there weren’t enough gifted kids in the region to justify three classes. You’d have to argue pretty hard to show me we were getting preferential treatment. Grade 4&5 ws another split grade class for the same reason.
    Generally, that meant we did the same grade TWO OR THREE TIMES, which did not help with the attention problem.
    The program had all kinds of problems, and I am not a supporter of it. It was still too easy, for one; I have never had to work hard at school to do well, gifted program or otherwise. And we were socially isolated and segregated and people were always telling us how amazing we would do in life because we were SO SMART–as if we actually live in a meritocracy. Most of the kids from back then are now ensconced in a comfortable middle-class existence, but they are not CEOs or up-and-coming politicians or headed for fame and fortune of any kind. The smartest ones were all failed; most of them ended up flunking out of university because after thirteen years of school that was way too easy, they could not get into the mindset of needing to hand in their homework. So they didn’t, and they flunked out. These were the ones with teh 180+ IQs. One guy that I know of is now working in a bicycle shop, and is happy as a duck. I don’t know why we think geniuses all need to be heading for the fast track.
    In any case, gifted education where I grew up was deeply flawed. I will certainly be examining it very, very carefully before placing my daughter in a similar system (and seeing as she’s two and has cognitive abilities of an average four-year-old, I think we may be heading down that road).
    I get the idea that it is very different in NYC. It certainly is not the case here that gifted kids get more, of anything. They don’t, and that’s exactly why it fails.

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  38. Here’s another way to think about it: what is the point of public education? Why do we taxpayers cough up money to educate everyone’s children, and when ours are grown, continue to pay for the education of others? (And of course, the childless pay for the education of other people’s children.)
    We do so to help as many as children as possible get the following:
    Be able to participate in a democracy as voters, citizens, etc.
    Be able to have the skills to participate in the economy.
    Be able to pursue happiness (in some form)
    We do this with limited resources. If we had unlimited resources, who knows what public education would look like. But we don’t so given our goals and resources, what should we do?
    One of the skills of participating in the economy, being a citizen, etc. is being able to survive boredom. Or be patient enough to wait for your own interests to come up. Or be able to work with others of differing abilities. Should schools teach those skills? Should gifted kids learn to deal with their giftedness so they have the skills to be both leaders and highly productive members of a diversely-abled society?
    If we fail to teach them to work with others by surrounding them only with children like them, are we doing them a disservice? People have made this argument to criticize other types of schools that segregate students by attribute–race, gender, ability, religion, etc.
    Just a thought.

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  39. I rather assumed that most of the people who commented understood the traditional definitions of giftedness. I’ve avoided using that word wherever I could because I think it, along with words like “average” and “special ed” and “remedial” are part of the problem, part of the reason that there’s resistance to educating these kids. And there are legitimate difficulties with assessment, too—at a GT camp I attended one summer we all took a battery of IQ tests as part of our study of the future of intelligence, and it was stunning how differently some kids scored. Some who were geniuses on one test were barely average on another.
    The fact is that the distribution of kids with an IQ of 174+ is very small—only 0.0099% of the population scores up there, so most schools are never going to deal with such a student in their entire history. These kids need an IEP worked out with the parents and the district. Most kids in gifted education are going to be in the high 120s through the 140s, closer to 4% of the population. Though it’s true that a lot of schools are pressured to lower the standards to get a bigger class size, and then you begin to dilute the effects somewhat because the class moves more slowly to accommodate the kids at the lower end of the range. There is a distinction between honors or college-prep courses and gifted classes that definitely gets blurred, in part because there is some overlap.
    It sounds like many of the programs that commenters here have experienced are spectacularly ill-designed and administered, which is problematic in education in general. And the biggest problem I see is that gifted classes are often taught by teachers who aren’t suited or prepared.
    JennyD raises a very interesting point, and it is one of the reasons that I’d advocate mainly for programs that are fluid and not wholly segregated, and which recognize that a child with outstanding verbal abilities may not have outstanding mathematical abilities. The problem with the argument JennyD puts out there is that it can also be turned to say: if our concern as a society is with preparing as many children as possible to participate in the economy or participate in democracy in a meaningful way, we should not be investing our limited resources in children who are not going to be able to do that. When we start using only public good to make these decisions, it’s easy to get to a place where we don’t bother with kids who have serious problems and whose predicted outcomes are very poor. But we are still committed to educating these kids, and in fact it is illegal to fail to provide appropriate plans (not that they’re all so great either). Pennsylvania, I know, has a similar law that includes gifted in that special ed need.

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  40. Two things still concern me about this discussion. One is testing. In order to test a child for giftedness, you need to find a tester that KNOWS how to test for giftedness. A regular school psychologist rarely will know much about giftedness and will often misinterpret subtest scores or not understand the ceiling of tests. (I’ve got a PhD in test and measurement and I’ve seen some amazingly bad testing in my career). The deal is, when you test kids you want to test for both achievement (what the child already knows, and this is graded by grade levels) and the IQ tests. HOWEVER, certain test are very poorly designed and can easily be misinterpreted. The Wisc 3, for example, is not reliable after a score of 130. Even Weschler, the test designer says this. But often psycholgists will give scores that do not reflect the limitations of the test.
    Once you see a Wisc test with at least 3 subtests scored over 17 (19 being the top score), the child has ceilinged the test. This means that any score is invalid. For example, when my son first took the WISC, he got 11 subtests of 19, and 3 more of 17+. They gave him a score of 142, but it was completely invalid because he ceilinged almost every subtest.
    Then you get into really sticky territory. There are hardly ANY testers that know how to test the profoundly gifted. The SB-LM is the only “accurate” test for that kind of IQ score (although the SB-5 is supposed to be better than anything else that is new) but the SB-LM was last written in the 1970s and hardly anyone knows how to use it, never mind has it. I think there are less than 10 testers in the US that do the SBLM. Think about that for a second.
    So much of the testing is inaccurate. Which means that kids are being left out of gifted programs left and right because their parents coulen’t afford to send them off to Colorado or NY to get tested by someone that knows how to test the gifted. Low income kids are notoriously left out of the game due to testing issues.
    The next thing that is irritating me is the assumption that there are available gifted and talented programs nationwide. There are not. My state, Massachusetts, does not believe in giftedness. They believe that EVERY child is gifted and they offer absolutely NO gate/tag programs whatsoever. None. That is true of all New England states but Maine, and Maine offers almost nothing. Some states are amazing. Tennessee has great gifted ed. Some states offer almost nothing, like California with it’s 1 hour/week pullout gate programs. Big f’ing deal.
    The fact is, most gifted kids are left completely out of any special education. IEPs are not written for them in most states. They don’t get any recognition, which is why they have the HIGHEST dropout rate and suicide rate of any teen group. Yup, the brightest kids are the biggest failures of our school systems. Why is that fair? Because God gave them a bit extra in the smart department?
    People are, as a rule, very against giftedness. You get the nastiest comments when you have a GT kid. It’s assumed you pushed your kid, that you make them learn, that you’re a pushy parent. But you can’t stop a gifted child from learning, nor can you slow their learning down. Our schools are so dumbed down as it is, why expect that a GT kid would be just fine with honors/ap classes. They aren’t. The only thing that works for GT kids is radical acceleration and subject acceleration. You might not believe this, but the parents of GT kids swear it works, and I’m with them. My 13 YO son is in 10th grade and doing spectacularly well. He has friends, he’s popular, he’s got no social issues, and he’s happy being with kids who are more of his intellectual peers. WHY IS THIS WRONG?????

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  41. OK. It’s time to tie up this debate. While I felt that gifted programs have been abused by groups and increased inequities, most commenters weren’t all that concerned with that. They were felt these programs were essential to helping the smart kids who were not being reached in public education today.
    Since there is such a large interest in gifted education policy, if I come across a paper that discusses a good policy for reaching this population, I will post on it. But it has to be pretty hardcore and one that doesn’t neglect the political component.
    A couple of final notes — Lisa V wrote how her charter school reached all kids by having individualized goals. If this program could be scaled up, it sounds very promising.
    After reading through some of the websites for the gifted, I’m struck by how little emphasis is placed on having social skills. I’m on a listserv for kids with disabilities, many of whom are also gifted. The discussion is always about social skills. The parents trade ideas for helping their kids integrate into the larger school population, for winning friends, for blending. After reading a hundred testimonials about how regular people hate smart people, I have to wonder whether some social skill remediation would help them.
    I’ll leave this thread open, but I’m moving on to new topics.

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  42. Laura,
    That’s a very good point about remedial social skills. I’m just worried that in practice it would look a lot like Mrs. Coulter’s sticker book therapy or worse. After all, many teachers dislike “smart kids” too. I think that I personally would have benefited from that kind of remediation early in elementary school, when there was still shared interests between me and my classmates. However, later on (when my classmates were 11 years old going on 18) it would have been quite useless, because there wouldn’t have been any sort of shared interests anymore. Any child who genuinely loves learning and knowing things is going to suffer at a school where these things are an afterthought. And conversely, if learning is genuinely embraced at a school, I think a normal bright kid will do OK, even without many extras.

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  43. The probelm is that nice books, enrichment activities and field trips, while OK for smart or moderately gifted children, do not come even close to cutting it for a highly or exceptionally gifted child. It does not matter if the child gets pulled out for chess one day a week if he or she has to do classwork based on the child’s age, not his ability.
    What the highly gifted + need would not cost the districts much at all- simply let the children who are ready for 5th grade reading go to the 5th grade reading class- even if they need to be in 2nd grade for handwriting.
    Placing a child in a classroom full of children the same age does not do anything to enhance social skills. It merely creates a group of children who are very very easy to market products towards.

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  44. thank you Mary for your very intelligent and correct comment — I feel the same way. My daughter has an IQ of 130 and was reading a 5th grade chapter book in class (from her backpack from home) but the teacher said it wasn’t allowed so she is stuck reading normal 3rd grade reading books when her reading level is much higher. nothing like slapping someone down for something they can’t help but yet helping to advance the below average readers. so where does underachievement start then? right there.

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  45. “My daughter has an IQ of 130 and was reading a 5th grade chapter book in class (from her backpack from home) but the teacher said it wasn’t allowed so she is stuck reading normal 3rd grade reading books when her reading level is much higher.”
    That is so sad. Kari, if you’re still around, what was your response?

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  46. so where does underachievement start then?
    Based on my drive to work this morning, the Pittsburgh Department of Public works is where underacheivement ends, but I’m not sure where it starts.

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  47. I just have a hard time believing Kari’s comment. There is no logical reason these days why a kid should have to read a book that’s below his or her level in his or her free time at school, and it’s hard for me to imagine a school that doesn’t encourage free-time reading. There are reading activities that the class does as a whole, yes (well, in my kids’ school it’s reading-group based), and those may be below the level of one child. And I remind you, according to NCLB, my kids’ school is “failing.” But that’s another rant for a time when I don’t have 12 more papers to grade before 11:30.

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  48. Two of our daughters so far have run into situations similar to the one Kari describes, though the caveats that Wendy mentions apply. It’s not that anyone has forbidden Megan or Caitlyn from reading material on their own which is above the level of most of the rest of the class, but there are obstacles which appear. For example Caitlyn, currently in 4th grade, has been prevented from checking out of the school library anything above her grade level–and since the whole class is taken to the library regularly, and required to check out a book to read and report on, this is real pain and annoyance to her. So things like this haven’t created a culture of underachievement…but they do generate a feeling that one ought not advertise or draw attention to one’s own excellence in reading–which, when you’re dealing with young girls, can be a real issue. (I sometimes think my wife’s whole professional ambition is to get a library degree so she can replace the librarian at our daughter’s elementary school.)

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  49. My eldest child ran into that problem, in 1st grade, as did some of her classmates. The books provided in the classroom were nowhere near the books they read at home–Henry & Mudge, rather than Edward Eager or Nancy Drew, for example. The teacher (who has since retired) and the 1st grade team, held to the philosophy that “picture books are better written than chapter books.” Don’t ask me to defend that philosophy. I believe it arose out of a deep discomfort with the obvious differences in reading ability in the class.
    My youngest is now running into this, books from home are forbidden, and certain books in the classroom are forbidden. At present, though, there are interesting books available at his level. We will need to monitor the situation.

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