Mayor DeBlasio recently proposed getting rid of the special gifted and talented schools in New York City. There’s scrutiny on the IQ test given to 4-year olds. Those schools basically caused us to leave New York City, so I have written a lot about them in the past.
In a nutshell, I had my kid tested when he was FOUR YEARS OLD (ugh!) to see if he was gifted and talented, like all of my friends. Because nobody wanted to send their kid to the underfunded local school. He did well enough to get into the lower level gifted schools, but it would have involved lots of subway riding with Ian who was still a toddler who needed naps. I couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so we left.
In a rant on Twitter this morning, I listed my reasons for hating G & T programs:
- There is no scientific way of sorting out a bunch of hyper 4 and 5 year olds into two camps of gifted and not gifted. None. Just looking at my son’s cohort at school, his kindergarten teacher sorted extremely badly. The kid who is on track to be an aerospace engineer at NASA? Dissed.
- The process of sorting kids into two piles — gifted v. forgettable — is awful. Full stop.
- Why should one group of kids get more challenging, fun instruction with higher paid teachers than another group? Equal education for all.
- The literature on G & T verges on science fiction. Attributing supernatural powers of empathy and reason to mysterious kids. It’s laughable.
- There’s a place for specialized programs in high school, where sorting is based on mature test taking ability and years of evidence of solid work. But earlier than that, it’s silly, unfair, and pointless.
- The Gifted Education Debate or The Real Brain Drain
- Not So Gifted and Talented
- And a really old one from 2003… Testing Testing . This post is interesting for two reasons. First, because I made a major rookie blogging error and blogged about a friend, who read it and was mad at me. Also, the girl that the test found was “average,” now goes to an Ivy League college. So, fuck you, testers!
73 thoughts on “Revisiting the Gifted & Talented Debate”
“There is no scientific way of sorting out a bunch of hyper 4 and 5 year olds into two camps of gifted and not gifted.”
True. So don’t try to do it at 4.
“The process of sorting kids into two piles — gifted v. forgettable — is awful.”
And a bad idea, because a kid can be gifted in one or two areas, and quite average (or even below average) otherwise.
“Why should one group of kids get more challenging, fun instruction with higher paid teachers than another group? Equal education for all.”
Why not stick the kindergartners in the same class as the 12th graders? Equal education for all!
At some point, the idea of equality as sameness breaks down–not all kids can do exactly the same work, even at exactly the same age, and what is pleasantly challenging for one kid will be hellish and unreasonable to ask of another kid the same age.
This gets more obvious with older kids. My oldest is in AP Calculus AB, and is taking to it like a duck to water. Meanwhile, it sounds like a number of her classmates are floundering. Should all kids do AP Calculus–or do we at some point acknowledge that different kids have different gifts and needs?
Our youngest child is one of the oldest kids in her 1st grade class. She’s going to spend nearly all of her 1st grade year as a 7-year-old. And that’s great for her! It would have been a disaster for her to be in 1st grade last year. “Equal” education for her with other 6-year-olds would have been a trainwreck.
“There’s a place for specialized programs in high school, where sorting is based on mature test taking ability and years of evidence of solid work. But earlier than that, it’s silly, unfair, and pointless.”
A lot of bright kids will have tuned out by then.
Why not middle school?
I think we have very different experiences of gifted programs.
You’ve got the weird NYC thing of phony baloney gifted testing of 4-year-olds.
My husband (who had HORRIBLE social experiences in school) found his gifted pull-out program a haven from the harsh realities of normal school and he made lasting friendships there. I think it was just barely academic at all, mainly social.
(I kind of wonder what would be the point of gifted programs in high school, because a fair number of super duper gifted kids will be taking college courses by then and won’t be around much. I was out of school by 16–my husband might have been out by 15.)
Our kids don’t have a gifted program at school. In the early grades, everybody takes the same stuff on the same track (which is not always totally realistic!), and then things start tracking a bit in junior high, and then there’s a bunch of tracking in high school. But there’s a lot more for them academically in high school than there was for us when we were their age.
Our kids have done summer gifted camps/classes. I think that a lot of the one-week programs they’ve done are fair game for Laura’s criticism about how a lot of non-gifted-classified kids could do the same stuff. I think that’s less true in a year-round school program, though, as education is cumulative. The summer gifted program that we have participated in (kids learning, husband teaching sometimes) is primarily attended by Hispanic public school kids who get picked up by bus and given lunch, and one of the things they get out of it is exposure to their local college campus. Our kids are (being white and middle class) are definitely in the minority in that program.
tldr; There are a lot of different ways to do gifted education.
If the tests don’t produce a meaningful sort, then there’s no reason to worry, much less decamp for New Jersey, just because your child doesn’t score very high.
In my (entirely second-hand) experience, the various NYC tests mostly select, in operation, for the kids with pushy parents who care intensely about their children’s schooling and expend the time and effort and make their children expend the time and effort to get a decent education. Such parents may be of any race, but they are not drawn proportionately from each group.
The reason to decamp is that programs draw children from the higher academic edge of the distribution, changing the remaining distribution in the classroom. In my neck of the neighborhoods, folks sometimes estimate that 25% of the kids qualify for a gifted program. Our neighborhood school did not have a “self-contained” GT program. In schools that did, though, the cohort in the classroom of those who did not qualify was substantially different than that of the neighborhood (especially if you count repeat testing and leaving for private schools).
I don’t really have any experience with G&T programs. But, I’m a little confused by your rant. Aren’t we glad that a kid who was dissed in moving on to be successful? Wouldn’t it be horrible if their fates were set at 4 or 5 and chosen as gifted and talented actually mattered? Because it really seems that it doesn’t matter if you sort into the program or not. So giving advantages to some kids and not others doesn’t seem to have a long lasting effect here. This seems true for lots of things at that age. Give extra tutoring to little kids, the effects disappear by 6th grade etc.
I think G&T programs do a few things:
1. Those programs give the chosen kids a major gold sticker. It can either make them freeze up with all the pressure and more risk adverse. Or it might give them tons of confidence, so they always chase every opportunity. It depends on how the kids is wired. Either way, kids get a label of smart or not smart at very young, impressionable age.
2. Since it’s really impossible to determine who’s smart and who’s not at such a young age, kids aren’t’ sorted properly. Kids who would have benefited from extra attention and super fun lessons miss them. Plus, they’ve been labeled as “not smart,” so unless they have parents who pull for them, they might never end up as a NASA scientist.
3. Every kid should have super fun lessons and challenging instruction. Not just those who pass those tests in kindergarten. And these aren’t just one year programs, Tulip. Kids are in them for all years of instruction throughout elementary school and then funneled into honors classes.
4. They cost money. Why are we spending money on dumb programs?
Laura wrote, “Plus, they’ve been labeled as “not smart,” so unless they have parents who pull for them, they might never end up as a NASA scientist.”
In areas without strong gifted programs, how many kids who don’t have parents pulling for them wind up as NASA scientists?
The vast majority of US school districts look nothing like what you describe with regard to NYC gifted education. And yet those non-NYC school districts are somehow not churning out rocket scientists…
“3. Every kid should have super fun lessons and challenging instruction.”
“4. They cost money. Why are we spending money on dumb programs?”
Question: How can NYC gifted programs be simultaneously a) fun and challenging and b) dumb and useless?
The lessons are fun and makes privileged kids more privileged. The stated goal of nurturing the best of the best is dumb and elitist.
Well, I certainly agree with 4. But otherwise I agree with Amy, you’re arguing they’re useless and that it’s not fair the other kids don’t get to be in it. Also, if the kids gets into a class, but doesn’t have parent’s pulling for them, it’s unlikely they end up working for NASA.
By all means, get rid of them, but don’t kid yourself that it will make everyone more equal.
I’m not concerned with equity of outcome. I’m concerned with equity of inputs. Everybody should have a great teacher and a fun lesson, not just a bunch of kids who tested well at four years old and then stay in a program benefitting year after year.
Is the situation in NYC as inequitable as you describe — that the teachers are paid more? that more money is spent on the programs? In our neck of the woods, it does not work that way. What the GT schools do provide is a cohort drawing from the (relatively) more priveleged population in the public schools. I say relatively, because there are also private schools, in which the population is even more privileged (at least in terms of money — since our neighborhood has both major medical centers & a university, educational attainment of parents may be higher in our public school).
Is the situation in NYC as inequitable as you describe — that the teachers are paid more? that more money is spent on the programs? In our neck of the woods, it does not work that way. What the GT schools do provide is a cohort drawing from the (relatively) more privileged population in the public schools. I say relatively, because there are also private schools, in which the population is even more privileged (at least in terms of money — since our neighborhood has both major medical centers & a university, educational attainment of parents may be higher in our public school).
A good article here on “super fun lessons and talented instruction.”
I think everybody should read the Quillette piece about working in chaotic, dangerous NYC schools where every piece of information successfully imparted to students was a miracle and where the administration often had zero support to offer teachers in terms of classroom management (teachers weren’t allowed to send any students out, no matter how disruptive) and where students would be punished by peers if they did homework.
–She’s describing working with older kids (primarily high schoolers), so the piece does not apply to elementary school in NYC.
–She says that the school completely loses the kids’ attention at puberty. (I’d note here that aside from hormonal stuff that make adolescents less manageable, they’re often also suddenly LARGE, so they are physically a lot more intimidating–this is not insignificant. I have two teens myself who are both taller than me now, and it does make a difference!)
–There seems to be at most a PK-6 window for teaching these NYC kids before school turns into total chaos.
–Coincidentally, she said that they were typically graduating high school with the equivalent of a 7th grade education…
–She stayed in SO long. I was amazed–I was expecting her to be a one or two-year escapee, but no.
–I ran the piece past an online contact of mine who is from a Caribbean NYC family, and he said that the piece is generally correct. The peer influence in NYC public schools is often disastrous on Caribbean kids from immigrant families, no matter how middle class and ambitious the family, and is much feared by Caribbean parents.
–I believe there have since been some reorganizations in at least one of the schools.
Oops, my comment got eaten, and I think I need to contribute that my kids did go to a private GT school for which they were tested as five year olds. We loved the school, so much that I am still a serious supporter of the school. And yet, I wholeheartedly agree that there is no way to scientifically separate 4-5 year olds as “gifted” and “not gifted” with a hard threshold. I do think cognitive testing can provide information about children that could be relevant to their education.
And, our school was private (not taxpayer supported, though tax-benefited, I wouldn’t oppose getting rid of those tax benefits). I couldn’t support the GT programs in the public schools (though I couldn’t oppose them either), which I fear allow a relatively more privileged population to segregate themselves from the rest of their community at tax-payer expense. There are those who argue that gifted can be a special education need. It’s not for my children. They would be fine. But, the school they went to was originally founded by parents whose “gifted” children were struggling in public schools and the teachers who were there at the beginning describe a certain kind of square peg kid who they think benefits from the school.
As Laura intimated in a previous post, the fear is that without G&T programs, the upper classes (and the middle-class or immigrant strivers) will depart completely from the public schools, which will reduce their resources and political support. In the case of the striving classes, said departure will involve departing completely from the city, reducing its law-abiding and taxpaying population, as happened in Laura’s case.
Read your “testing, testing”. Pretty amazing that it was written 16 years ago. What a different world we were in then. So, I think the real issue is what you state at the end, “The problem is that there are so few opportunities for kids in the city public school system.’
Also, my 5yo thought the test was the most fun he ever had and wanted to take more of them (and did, in one that I got to watch through a 1-way mirror, for a child development study). I think the thing is every kid is different and this debate needs to be kept at the level of the allocation of public resources.
(and, although kiddo has participated in studies involving electrodes, though none with suction cups, the standard IQ tests involve neither).
It sounds like a steroid version of tracking. I do support tracking. Not every kid is at the same place developmentally and some are ready for reading while others are learning to sit still. I think the model of bringing them all in at the same age is a problem and one with persistent impacts. Of course, I think the whole thing is a problem and would have home schooled if I could have made the logistics work.
You’ll never get equality of inputs as long as some parents read to kids, take them to.museums etc. I think you even discussed that in terms of Ian and math. So even if they go to the same schools with the same teachers the inputs will be vastly different especially since the kids differ developmentally, which affects the ability to benefit.
You should do one of those “how my mind has changed” analyses on these old posts. Are you, bj, AmyP, y81, and Wendy saying exactly the same things you all did 9 years ago? Or have your opinions changed as your kids got older?
NYC sounds like a crazy system. I do think lower-key gifted programs starting in middle school (4 is way too early, but high school maybe a little late) can help the socially struggling smart kids. So maybe some tracking by 6th grade.
Vee haff vays of making you vorking class.
Apparently I haven’t changed.
My mind has changed on a lot of things over 9 years. (E.g., I am much less enthusiastic about free trade than I used to be.) But my views concerning the NYC public school system have always been entirely disinterested and only minimally informed, so they probably won’t change.
I appear to have been more confident about testing than I am now (and I think I was pretty measured even then). I’m only in one of Laura’s 3 blog posts, though.
“You should do one of those “how my mind has changed” analyses on these old posts. Are you, bj, AmyP, y81, and Wendy saying exactly the same things you all did 9 years ago?”
I don’t know if I’m even saying the same things day to day. 😀
“I don’t know if I’m even saying the same things day to day. 😀”
My sister put her kids in a charter school. It’s very prep school. Very rigorous, not something I would choose for my kids. But, her main argument has always been, her son now has friends. He was the odd one out who really cares about school, and at that school he wasn’t odd. My kids were always the popular trend setters and if that had been different, I might have chosen differently.
Now, her kids are engineers, and I have a web designer/English teacher living in Romania and a forensic accountant (one more section for her CPA) in Oklahoma. I consider my kids just as successful, but I’m sure others may not. At least mine are self-supporting.
Tulip said, “My sister put her kids in a charter school. It’s very prep school. Very rigorous, not something I would choose for my kids. But, her main argument has always been, her son now has friends. He was the odd one out who really cares about school, and at that school he wasn’t odd.”
I have a lot more to say later (apologies in advance!), but the social stuff is very important.
My husband got a friendly peer group via his gifted pull-out group, which was something I didn’t have, or at least didn’t have until at least 10th or 11th grade.
Our kids go to a small PK-12 private school and our oldest is a senior now and has been there since kindergarten. There’s been a fair amount of attrition and new kids coming in, but our kids have felt very much at home for years. I was astonished when our oldest was in 8th grade and she was doing well emotionally and academically and on good terms with everybody in her small class. That blew my mind–isn’t 8th grade supposed to be HELL?
(There are issues with a very small high school. Dating can be weird and any social problem or drama has the potential to be immensely magnified because you see the same small group of people ALL the time, but my big kids have been very happy. Our 9th grader always seems to be with his 10 best friends, which also blows my mind. It’s possible to have friends in high school–who knew? Our oldest even had a date to prom last year, which is pretty amazing, given the gene pool that she hails from.)
Self-supporting, personally feeling that they are making a contribution (I’ll let them decide), and satisfied with their day to day lives is all I want for my children. Those are hard to deliver. I fight against definitions of success that would exclude either a teacher or a accountant or a web designer. And, unfortunately, in my world, I do need to fight. It helps that we have friends and family who are teachers and nurses and others who aren’t millionaires.
My kid came to me this morning saying that his AP CS class has lots of swag from microsoft & amazon (showed me the yoyo, but there were also sunglasses, water bottles, video games, and a robot to learn to program, though that was for the classroom). He proposed that soon, all the jobs will be programming.
He thinks not teaching, though, and we discussed whether he would learn from a computer. He doesn’t think so, though he spends much of his free time browsing the web for interesting ideas.
It seems to me that the problem isn’t with G/T education but NYC schools in general, exacerbated by the messed up selection process for the G/T schools. Given the amount of poverty in NYC, though, it is not clear that any better selection process would fix the underlying problem, which is a level of poverty above the critical mass that causes dysfunctionality in many neighborhood schools. And even the NYC G/T selection process problems are overstated. It is portrayed as “you have to take this test at four or you are done,” when you can sit for the test up until third grade. The problem isn’t that if you fail at four you are finished but rather that certain parents don’t want to put their kid in their neighborhood school for kindergarten and are looking for any way out. Getting rid of G/T programs won’t solve this problem.
In general, though, differentiated instruction is good, and the more differentiated instruction the better. This has been true for my kids throughout their schooling and for different reasons at different times. At times, it is because they have needed to be challenged, at others it is because they need to be with a peer group that is more motivated about school, and for our son who is autistic, the fact that he is in a full slate of G/T classes allows him to be with peers who are more socially accepting.
We’ve been in public school systems in three different countries with three different ways of handling differentiated instruction. In Australia, there were specific G/T classes that our son tested into for years one and two. Interestingly, there were fairly severe off-ramps to the G/T track as well. You needed to re-qualify every year and people did routinely get dropped from the Advanced Learning Program, as it was called. I liked that, that once you got in it wasn’t a free ride to glory, but something that you needed to keep earning. On the other hand, we had a friend who was going through a messy divorce with the concomitant instability and both her daughters got dropped that year. She felt a fair amount of guilt about that…
In the UK, in the grotesquely underfunded (by American standards) public school system, there were no G/T tracks at the primary level. But, every student was expected to receive differentiated instruction. Their progress was assessed every year and they were expected to progress a certain amount from where they began the year (and the teachers were evaluated on their progression and the schools were evaluated on how far each student reached by the end of year six.) The result was that both of our kids were between one and a half and two years ahead of on-year performance when we returned to the US, in spite of not having a day of in-school specialized G/T instruction. (One of them was recommended for special after-school enrichment, though.)
In the upscale suburban county where we moved, G/T means something specific. Namely, that the student is working at two years or more above grade level. This is assessed starting in primary school and there are several on-ramps. Again, there are also off-ramps, so that if students aren’t performing at that level, they get dropped back. It would be a mistake to get rid of this differentiation. If students are working at this level they should have a chance to be instructed at this level. Not only is it a disservice to these students to put them in a class with the at or below grade level students, but it is a disservice to those students as well, in that they deserve a teacher who will teach them at the level they are at rather than concentrating on the needs of students who are more advanced.
It sounds like Laura is getting perilously close to arguing that G/T is not a thing that exists, which I truly hope she isn’t.
You know that fourth grade thing where the teacher puts a centipede head for each kid somewhere on the classroom’s eaves, and for each book a kid reads and writes up, the kid adds a link to the centipede’s body? And at a time when most of the kids’ centipedes have four or five or six links, there’s one kid whose centipede goes down to the floor and rolls forward a bit? There’s your G/T kid.
Or the claim that the kids who are two (or more) grade levels above the classroom they are sitting in will be happy to bring the other kids along? Lol, no. They will see the injustice of their situation and setting about subverting it, very possibly in ways that are cleverer than the teacher can figure out.
Yes, G/T has been used to re-segregate, which it shouldn’t be. Yes, G/T can be tricky to spot, especially with the vagaries of kids having periods of faster and slower development. Yes, G/T can be gamed by privileged parents, especially if school and/or political authorities are happy to let them do it because it props up existing power structures.
Laura, you’ve written about how horrible it is that districts try to warehouse special needs kids instead of giving them the instruction and resources that they need to become who they can be. Why do you seem to be saying that it’s ok to keep G/T kids in an environment that stunts them?
Doug said, “And at a time when most of the kids’ centipedes have four or five or six links, there’s one kid whose centipede goes down to the floor and rolls forward a bit? There’s your G/T kid.”
OK, that’s hilarious!
“Or the claim that the kids who are two (or more) grade levels above the classroom they are sitting in will be happy to bring the other kids along? Lol, no. They will see the injustice of their situation and setting about subverting it, very possibly in ways that are cleverer than the teacher can figure out.”
HA HA HA!
Or the other students will decide to punish them.
I had a very vivid experience with the problem of the split class with French in high school. My French teacher was talked into doing a combined first year/second year class. As the administrator said, “The second years can help the first years!” I did actually do a certain amount of help, and that was fine, BUT I did not get a real second year French experience myself, as we second years were supposed to be working at our own pace in the middle of a first year French classroom.
That wasn’t a life-wrecking catastrophe for me, but it did give me a lot of insight into what the odds are that an average teacher can successfully run a differentiated class on multiple levels.
(My oldest’s Latin teacher has been much more successful with split classes in upper level Latin, but a) he’s a very forceful personality and a popular teacher and b) the classes are small and well-behaved. I still wish that my kid’s group had his full attention for the entire class period, though…)
The least crazy of the G/T literature says that kids have a fixed intelligence at birth that can be calibrated at an early age, is highly predictive of future success, and keeps them motivated in a sea of mediocrity. Based on the rather large cohort of kids that I’ve known from age 5 to age 20, it doesn’t hold up.
Take my NASA kid example. The determination of G/T was made with an IQ test and the recommendation of a kindergarten teacher, who wasn’t the shiniest penny in the drawer. He was a very quiet, shy kid, who rarely raised his hand and was very reserved. Even though he aced all his classes and got top marks on standardized tests, his teachers throughout elementary school never recommended that he retake the G/T test. He rose through the ranks eventually when he got to middle school and was able to place into all the honors and AP classes. It took a while for him to believe he was smart, because his teachers didn’t think he was smart.
Another kid I know did place into the G/T slot, in part because his mother held him back a year and he was a full year older than the other kids in the class, was highly verbal, and loved to impress adults. By the time that kid got to middle school, he started struggling in math class. It was a huge blow to his ego, because he had been told he was smart and gifted throughout elementary school and being smart became part of his identity. Is in therapy now.
Yet another kid was in special ed for math throughout elementary school [edited]. Turns out her brain just need to mature. Now, she’s a math major taking super advanced calc classes at a highly prestigious college.
I could go on and on.
I do believe strongly in personalized instruction. In elementary school, I read four grades ahead of my peers. But I had those SRA kits, so I could read at my own level. I was an average math student, however, so I learned along with everyone else for that.
Sometimes, people are smart in one way and not another. Take Ian. On paper, he’s a special ed kid. In reality, he learned five computer languages this summer. I have the very real concern that he’s going to get admitted to MIT, but I’ll have to attend school with him, because he won’t have the social skills to manage it on his own. But that’s another topic.
I very much understand that being bored in the classroom is a bad thing. And that having to camouflage intelligence is a bad thing (did it for years). Average kids are bored in the classroom, too, by the way. But the bigger problem for me is that “gifted” label. I’ve seen it misused and misapplied. I don’t even like the word; I think everyone has gifts of some sort.
In NYC, the gifted and talented schools are an even bigger problem, because they put too much resources in one place and there is strong socio-economic bias. Those schools get the best teachers, because they would rather be teaching motivated, middle class kids with parents who raise tons of money for extra activities, than be placed in schools with less resources, traumatized students (writing about this now), and rotating administration. And those schools — gifted and talented schools and regular schools — can be side-by-side.
Jonah went though the testing process in the city. His ability to interact with an adult as an equal, which is a skill that is honed in families like ours, was an important facet of the evaluation. That’s a problem for me.
I think kids should have individualized learning taking advantage of more modern versions of the SRA kits throughout elementary school. I would get rid fo the Gifted label all together. I would start honors programs somewhere in middle school, where kids who work hard and score well on exams are given more challenging material.
These stories are all consistent with (i) G/T placement being 90% accurate and (ii) the 10% errors not having lasting significance.
Furthermore, let’s be honest, the current controversy has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of individual inappropriate placements, and everything to do with the underrepresentation of black and Hispanic children in G/T programs. That problem can be obscured by eliminating the programs, but the only way it could actually be changed would be to eliminate all tracking of any kind, so that every class includes a complete cross-section of abilities. No one I know thinks that such a system would improve education. As long as there is tracking, white and Asian children will be overrepresented in the higher-level classes.
Yes, one big problem is that the G/T program in NYC is more likely to identify white and Asian kids. And there are reasons for that.
The other problem is that there are more resources in those specialized schools than in the regular PS schools. It’s politically unfeasible to have one school district with such stark haves and have nots. Of course, those haves and have-nots currently exist across schools districts (ex. my town versus Newark) and within private/public schools in one geographic area, but it’s super problematic to have those differences within one public school district.
Is there a modern version of SRA kits?
I don’t remember them from my elementary school days (I coped by ignoring class and reading what I wanted, and the teachers let me get away with it). But, I hear about them from many people of our age (and, Walter Kirn, in “Lost in the Meritocracy”.
I loved SRAs. But there was one about how body hair was an evolutionary feature that was no longer necessary in the age of central heating; it predicted that we would all be bald and hairless in the future. It scared me!
Ha. Funny that you remembered that. I was going to do a SRA nostalgia piece for The Atlantic, but the young editors didn’t get it.
I agree that the anecdotal examples don’t provide a reason to throw away the research on gifted identification (the longest running of which is the study of individuals identified as scoring 2 SD’s above the mean on the math SAT when they were <13, a methodology that I think is broken now, because too many students taking the SAT at < 13 have already learned advanced math, which makes the test no longer above level). I do not believe the testing tells us everything or that it can be perfect, but that it can tell us something about the educational needs of children. There is significant measurement error and the measurement gets worse when the tests are used in high stakes ways.
An interesting aspect of the gifted literature (detailed in an article I read a couple of years ago) is to what purpose the testing/identification is being used. The author defined the label in the context of psychology and education: Psychologists want to identify gifted students as a population, for the purpose of studying the identification and how it predicts characteristics about the child, including into the future. Educators need only identify the group of kids who are currently not being served by the education they have to offer. So, in an example, a student who can take the higher level math class, which is offered at her school, doesn’t have to be identified, because they are already accommodated. Conflating the psychological research with the educational need for identification can result in misguided reliance on the tests.
Laura wrote, “Sometimes, people are smart in one way and not another.”
“Those schools get the best teachers, because they would rather be teaching motivated, middle class kids with parents who raise tons of money for extra activities, than be placed in schools with less resources, traumatized students (writing about this now), and rotating administration.”
If those middle class families leave for the suburbs and the good teachers leave with them, who does that help?
It’s also possible that you’re making a mistake about who is and isn’t the “best” teacher, because the teaching environment may be so difficult in a bad school/school with difficult demographics that even good teachers will struggle there whereas even a so-so teacher can do an adequate job at a school with good demographics, because the kids and the parents do a lot of heavy lifting.
“If those middle class families leave for the suburbs and the good teachers leave with them, who does that help?”
Agree totally. Many people seem to have some vague intuition that it’s morally preferable to move to a suburban neighborhood where the entire school system is excellent than to get your kid into a selective program in an urban school system. I don’t share that intuition at all. I can’t say it’s my purpose in life, but every time I walk through my neighborhood, I model prosperous, powerful masculinity, based on hard work in school and commitment to job and family, to people whose lives aren’t dominated by such models. If I lived in the suburbs, the only people who would see me would be people who already share those values. (Also, FWIW, my taxes support the NYC public schools.)
af184793 said, “You should do one of those “how my mind has changed” analyses on these old posts. Are you, bj, AmyP, y81, and Wendy saying exactly the same things you all did 9 years ago? Or have your opinions changed as your kids got older?”
Gosh, that’s a good question. This would be hugely long if I compared me of 9 years ago to me now at any sort of length, so believe it or not, this is going to be the short version. Briefly, me of 9 years ago was primarily about Kitchen Table Math (the anti-reform math crew) and direct instruction (as opposed to project-based learning). I still agree with that, but here are some additional things I think now, being a mom of a 17-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 6-year-old who didn’t exist 9 years ago:
–I would kind of like to see all 6-year-olds given a serious psychological testing for special needs (earlier if necessary).
–I haven’t done nearly as many Kumon workbooks with my youngest as I did with my two older kids. On the one hand, third kid syndrome! On the other hand, I have faith in our school and the developmental process, so I think she’s going to be fine, although she does need reading and letter formation practice.
–I don’t have our youngest start homework until after dinner. In retrospect, having our oldest do homework after she got home and before dinner was insanely stupid. I also give our youngest lots of breaks when doing homework.
–I warned our youngest well in advance that 1st grade was going to be HARD and that she would have to do a lot of work. She was a bit worried before school started, but is now pleasantly relieved.
–Our youngest started kindergarten at 5 years 10 months old and 1st grade at 6 years 10 months old. Her older sister started kindergarten at about 5 years 1 month old and 1st grade at 6 years 1 month old. I wouldn’t want to go back and change our oldest’s whole life, but I now realize that a lot of things would have been easier if our oldest had started kindergarten as a 6-year-old. She was an advanced reader as a little kid, so this would have been a bitter pill for me back in 2007, BUT it would have been the right choice, in terms of behavioral maturity and fine motor skills.
–Our youngest (who is a likely ADHD kid with ASD sprinkles) has benefited from lots and lots of parents’ day out and preschool.
–She also benefited from a kindergarten schedule with 3 (?) recesses, PE and Ready Bodies (a sort of classroom PT program).
–Wow, having three kids in private school (with two in high school) is expensive! We are spending $27k on tuition this year, after starting with $5k in 2007 for one kid.
–A fair number of people are bad at homeschooling. We’ve met some of them, including the family I have referred to as “the feral homeschoolers”.
–“Fun” classroom activities may not be quite as educational as adults think they are, but may be valuable in terms of kid motivation and giving kids a break.
More in a bit.
–School demographics are important.
Click to access Impact-of-Free-Reduced-Lunch-School-Composition-on-Student-Achievement-1.pdf
“A significant body of research suggests that the socioeconomic composition of a
school’s student population can affect student achievement, regardless of the
socioeconomic status of the individual student. Thus, low-income students tend to
perform better in middle-income schools, while even middle-income students may
perform more poorly when placed in high-poverty schools.
Estimates of the maximum proportion of low-income students permissible within a
school while retaining the benefits of a middle-class environment range from 40 to
60 percent. One study estimates that for every 1 percent of middle-class student
enrollment, low-income student achievement improves by 0.5 to 0.8 percent,
varying by subject.”
–Here’s some bad news. There are about 50 million public school kids in the US and about 30 million receive free or reduced price lunch. That’s 60% free/reduced lunch, meaning that (even if schools were perfectly economically integrated), we would be be at the outer limit for schools being able to function at a middle class level. If the real maximum number is more like 40% low-income, we literally cannot have schools that are a) perfectly economically integrated and b) functioning at the middle class level.
–Furthermore, before NYC went to free lunch for all, 75% of NYC students qualified for free or reduced price lunch.
So, if NYC schools were perfectly economically integrated, they could not function at a middle class academic level. There just aren’t enough middle class NYC public school kids to tip the balance, and driving more of them away will only exacerbate the problem.
Going back to my experiences:
–I like having school be conveniently close to home, although some people do without this. I have a lot more reservations about the effect of distance than I used to, and more concerns about the transportation problems involved in school choice.
–One thing that our kids’ PK-12 private school does well is to hit material repeatedly. By the end of senior year, they will have completed three spirals through history, which means that there is an excellent chance of material sticking. One of the worst habits of conventional US education is believing in hitting something once hard and then being surprised that it doesn’t stick.
–My oldest has had three years of high school physics in a row (10th grade physics, AP Physics 2 and now AP Physics 1). I’m happy about that.
–Continuity is important. I’m really happy that my kids have gone to a PK-12 school with a coherent curriculum. Also, just about every adult in the building knows my kids. We don’t have a lot of extracurricular activities, though, and we only have a handful of AP courses.
–I expect that our middle son could have been successful at Large Suburban High School, but the small private school experience has been socially and emotionally very important for our oldest and I think will be very valuable for our youngest.
–Our youngest got into the local gifted summer program this past year, but her scores were not as high as I would have expected. I suspect that her attention issues depressed her test scores.
–I’ve talked before about the “Stone Soup” character of schools. Schools are the sum of what all the different people involved bring to them.
–At our kids’ school, we’ve had a lot of mandatory service, a lot of items to send in, a lot of meetings, and just a lot of work. On the one hand, what a pain, but on the other hand, the joint effort is what makes it what it is. It is a sort of village. I’ve really appreciated not having to hop from school to school.
–School represents a partnership between parents and school. To get full benefit from school, it’s ideal if parents and teachers share a common vision. If just the parents want something or if just the teachers want something, the school isn’t going to be as effective as it could be. One of the problems with de Blasio’s vision and why people are so mad is that he is going to be breaking up functioning villages where parents and teachers share a vision for the children’s education. G/T aside, that’s bad.
–By around 13, kids start not believing everything that they hear from their parents. Before that happens, it’s very helpful for parents to find adults (and peers!) who are saying the message that you want the kid to get, so that the kid gets the positive message in stereo. I cannot overemphasize how important this is.
One more thing:
–Middle school is a terrible idea. Why take kids at the most confusing age in their lives and stick them in a huge building with a thousand strangers?
Agree with you here. While I thought my k-8 Catholic school was frustrating the way older students followed the same procedures as first graders, I think that was just poor management. I was very happy to start high school and glad I never had middle school (or Junior High) as it was called.
I am not finding any evidence that tax-payer resources are allocated in favor of gifted education (in either NYC or in our school district):
“Stuyvesant High School, among the most prestigious schools in the city, has one of the lowest budgets per-student: It is expected to spend more than $17,000 per student in the next year. At tiny P.S. 25 in Brooklyn, a school the city has tried to close as its enrollment has dipped below 100 students, the budget is almost $50,000 per student.”
From Chalkbeat: https://chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2018/08/31/how-does-your-schools-budget-compare-to-others-in-new-york-city/
I still have a problem with segregation of GT students, but because of the resources peer groups and peer parents provide, rather than because of the allocation of taxpayer resources.
There has been a ton written about how resources aren’t distributed equally in NYC. It happens informally. But have paid work to do now, so can’t get you the links.
Just read this… https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/08/gifted-talented-school-programs-discrimination.html
To be fair, we didn’t do any test prep for the G/T exam and I don’t know anybody who did.
I have no doubt that resources are unequally distributed in NYC public schools. My question was whether taxpayer-funded resources are unequally distributed, and the answer I’m getting is that they are not unequally distributed in favor of gifted schools in NYC (though I do not know what role parent foundations and fundraising play; they are common here and definitely skew resources).
The article buries the point I agree with — that many gifted programs become simply for the privileged and not for the intellectually atypical student. Complaining about the annoying behavior of parents whose children are identified as gifted isn’t really useful to the question of whether resources could be distributed more equitably and whether the students in school system as a whole would be better off without the gifted programs. And, is it really unacceptable to state that your child is at a certain point on the distribution with a particular measurement instrument, more so than to say, report their height as being unusual, or their speed?
I find a lot of the rhetoric around giftedness in the gifted community (including the word, which I hate) problematic (i.e. “gifted children are cheetahs”). But, there are kids for whom equity requires a different form of education. Whether that be delivered in segregated schools or otherwise depends on how the model effects the whole population.
“The mayor’s hand-picked School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) came out yesterday with a detailed set of recommendations to “desegregate” New York’s public schools. Among the proposals: Phase out most gifted and talented programs and the tests upon which they are based, eliminate almost all criteria having to do with student performance (for instance, no more auditions for performing arts schools), and radically overhaul admissions policies so that “all schools represent the socioeconomic and racial diversity of their community school district within the next three years, and by their borough in the first five years…[and] the city as a whole” within 10.”
That last one is nuts, especially since the NYC school system has over one million students.
Richard Carranza, the NYC Department of Education chancellor, was responsible for all kinds of nonsense in San Francisco, some fairly similar to what is apparently planned for NYC.
Wow, not just no more Bronx Science, but no more LaGuardia?!
Note that the goal is not even first-come-first served or a lottery (which would be defensible), but equalizing school demographics by whatever means necessary, which is not.
I see that Bronx Science is 63.5% Asian and 25% white.
Brooklyn Latin is about 45% Asian, 15% African American and 13.5% white.
Stuyvesant is 74% Asian.
It takes a really special kind of person to look at the parts of the NYC system that parents are happy with, and decide that those are the ones that need to be changed.
This also looks a lot like a war against NYC Asian families.
OK, for whatever this is worth….
“I had my kid tested when he was FOUR YEARS OLD (ugh!) to see if he was gifted and talented,”
My experience, such as it is, is that you don’t test a kid to see if they’re G&T. You know something is weird about your kid and you want to know what’s going on. My parents knew with me (though they didn’t have me tested; they only addressed it when a teacher initiated the acceleration process, mainly because I was somewhat disruptive in class and already knew everything she was going to teach). With E we knew something was up. His older sister is definitely smart, but she’s not like E. I will spare the details of what was going on, but it was also hard to disentangle from his Asperger’s.
So I am actually someone who doesn’t think gifted kids need their own programs. I think giftedness is a special need that needs carefully thought out accommodations. So I guess I am into personalized or differentiated instruction.
When I was in 4th grade I was placed into a hippie self-paced learning community housed within the public elementary school (K-6 at that time). In that class were kids who would benefit from self-pacing, so it was a mix of smart kids and kids who had other kinds of issues. I met with the teacher, who assigned me work to do, then I went off and did it at my own pace, which was usually pretty quick. Then I could read whatever I wanted. We had some group stuff with science and sometimes social studies, but mainly I spent a lot of time in the school library reading all the kid-level biographies of women. (Yes, I was apparently a feminist at age 9.) When I was done, I’d have another conference with my teacher to assign more work.
I wish there were more opportunities for self-paced learning, but that can be very resource-intensive. So I wish we actually invested in education. Maybe my grandchildren will see that happen. It’s too late for my kids, though I’ve done everything to support their need to learn.
One of the challenges here is that the G&T tracking/testing regime Laura describes for NYC bears no relationship whatsoever to many of our experiences, and there is no way to know whether NYC’s dystopian SES- and test-based segregation is representative of GT education in the US. Is the system here in Austin–with open nomination, 1h/month pull-out, and differentiated learning reports within neighborhood schools and inclusive classes–representative and NYC the aberration? I have no idea.
Making sweeping policy proposals based on assumptions about what’s normal seems likely to backfire. I certainly don’t think Austin’s system justifies keeping NYC’s, nor that NYC’s justifies abolishing Austin’s.
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Ben Brumfield said,
“One of the challenges here is that the G&T tracking/testing regime Laura describes for NYC bears no relationship whatsoever to many of our experiences, and there is no way to know whether NYC’s dystopian SES- and test-based segregation is representative of GT education in the US. Is the system here in Austin–with open nomination, 1h/month pull-out, and differentiated learning reports within neighborhood schools and inclusive classes–representative and NYC the aberration? I have no idea.”
I’m fairly sure that NYC is the aberration.
On the one hand, the 4-year-old testing is bizarre, but on the other hand, it is reasonable for a system with over a million K-12 students to have specialized high schools that kids test into or audition for.
NYC is totally an aberration. The choices, in most of the country, are not nearly so stark. In NYC, the regular public schools are so iffy (if not downright terrible) that pretty much all middle class and especially upper middle class families try to have their kids test into the G&T programs. That is not true in other cities, where there can be good public schools, or at least OK ones. If there is tracking, it’s not until middle school, and usually only for math. If there are enough middle class kids in a school, the general level of instruction will be OK for all but the most genius-y kids. You can live in an inner ring suburb that is racially and economically diverse, and has a decent school system. Or even a very good one. People would think it was crazy to test 4-year olds.
There’s tracking at younger ages even when they are in the same classroom. They used to divide them up for reading into groups like bluebird and robins etc and some were the advanced readers and some weren’t. Still tracking, it just gets more stark in middle school.
Bluebird/Robin/Cardinal type grouping is not tracking — kids can and do move from group to group. It’s an efficient way to work with smaller groups, and it also happens to allow for semi-individualized instruction.
That doesn’t seem right–different ability-based sections within the same school certainly amounts to “tracking.” My daughter moved from the third (of four) groups to the second (but not the first, which the girls called the “Genii”) during her high school years, but that didn’t mean the school wasn’t “tracking.” Maybe it’s preferable to keep all the children in the same school, thereby allowing for more flexibility, but that’s a lot easier when you have a private school of 1000 than when you have a public school system of 1,000,000. Also, all the black girls were in the third and fourth sections. The girls noticed that. Of course, you don’t have that issue in a suburban school, or one that serves mostly fac brats.
It is tracking by abilities. You’re just arguing semantics. The point of tracking is to allow differentiated instruction, which this does.
“That doesn’t seem right–different ability-based sections within the same school certainly amounts to “tracking.””
But it’s definitely possible for tracks to be harder or softer in terms of quickly kids can get moved between them as their performance changes…
It seems like Y81 & AmyP & Laura are basically agreed on what happens in NYC, that is that the GT programs are used by families to avoid their local schools which are seen as inadequate, but disagree on whether that’s desirable (keeps some middle class families in the city) or bad (segregates children based on testing of 4 year olds).
My interest in GT stems from serving a need of an atypical child (and, atypical depends on context).
which riffs off of Lin Manuel-Miranda and Hunter College describes what I am imagining a GT program serving:
“This gifted intensity can be easy to see but hard to define and even harder to embrace fully, especially in children. It is often palpable, changing the energy level in a room. It is a need to know and to understand that transcends textbooks and classrooms and grades.”
“It seems like Y81 & AmyP & Laura are basically agreed on what happens in NYC, that is that the GT programs are used by families to avoid their local schools which are seen as inadequate, but disagree on whether that’s desirable (keeps some middle class families in the city) or bad (segregates children based on testing of 4 year olds).”
I wouldn’t say that how NYC does it is ideal, but I do believe that it isn’t the worst possible system.
I also think that homogeneity is not a reasonable (or even reasonable) goal in a million child district.
I’ve read about Richard Carranza’s activities in San Francisco, and I’m down for a long discuss of them at some point, because the guy creates mayhem wherever he goes. This is a friendly treatment, but this was one of his projects:
TRIGGER WARNING FOR JAY
I’m in a bit of a hurry, but I believe San Francisco went from 8th grade algebra for all (which I agree is not a good idea and led to a lot of kids failing and repeating the class) to detracking middle school math–there would be no more Algebra 1 FOR ANYBODY.
The change in the sequence also (as I’m sure all the high school parents can tell) creates a problem for any family wanting their kid to take calculus in high school.
“To address the first, the district permits students to accelerate after completing Algebra 1 in 9th grade—most notably through a compressed class combining Algebra 2 and precalculus. That way, students can still take advanced math as upperclassmen.”
“Asked what challenges remain, Barnes points to the progress of black students as an area in which the city needs to double down. Those students have gained in math and science credits, alongside their peers, but those gains aren’t yet showing up on state test scores or in enrollments in AP Calculus.”
You gotta watch Richard Carranza.
TRIGGER WARNING FOR JAY
What, exactly, am I triggered by? Grow up.
The change in the sequence also (as I’m sure all the high school parents can tell) creates a problem for any family wanting their kid to take calculus in high school.
Yes, it does. It also attempts to fix it by compressing two years into one in a way that is not *entirely* optimal, although it can be done since there is really not quite enough material for a year in both Algebra II and Pre-calc as it is currently taught.
In some defense of this (although I think it is stupid), it is a response to California’s “Algebra I in year 8 for all,” which was equally stupid. The correct thing to do is to fix mathematics instruction in primary school. Trying to catch people up in high school (or holding high achievers back to wait for them to catch up) is too late.
I was skipped out of Algebra I and into Algebra II. I don’t know what I missed in Algebra I, but in Algebra II, I did learn (vicariously) to look out for barbed-wire fences when driving a snowmobile. (The year ahead of mine was much drunker and more reckless than mine, so it was a different world in the social aspect.) I was supposed to take calculus my senior year by correspondence course, but I never finished.
“I was skipped out of Algebra I and into Algebra II. I don’t know what I missed in Algebra I, but in Algebra II, I did learn (vicariously) to look out for barbed-wire fences when driving a snowmobile.”
“I was supposed to take calculus my senior year by correspondence course, but I never finished.”
I was also skipped from pre-algebra in 7th grade to Algebra II in 9th grade (this was while skipping 8th grade). 10th grade was geometry and 11th grade was college algebra/trig and my last year in high school. (My dad is a math MA and I was kind of his “project” as a kid, so if I didn’t get stuff, I could always come home and ask my dad–which I did A LOT.)
I’m also not sure what I missed in Algebra 1, but I think it might have done me a bit of good to have more algebra practice.
My degrees were not STEM. If I had done STEM, my high school background would probably have been very deficient.
Jay said, “In some defense of this (although I think it is stupid), it is a response to California’s “Algebra I in year 8 for all,” which was equally stupid.”
Was this a state-wide thing? Wow.
Note the recurring theme (seen also in NYC) of “first do dumb thing and then try to fix it by doing dumb thing in opposite direction.”
“The correct thing to do is to fix mathematics instruction in primary school.”
Amen. This is especially true, since (as seen in the Quillette piece by the ex-NYC teacher) K-6 is when schools have the best shot at teaching low SES kids stuff.
“Trying to catch people up in high school (or holding high achievers back to wait for them to catch up) is too late.”
Yeah. Speaking as a person with two high schoolers right now, high school is so FAST. There’s not a lot of time for doing anything extra.
“Yes, it does. It also attempts to fix it by compressing two years into one in a way that is not *entirely* optimal, although it can be done since there is really not quite enough material for a year in both Algebra II and Pre-calc as it is currently taught.”
Yeah, I don’t know a damned thing about math any more, much less the way to optimally structure math instruction in K-12. I can’t even run Honors classes in math in my (college-level) program because we have so many different courses for all the different majors, I can’t enroll enough students in any specific math course to justify creating an Honors math class.
All I know is that my HS senior had to teach himself Trig and the A part of AP Calc AB because of the way they kept changing the sequences. There is something really off about the way math is being taught. I’m not blaming Common Core math by any means. I just feel like there’s a problem that needs fixing, and we need to figure out what it is. Part of it may mean rethinking what our goals in mathematics instruction are. It’s so different from my field of expertise (literature, writing, other associated liberal arts-y type subjects).
I was trying to explain this to my husband, who also is not a math person. To me it’s clear that the skills I learned in 9th grade English aren’t substantially different from college or grad school English. I remember more things, know more theories I can use to interpret texts, develop more complex sentence structure, etc. Does that make sense? But it feels like my kid is not going to get better at 9th grade math in college/grad school. He’s going to learn many new kinds of maths. Ha, maybe that’s why the British always refer to math as “maths.”
“All I know is that my HS senior had to teach himself Trig and the A part of AP Calc AB because of the way they kept changing the sequences.”
“Do you actually read and understand about the things you post or do you just skim things and cite them to support your preconceived notions?”
I followed the elementary math wars very closely 8-13 years ago and read a couple of articles previously about San Francisco algebra shenanigans in the past year or two, but no, I don’t literally read every word of every article before posting it.
While we’re asking questions, do you bring this kind of consistently unpleasant attitude to the classroom and to your home life that you bring to this blog comment section? Because if you do, I think it’s time to make some changes. If you do, I think you’ll find that it improves your personal relationships, your professional life, and maybe even your health.
Here are some books that I strongly suggest you read before interacting with humans:
–Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training (lots on training and positive reinforcement for both people and animals)
–How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids (a very fun walk through a lot of different helpful ideas about improving communication and how we treat people)
–Any marriage book by John Gottman (one of the things he talks about is contempt as being toxic in relationships, and that seems to be your go-to–even though just about everybody who posts regularly here is quite intelligent and has some area of expertise)
If you only read one, I’d suggest How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, because it has a lot of valuable stuff about how hard it is to take in any information (no matter how valid!) from a critical and angry person.
I believe Gottman encourage a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative in personal interactions, which is a really good idea.
Was this a state-wide thing? Wow.
Do you actually read and understand about the things you post or do you just skim things and cite them to support your preconceived notions?
f you do, I think you’ll find that it improves your personal relationships, your professional life, and maybe even your health.
These are just fine, thanks for asking.
If you only read one, I’d suggest How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, because it has a lot of valuable stuff about how hard it is to take in any information (no matter how valid!) from a critical and angry person.
I wish I could say I’m sorry for criticizing you for posting stuff that you didn’t read or understand, but I really can’t.
” improves your personal relationships, your professional life, and maybe even your health.
These are just fine, thanks for asking.”
Well, Jay, you are fairly consistently an arrogant prig here in Apartment 11d. Maybe you have a certain amount of nasty you need to express, and by dripping it out here you manage to be decent on the home front? That would be at least some value to your what you put out here.
Just the usual reminder: I don’t have the band width to mediate fights here. I like diversity of opinion, so please somewhat tolerate each other, please.
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