Faster is smarter

Accelerating the best students helps them intellectually and socially, says A Nation Deceived, a new report from the University of Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports:

A new University of Iowa report seeks to debunk myths that accelerated learning for gifted students is unfair, expensive for schools and causes students to be social outcasts, gifted-education experts said Monday.

Time recites the fears about children pushed too fast, but concedes there’s evidence many very smart students are very bored.

For the smartest of these kids, those who quickly overpower schoolwork that flummoxes peers, skipping a grade isn’t about showing off. Rather, according to a new report from the University of Iowa, it can mean the difference between staying in school and dropping out from sheer tedium. “If the work is not challenging for these high-ability kids, they will become invisible,” says the lead author of the report, Iowa education professor Nicholas Colangelo. “We will lose them. We already are.”

. . . In a 2000 study for Gifted Child Quarterly, Joseph Renzulli and Sunghee Park found that 5% of the 3,520 gifted students they followed dropped out after eighth grade. Astonishingly, that’s almost as high as the 5.2% of nongifted kids who dropped out. Untold numbers of other highly intelligent kids stay in school but tune out. “When we ask exceptional children about their main obstacle, they almost always say it’s their school,” says Jan Davidson, a co-author of the new book Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds. “Their school makes them put in seat time, and they can’t learn at their own ability level.”

Via Education News.

About Joanne


  1. At our 400 population elementary school we have 5 full time credentialed special educators, plus eleven para professional assistants. If you have a disability we will spend tens of thousands of dollars on you. We will not spend a dime extra on you if you are extra smart.

  2. at our 400 population elementary school we have five full time credentialed special educators plus eleven full time para educators for special education. If you are disabled we will spend tens of thousands of dollars on you. As we should. If you are extra smart we will not spend one extra dime on you.

  3. It’s not just acceleration that is important, it is the curriculum. Going from third grade MathLand to fourth grade MathLand is not going to help much. The opportunity to go to a better school is more important. The affluent get to do this, the poor do not. However, to deny a child the opportunity to advance to the next grade based on educational philosophy (with no input from the parents) is quite arrogant. What if many parents were to opt for this choice? That would tell the school something they really don’t want to hear. One survey done in our fourth grade reported that kids said that their parents expect more from them than their teachers.

    Our public schools talk about Differentiated Learning, which is a magical technique whereby all students can develop at their own pace in a common-age classroom. They expect to do this with a big dose of child-centered, mixed-ability groups. They hope to retain their philosophy of full-inclusion, common-age tracking and fend off criticism of parents who say that the more able kids are ignored. Of course, you have to read between the lines to find out that this involves “enrichment” for the advanced students rather than curriculum acceleration.

    An experienced public school teacher told me once that the truly gifted or bright students will do just fine (a little bit cavalier). However, it is the above average students that will never get the support and challenge they need to excel.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    Just read Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron” and you’ll understand. πŸ˜‰

  5. It’s nice to see a few bright rays of sanity breaking through the ever-present clouds of lunacy.

    Accelerating students that can get through the material quicker seems like a (pardon the expression) no-brainer to me. But people come up with the strangest objections:

    “they’ll be in a class full of older people instead of their peers!”

    Well, if you only accelerate one person, I could see him running into a few issues. A policy of accelerating everyone that can handle it would be the obvious solution to that one. Not only that, but people his age who are behind educationally aren’t going to be any more his “peers” than the older people who are at least on his level. He’s going to be weird from the point of view of both groups no matter what you do. Just maintain some frigging order and civilization in your school and he’ll be able to deal with it.

    “He may be smart, but he’s not socially mature enough to handle being with a bunch of older people”

    And you think leaving him in a class full of people who are just as socially immature, and less intelligent to boot, will fix that? If you want him to act more socially mature, don’t you think surrounding him with people who are more socially mature might be a good idea?

    Of course, that brings us into a whole new area of contention… apparently, it is widely believed that having children behave more maturely than the current average for their age is a bad thing. I’m still trying to figure that one out. And heaven forbid that he might finish high school and leave home a little early! That just will never do!

    “at our 400 population elementary school we have five full time credentialed special educators plus eleven full time para educators for special education. If you are disabled we will spend tens of thousands of dollars on you. As we should. If you are extra smart we will not spend one extra dime on you.”

    First, you don’t have to spend lots of extra money on them to make their school experience go well, or spending extra money on these kids will just be flushed down a rathole. If you don’t want to spend extra money, just let him go through his lessons as fast as he can. The slow kids you have to pay people to spend extra time drilling the basics into their heads, and sometimes pay extra people to take a crack at it, and there’s a good chance that this investment will show a loss overall.

    But with the advanced kids, if you pay someone to drill lots of advanced stuff into their heads, it’s practically guaranteed to show a profit. If you just let him breeze through the standard curriculum instead of making him sit through it in slow-motion, he’ll still make us a nice profit. About the only way we can lose is if we make him sit through the same crap so many times, and while we’re at it, let savages assault him on such a regular basis, that he gets sick of the whole thing and drops out. Which, unfortunately, is the standard operating procedure at far too many schools.

  6. Vivacesunshine says:

    The people who think skipping grades shouldn’t be done or who think that the smarter students should be teachers’ assistants drive me up the wall. From personal experience, I hated having to help other students just because I was done with the assignments and they weren’t. The other students didn’t like it anymore than I did. And I was miserable before skipping the fourth grade. There was never enough to keep me occupied and I was constantly staring at walls or doodling. I never bragged about skipping a grade. I kept quiet about it. But it did allow me to learn a lot more than I would have. And I no longer needed to miss questions and such to prevent being teased.
    I don’t understand the argument that it’s unfair for children to skip grades. Obviously, if they aren’t learning, why should they stay in their classrooms?

  7. Letting gifted, bored children skip ahead grades would deprive classrooms of the free tutoring they get when they put these children in groups with slow learners and instruct the advanced ones to teach the others. It happened to me 15 years ago and I imagine it’s still happening today. I still resent the fact that I had to put my own learning on hold to be used as an untrained, unpaid tutor several hours a day.

  8. “Just read Vonnegut’s story “Harrison Bergeron” and you’ll understand. ;)”

    My Vonnegut books are over 30 years old and parked next to my Brautigan, Casteneda, and Hesse books. However, I have never before read this short story. I just did online. It is a little over the top, but it was written over 40 years ago.

    I find it interesting that our public school wants to showcase the better student work (and therefore, the school itself), but they can’t bring themselves to showcase individuals. Perhaps they can do it in art or with a particular written work, but for math, science, or history? No way! So the question is how can they get away with showing off the better students while still maintaining their view that all kids are equal? Life is tough when you build a philosophical house of cards.

  9. I clearly remember failing Geometry in high school one year, and having to take it in summer school to keep up. The summer school class lasted, I think, 6 weeks instead of a full year, although covered the same material.

    We were covering a whole chapter every 2 days, which was the perfect speed for me. I was one of the youngest people in the class and I ended up being the one to explain how matrices worked to a bunch of other people.

    I attribute my initial failture to being bored and unmotivated by a dull teacher, and his teaching method. He spent ages going over the same stuff over and over, and I tuned out, frustrated with my less swift classmates.

    Also, the teacher seemed to presume that we weren’t smart enough to understand what geometry was really about, and therefore his explanations didn’t really make any sense because they were “dumbed down” instead of being accurate.

    That left me confused. I’ve always wanted to really _understand_ what I learn, and it was my summer school teacher who wasn’t afraid to bend my brain trying to wrap it around the concepts of non-Euclidian geometry.

  10. One of the posters reports having skipped a grade. Understanding the values of accleration should include careful study of those who have had the experience.

    In 1950, a fellow student and I were accelerated from 5th to 7th grade. In general this was a good thing for each of us. But the nuns really gave no attention to social dimensions–our classmates were all going through puberty and we hadn’t even heard of it. I guess we came out OK–he co-founded a major software company and I’ve been a college professor for 40 years. But we both could have avoided a lot of pain if our social needs had been attended to.

    Currently, I coordinate an honors program at my college. A lot of the focus of the program lies in getting students to work together. Lots of bright students do well with book and computer, but often (not always) struggle with social and interpersonal relations.

    A well-planned acceleration program will look at the student’s larger context–and treat each student as an individual.

  11. A well-planned acceleration program will look at the student’s larger context–and treat each student as an individual.

    First you have to have a program before you can worry about how well it’s implemented. I think if it were done to accomodate a range of levels, and not just students over some very high threshold, the social issue will largely take care of itself.

    I think I started running into this around 3rd grade. I evidently wasn’t close enough to genius level to merit skipping, but for a couple of years most of my after-school friends were a grade ahead of me.

    Things improved in high scool, partly because of greater choice in classes, and partly because self-medication became an option (substances with the ability to distort time can come in handy, and if ritalin is anything like the cheap benzedrine that was floating around in the ’70s, I think it works largely by making the most meaningless and repetitive tasks enjoyable). Luckily I didn’t get into anything really nasty.

    The idea of forcing bright students to work as unpaid tutors seems odd, when you consider that parents and other volunteers aren’t even allowed to remove graffiti from the walls because it would violate union contracts.

  12. I second the remarks about the social issues made by one of the commenters above.

    I skipped 7th grade. And, like the commenter above, I was a child when the other students in my grade were becoming young adults. It took a long, long time to recover (if I ever did ;-)).

    The underlying problem that no one appears to have mentioned is the age cohort system. Is there a shred of evidence that it is socially or educationally beneficial to student? Sure it’s easier for teachers to teach (they can keep using the same lesson plans year after year) and administrators to administer. But how about the kids?

    The age cohort system is completely unrealistic. When you start your job will it be divided up by age cohort?

  13. “unpaid tutors”–while that’s one way to spin the use of collaborative groups in classes, it’s also well-established that one of the best ways of mastering a subject is to teach it. So, in most cases, stronger students explaining material to their peers will deepen and clarify their own understandings. They’ll be more confident of the material when tested on it.

    And maybe, just maybe, the guy you help get through Algebra will fix you up with a hot date on the weekend.

  14. The best way to learn something isn’t to teach it to someone that isn’t very (comparatively) smart. I find it useful to teach things to people like me, but I’ll pass on the socially enriching chance to connect with a struggling student. (If you can’t guess, I’m not temperamentally suited to be a teacher.) Besides, the scenario that you are describing mostly only works in John Hughes movies — I helped a number of kids in high school with this and that (before dropping out and going to graduate school), and while they appreciated it (my attitude is worse now), I never got a date or anything else tangible out of it. And I didn’t learn anything more about the subjects, either.

    I object to the idea that a kid who is prepared to learn geometry in 6th grade is going to be forced to wait until 8th so they can teach other kids how to do long division whatever it is they learn in 6th grade.

    There is plenty of stuff to learn in the world without worrying that a kid is going to “run out”, and even if they do, the great thing is that they can make up new stuff of their own for the rest of us to learn.

    The real problem is that this is present as an either/or situation. The really smart kid has to be put in a class with kids 5 years older or they have to stay put. The fact is, this isn’t the case. My oldest kid is very smart, and she quite successfully goes to school (in a Montessori school) with a range of kids, from learning disabled up to her. She is in 8th grade, is learning calculus and writing a book, and yet she is friends with her classmates and is basically a normal 13-year-old with a very large vocabulary.

  15. Vivacesunshine says:

    I disagree that helping other students learn helped me master any material. I already knew and understood. Especially in the lower grades, having to explain “easy” things to people who didn’t understand was frustrating for both involved. Some people were not meant to teach others. People who teach in schools have gone through training (college) to learn how to teach. Asking an 11 year old to teach a peer doesn’t help that 11 year old on a test. It just means they can’t learn more or spend the time doing something constructive for themselves.

  16. So, in most cases, stronger students explaining material to their peers will deepen and clarify their own understandings…

    I thought that was already covered [Kinison] BY THE ENDLESS REPETITION! [/Kinison] But if tutoring those dumb jocks helps the nerdy whiz kids get dates, that’s probably justification enough.

  17. “…Asking an 11 year old to teach a peer doesn’t help that 11 year old on a test. It just means they can’t learn more or spend the time doing something constructive for themselves.”

    In most cases, the teachers don’t want the student to get ahead, so peer teaching is what they come up with. It’s part of the “enrichment” process which is supposed to be in place of curriculum acceleration or curriculum compacting.

    Our public schools implement full-inclusion, where you include borderline autistic kids with gifted kids in the same classroom and in the same mixed-ability, child-centered groups. This is a philosophical decision which will not work if you let kids get too far ahead. What do you do instead? Enrichment. Beware of programs that sound great, but include no acceleration of curriculum. Also, be careful about the word acceleration. Some articles use it, but you can’t find any talk of curriculum. One article even referred to something called “accelerated enrichment”!?! You have to focus on whether or not they allow the student to go on to new material that would normally be taught in the next grade. Enrichment can be valuable if the curriculum is strong to begin with, but it offers no salvation for a weak or slow curriculum.

  18. “This is a philosophical decision which will not
    work if you let kids get too far ahead.”

    It can work in the right setting (it does in my kids’ Montessori school), but in most classrooms I think that you are right. I think that this stupid idea (rigidly keeping all of the kids in lockstep) is just a symptom of the general problem, which is that at lots of different levels the education machine generally doesn’t care about the results. If you fail the kids that are easiest to teach and most eager to learn, then it can’t be a big surprise that you fail lots of other kids.

    The excuse is that it doesn’t matter — these kids will be okay. That isn’t always true, but even so, that excuse tells you a lot more about the people saying it than anything else. I hear from friends that teach that NCLB is being used as an excuse to get rid of gifted student programs. Certainly “mainstreaming” gifted kids will help the average test scores of schools, but I doubt that this is really the biggest part of the motivation.

    What I don’t really understand is how the people that put together NCLB could have been sufficiently stupid as to leave this loophole. The obvious requirement is to have the improvements show up not in average scores, but on average in each given kid. That way, flushing a gifted students program would hurt the school just as much as ignoring failing kids…

  19. OK, the answer is quite simple. We go back to the one-room schoolhouse, kids K-8 in the same room. Our great-grandparents learned that way and made America great. And we can recreate the Normal Schools that taught (mostly) women how to teach in those circumstances.

  20. OK, I’m going to say it: one problem with enrichment in math is that some teachers only know the material at the level of the “normal” track — they couldn’t enrich if they wanted to. Their only solution is to move a bright nth grader from the “normal” nth grade material to the “normal” (n+1)st grade material. What these kids really need is the insidious, captivating, and engaging stuff that usually gets sidelined. (I teach math to pre-service K-8 teachers.)

  21. “The real problem is that this is present as an either/or situation. The really smart kid has to be put in a class with kids 5 years older or they have to stay put. ”

    Or they get put in a class with kids 5 years older and some other smart kids that aren’t five years older. Of course this won’t work if there’s only one smart kid in the whole school, but if that’s the case, the kid is socially isolated no matter what grade he’s in.

    There may be a downside to putting a smart kid in with older kids (although running a civilized school will minimize those downsides, and ought to be done no matter what!), but it would have to be an awfully big downside to compensate for the fact that the kid doesn’t have to be in that school for as many years as would otherwise be the case, and will be able to go to college and get a real education sooner. That’s a pretty big advantage as far as I can tell.

    If there isn’t a real “gifted” program (and I’m not sure that there’s enough smart teachers out there to run enough of the kind of gifted programs that would actually deliver the promised benefits to serve all of the gifted kids), I say skipping through the regular curriculum is better than making him sit through the regular lessons at the regular pace.

    (Of course, it doesn’t help that the “regular pace” isn’t even appropriate for average students, but is a pathetic attempt to somehow let the below-average students pass while pretending that the diploma they get still signifies some sort of achievement. This is absolute torture for the above-average crowd…)

  22. I wonder how many bright kids have been utterly turned off of teaching by being forced to act as unpaid and untrained tutors? I was often pressed into that position, and always failed miserably. I couldn’t imagine why other kids couldn’t understand things that were obvious to me the first time the teacher went through it, so I was at a loss for how to explain the subject any better than the already had – repeatedly. At 10, or even at 20, I wasn’t mature enough to want to get into the “dummy’s” minds. And I certainly lacked the patience to deal with people who apparently simply didn’t want to take the effort required to learn…

    I have since often been in positions where I had to teach someone on the job. I’ve usually been successful at this, but it’s different. The people are motivated to learn and to work (or you start building the case to fire them). They’ve been screened (more or less successfully) for the intelligence and classroom credentials to match the job. OJT is usually much more concrete than school, and at the low levels where you do get the profoundly stupid, it is entirely concrete and proceeds mostly by physical demonstrations. (“Stick the mop in the bucket like this…”)

    But it still takes quite a lot of effort to bring my explanations down to the appropriate level. Few children would want to go to that effort.

    At the highest levels (showing an engineer how to use a new CAD program), training is fun – but here I’m dealing with people just as smart as me, and that are accustomed to hard intellectual work. School tutoring assignments aren’t like that.

  23. Bright kids who skip several grades might be socially isolated, but in my experience they were socially isolated in their own age group too. Does it expose them to more bullying? It may expose them to larger bullies, but in my experience if the teachers and administration are maintaining a healthy environment, older kids are less likely to be bullies and more likely to intervene to stop bullying. (If the administration is tolerating bullies and junior gangs, then NO kids should be going to that school…)

  24. The one-room schoolhouse might not be the ideal solution, but would almost certainly be an improvement (if expensive). If nothing else it would limit the use of “sage on stage” lecture-based instruction and force the use of something (anything) more efficient.

    I’d be surprised if overt bullying isn’t less of a problem with multiple-grade-skipping. There’s not much to be proved by picking on an obviously younger peer. More subtle adjustment issues will be there whether you skip or not; a child who is not subject to the equivalent of being forced to clean floors with a toothbrush will at least be in a better emotional state when dealing with non-academic challenges.

  25. Let’s see I did this and was still bored most ofthe time (even in college):

    * In kindergarten, I left to go to a 1st grade reading class after lunch.
    * In grades 2-4, I was in some classes (math and english) with kids in the next grade.
    * I skipped 5th grade.
    * For grades 6-12, I was placed in whatever the highest levels of classes were (honors, AP, whatever) for that grade, except for a few years of English (I got a D in the sixth grade… oops! I didn’t make that mistake again, after seeing what the non-honors classes were like. My parents didn’t even have to punish me — being in a “regular” class was enough punishment πŸ˜‰ ).
    * In grades 6-8 I was “enriched”, I suppose with a once-a-week special math group of about 6-10 students who were all good at math. We learned more advanced, ineresting concepts you never get at in regular math classes and competed in the annual MathCounts tournaments. (I won the speed round for my region. Go me!)
    * Between 8th and 9th grade, I did a summer gifted and talented program associated with Johns Hopkins and did 2 years of math in 3 weeks. Way fun. πŸ™‚
    * So in 9th grade, I was in precalc, and 10th grade I was in calculus. Yes, with people 4-5 years older than me. You know what? They were far more polite and nice to me than people close to my age ever were. A 19 year old even asked me out. I declined. πŸ˜‰ But then, I have always been more comfortable with people older than me.

    And I was STILL bored a lot of the time.

    Luckily, my brothers and sister and parents all are apparently at least as smart if not smarter than me, so just hanging around at home, I picked up a lot. πŸ˜‰

    I do sometimes wish I could have been homeschooled.. I think about all the time I lost through repetition and just going far too slow for me. I read these blogs to try to figure out if I should homeschool my son. At the same time, I know it’s very possible to still teahc your kids things while they go to public schools — my parents sure as heck added a lot to my education. πŸ™‚

    Anyway, sure, I felt alone a lot. But that’s not becuase I skipped grades — I still feel alone a lot, and I’ve been out of college for 6 years. I’m just a bit of a loner and don’t connect well to most people. If I was held back with people my age, I’d be both lonely and even more horrifically bored.

    As an aside, the article mentions that some smart kids start dropping out at 8th grade. Well, some colleges will take kids that young. πŸ˜‰ I don’t know if it’s the best place for them, but it beats the pants off of being stuck in a bad school.

  26. “Anyway, sure, I felt alone a lot. But that’s not
    becuase I skipped grades — I still feel alone a
    lot, and I’ve been out of college for 6 years.”

    That’s a good point. It’s not that easy for a “standard” person to find their niche (either that, or I’ve missed the point of most of the novels, plays, and movies that I have real/seen).

    But I don’t believe that this is really the issue. Talking about adjustment is mostly an excuse to try to stop kids from doing something different, for all of the usual reasons (laziness, fat-headed good intentions, envy, incompetence, …).

  27. Most graduates of schools of education are far from gifted. So teachers won’t sympathize with the gifted students in their care–they can’t relate.

    As for being exposed to kids going through puberty before you, lucky you. A preview of coming attractions. Not all children go through puberty at the same age. That discomfort and self doubt is experienced by most children and adolescents.


  1. Faster is Smarter

    Accelerating the best students helps them intellectually and socially, says A Nation Deceived, a new report from the University of Iowa. The Des Moines Register reports: A new University of Iowa report seeks to debunk myths that accelerated learning fo…