San Diego debates small classes for gifted students

San Diego’s small Seminar classes for “severely gifted” students may grow larger to save money, writes Emily Alpert of Voice of San Diego. The program, started in 1951 for very smart kids who didn’t fit in with mainstream students disproportionately serves affluent white and Asian-American students.

“It doesn’t seem very fair” to give gifted students a separate, smaller class, said Richard Barrera, a new school board member who was put in separate, gifted classes in his youth. “It’s like we’re saying, ‘The school system is really screwed up. Most of our kids we’ve already written off. But these few kids have a chance.’

Seminar classes are limited to 23 students, while regular classes may have 32 students. Raising the Seminar limit to 25 would save about a million dollars.

Though the test is supposed to identify students in the 99.9 percentile, 6 percent of students qualify for Seminar.  Overall, San Diego identifies 20 percent of students as gifted, much higher than other districts.

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Comments

  1. Charles R. Williams says:

    Bizarre. Intelligence treated as a handicap and 20% of the student body “gifted.” We all know what is going on here. Parents with high aspirations for their children don’t want them educated with other children whose low motivation or low cognitive skills or other problems will hold back their own children’s education. Why must we weave a web of lies and self-deception to avoid this very natural and praiseworthy concern on the part of parents?

    The answer to this dishonesty is to break the public school monopoly so that parents can enroll their children in a school that meets their needs and be upfront about it.

    BTW, it should be cheaper to educate gifted children if they are in special classes.

  2. Well there seems to be some confusion here. Yes, limiting class sizes in the gifted classes relative to the mainstream classes does seem rather unfair – is the variation in gifted students’ needs really more than the variation in the mainstream students? I know about bell curves in IQ but there are an awfully large number of ways people can vary, far more than merely intelligence.

    On the other hand – I don’t see how setting up gifted classes means giving up on the rest of the school system. Some kids will always learn faster than others, so differentiation makes sense.

  3. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Actually, yes, it does make sense. Gifted kids are not simply A students. In fact, they are at a very high risk of dropping out. Our district (which is relatively high SES and very well educated — lots of parents who are professors at local ivy) identifies 7%.

    Many of these kids are also very emotionally fragile with a high incidence of mental illness and Aspergers.

    It is difficult to differentiate for the truly highly gifted kid since they tend to pick up the information in one pass, while the bright, motivated A student still needs 3 – 5. Imagine the LD kid also in the same class who needs 10, 12, 15 passes — do we really want to kiss off our brightest kids and hold them back? That’s not the impression I got from the post/comments I read from a similar item not long ago when everybody was up in arms about this very same issue. Such fickleness.

  4. Many of these kids are also very emotionally fragile with a high incidence of mental illness and Aspergers.

    And many people who aren’t gifted are also very emotionally fragile, and have their own difficulties.

    It is difficult to differentiate for the truly highly gifted kid since they tend to pick up the information in one pass, while the bright, motivated A student still needs 3 – 5.

    Indeed. And within a class of ordinary students, neither gifted nor learning disabled, some will pick things up in 3-5 passes and some will pick things up in 7-8 passes. And some ordinary students will have gaps in their past knowledge, and some ordinary students will manage to misunderstand the teacher or the textbook and get into a mess that way, and so forth.

    That’s not the impression I got from the post/comments I read from a similar item not long ago when everybody was up in arms about this very same issue. Such fickleness.

    Similar, but not identical. The bit I took issue with in the story was not the streaming per se but giving the gifted kids a lower staff-student ratio than the ordinary kids.
    That’s why I said “differentiation makes sense” in my previous comment. I am thinking about this in a more nuanced way than “gifted classes always good” or “gifted classes always bad”.

  5. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Right. But logically you see the difference between trying to teach, in the same room, the enormous gap between highly gifted and, well, highly ungifted vs. a range in the middle. I can serve gifted kids easily in AP where the gap and class size is small; in on-level classes where the gap is huge and the class sizes much larger, it takes a lot more work and their needs go unmet in some ways (whole class discussion, for example, is nearly impossible to differentiate).

    Yes, emotionally fragile kids exist at all levels of the spectrum, but there seems to be a higher concentration with giftedness. I don’t know why that is, just my observation (also borne out in research). There’s lots and lots of research out there about serving the gifted population. Again, these aren’t always high achieving students (and, omg, are their parents high maint…).

    All kids, of course, deserve reasonably sized classes. In fact, I don’t view 23 as a small class at all. That’s an average class size in my building. My state cuts off class size for gifted at 10. My AP classes are all under 20. My remedial group is under 15.

    Why is it a zero sum game? Why can’t kids all get what they need? Why are we saying the gifted kids don’t deserve small classes when what we should be arguing is the regular population deserves them too?

  6. Lightly-seasoned, you and other teachers are very convincing about the difficulties of teaching with an enormous gap.

    And you are making me think with the argument about emotional fragileness being more common. Though I still feel uncomfortable with the idea of gifted children getting a higher staff ratio than ordinary children. I think everyone should get, as much as is economically-possible, an education that challenges them at their level.

    Why is it a zero sum game? Why can’t kids all get what they need? Why are we saying the gifted kids don’t deserve small classes when what we should be arguing is the regular population deserves them too?

    Well it isn’t precisely a zero-sum game. But scarcity of resources is always a problem in economics. The general answer to your question is that an aging population and ever-expanding health care spending is putting pressure on other forms of expenditure. (I’m not just talking about the USA, countries with comprehensive public healthcare systems are also facing continuing rises in health care spending).

    If you want to go back to a deeper answer, I suggest the laws of thermodynamics.

    Scarcity is a continual problem. Interestingly though, the really successful virtual worlds in the monetary sense are ones that create an artificial scarcity. This implies that some sort of scarcity and struggle is attractive to the human mind, and that if we could have all we want, we’d create problems for ourselves on purpose to have something to struggle against.

  7. There always seems to be a tremendous prejudice against extreme intelligence. Yes, the really highly “gifted” are often more mentally/emotionally fragile–a “gift” of that kind is more often a curse. Separate classes simply make sense because if they’re not bullied for their intelligence, they’re bullied because it’s fun to break the fragile.

    As for student/staff ratios…often the kids are far smarter than their teacher. You put too many in one class, and they almost certainly will wind up ganging up on the teacher, if not to steer the class in a particular direction, then to hide rule-breaking behavior by a few of their number.

  8. What I find interesting about the San Diego situation is that on the state standardized tests, the SD “gifted” kids score BELOW the NON-Gifted kids in Palo Alto and Cupertino. That suggests the program is lumping in the merely bright with the truly gifted, probably to keep the affluent whites & Asians from fleeing to private schools.

  9. Andy Freeman says:

    What’s wrong with these people?

    Don’t they know that smarter students are the only reason we let smarter students in school is to educate other students?

  10. As one of those “severely gifted” kids…

    Class size isn’t the issue. Bundling kids with a broad, broad, range is the issue.

    Look at it this way. Imagine a class full of kids who are just a bit slow — you know, maybe a grade behind. And then two kids in that class who are not expected to ever learn to use language.

    You can see, perhaps, how this wouldn’t be a good fit for either the “merely sorta dumb” kids or the “severely retarded” kids, right?

    Now imagine the same variance, only the other way. A class full of kids most of whom could probably skip a grade without harm, and two kids in that class who could be doing college-level work by age 12 if people would give them a bit of help and some material they could actually work on.

    Yes, really, the difference is that large.

    Now, is it *worth* it? A program targeting only that tenth-of-one-percent or so of kids would be a lot smaller, and a lot cheaper, for sure. I don’t know if it would be more teachers per student or not; in a large school district, it might lead to small class sizes, or it might lead to a single class.

    But the payoff is definitely there. If I’d been able to get six or seven years ahead of the usual schedule, instead of not even graduating college until I’d turned 18, I would have been a lot more successful later in life. (And since, like a lot of smart people, I tend to be charitable and help support people who can’t support themselves, the social payoff is huge. I’d guess I’ve saved the government more tax money than has ever been spent on me, or close to it, by now.)

    It’s really hard to express the scope of the difference. Just think of the difference between ordinary kids and the lower end of “special ed” that still gets sent to integrated schools at all, and imagine about that scope of difference.

    Honestly, for the most part, I think having me in the conventional schools was mostly a waste of resources. I could have learned that stuff a LOT faster if I didn’t have to sit there waiting for twenty minutes while someone tried to comprehend “angle of incidence equals angle of reflection”. (And I didn’t do the other kids much good either.)

  11. Crimson Wife,

    Not necessarily. Gifted kids still have to be taught.

    Also, standardized tests in a number of states seem to reflect many reform curriculums that are out there these days.

    In some cases, a kid can get more points showing all of the steps and still missing the answer than the kid who just put down the correct one.

    Gifted kids often have to spend time re-learning how to do the steps of a problem that they might have used years earlier, but no longer need to anymore. In other words, they can be penalized if there is a multiplication word problem and they neglect to draw a diagram, even though they can now solve the problem abstractly.

    In other words, standardized state tests have ceilings. If a kid is accelerated in math they might forget things they learned years earlier and no longer need. Even though a gifted kid could be taking algebra by late grade school, there won’t be hardly any algebra on the 5th grade state test.

    However, it is possible that if the kids tested are truly in the gifted camp and they come out with lower scores, that could be an indication that they aren’t being taught up to their potential.

  12. linda seebach says:

    If San Diego had stuck to its one-in-a-thousand definition, which is about three standard deviations above average IQ, they’d have approximately 130 students in the program (for all years K-12) and whether those students had four teachers or five, the cost difference would hardly be worth fighting about. Setting the cutoff at 6 percent, though, creates a cost problem, and also, fails to serve the “severely gifted” population — that’s the term my son’s elementary-school psychologist used, when his teachers finally referred him because he had few friends and couldn’t tie his shoes.

    The IQ difference between the 94th percentile, about 120, and the 99.9th, about 150, is as large as between the average 100, and 70, often the threshold for a diagnosis of mental retardation. If you had a child you knew was average smart or better, would you be satisfied to have him or her assigned to classes for the mentally retarded?

    It’s easy to make the facile claim that children vary in other ways, because they do, but this is the only way that matters all day, every day in school. If you’ve never been there yourself, or had a child who was, you don’t understand.

    I invited my son Peter to weigh in, and he has while I was typing, so I defer to his experience.

  13. I agree with Pete Seebach about limiting the range in classrooms. When the range of skill levels is too great, it’s not good for either the high end kids or those who are performing at the low end. I would be happy if I could just get a middle-to-high class, and a low-to middle class setup. That kind of a range, I could handle differentiation for, in ways that would be fair to all the kids.

  14. Thank God I had only a 120 IQ in 6th grade, or school would have been even worse than it was. Of course, by about 3 years out of high school my IQ was measured at 155. If I had been that smart during high school I wouldn’t have stuck around and been so miserable. I graduated #2 in my class even with a D in Latin IV.

    But you’re all missing the point. Look at the issue from the point of view of what’s best for society, and not from the viewpoint of whose feelings get hurt, etc.

    The top 1 or 2% of people account for 30-40% of the innovations (if not more) and skills necessary for our modern technological society. If you combine smarts with hard work and a drive to succeed, you’ve explained why the top 5% of income earners pay close to 50% of the taxes. And look at how states such as New York and California are reeling because their high earners aren’t earning so much anymore because of the economy, and they are having to deal with vastly reduced tax revenues!

    I’m not saying all top IQ folks end up making megabucks. I certainly don’t, but that’s because I don’t want to work so hard. But combining my wife’s income with mine puts us in the over $250K group that is being demonized by the President and his party.

    But we pay most of the income taxes in this country, and we need to ensure that the following crop of children are raised so the best and the brightest can make lots of discoveries and keep the rest of the country healthy after the current crop of smart hard workers retires.

    THAT’s why you should have separate classes for the exceptionally gifted–because, like it or not, they will be the ones this country depends on in the future.

  15. I lived in San Diego in the early 80’s, and I knew some of those “smart” kids, and they weren’t all so very smart. I supposed that the reason that they had to let the sort-of-smart kids into the program was so that they could keep it going. It is a problem, but the solution isn’t that clear. Some people that are off the charts are okay marking time until they get to college at 16 or even 18, and others are miserable. But I don’t think that there is any way to build up a sufficient population of 160+ IQ kids to support a local school, much less kids that are over 180. Good universities can work for pretty much arbitrarily smart kids, but they have to be taken care of if they’re young, and lots of places don’t seem interested. (The schools that take really young kids that I know about, and house them separately aren’t Harvard-like.)

    I’m sympathetic, because I went through it and have gone through it with one of my kids, but I don’t know what to do. The people who are best at doing things don’t always “seem the smartest”, either. Hilbert didn’t strike a lot of people as being especially bright, and he went through school in the normal pattern for people in his time and place (he also tried to get Minkowski to the “chill”, but had no luck with that). So I don’t find the argument that we have to help these kids for economic reasons to be particularly compelling…

  16. —THAT’s why you should have separate classes for the exceptionally gifted–because, like it or not, they will be the ones this country depends on in the future.

    There’s no evidence of this, and lots of evidence to the contrary. Studies of prodigies has shown they perform less well than their more normal counterparts in the real world; their achievements aren’t bigger or more per capita. they get nowhere a lot of the time. Studies of ultra high IQ folks show the same lack of living up to the expectations. And look around at the exceptionally gifted to see how often their judgment is better than the rest of ours–the current financial debacle should give you pause.

    We don’t know what makes a success story in a person. There are thousands of variables, and IQ related ones are only so many. Luck is no small thing, either.

  17. linda seebach says:

    @ greifer: you say, “Studies of prodigies has shown they perform less well than their more normal counterparts in the real world; their achievements aren’t bigger or more per capita. they get nowhere a lot of the time.” (and so forth.) Cites?

    Charles Murray published a study in 1997 of sibling pairs whose parents were married, not divorced before the younger sibling was at least seven, and not poor. He contrasted the “brights” (IQs >= 110, roughly the top quarter), the “normals” (90<=IQ<110, the middle half), and the “dulls” (IQ < 90).

    “A bright sibling was six-and-a-half times more likely to have reached [a high level of economic success] than one of the dull. Or we may turn to the other extreme, poverty: the dull sibling was five times more likely to fall below the American poverty line than one of the bright.”

    And:
    “Yet while 56% of the bright obtained university degrees, this was achieved by only 21% of the normals and a minuscule 2% of the dulls. Parents will have been uniformly supportive, but children are not uniformly able.”

    These quotes are from a post by Steve Sailer at http://isteve.blogspot.com/2007/11/brad-delong-versus-charles-murray.html

    The differences are even more startling if you look at a narrower slice off the top. In a study titled “Income Inequality and IQ” published by AEI in 1998,
    http://www.aei.org/docLib/20040302_book443.pdf
    Murray separates out siblings at the 10th and 90th percentiles. Be sure to read his analysis contrasting what he calls “the utopian sample” (children who escape poverty, illegitimacy and divorce) with the full sample, including everybody.

  18. Linda Seebach It’s easy to make the facile claim that children vary in other ways, because they do, but this is the only way that matters all day, every day in school. If you’ve never been there yourself, or had a child who was, you don’t understand.

    Actually I was.
    I don’t know my IQ, so I can’t quote figures, but I was massively bored for most of school. My mum refused to have me accelerated as she blamed her acceleration for her burning out of maths class at age 15. Under a similar circumstance I’d push for my child, if I had one, to be accelerated. When I used to complain about being bored, my mum would tell me “Well your Great-Aunt Marion always used to say that school was boring to prepare us for life, which is boring.” She stopped when I having duly thought about it replied one day “Well if life is as boring as school is I will kill myself, because I don’t want to live 50 years of this.” (Luckily, life got somewhat more interesting once I discovered boys, and school got rather more interesting at age 16, and so far in my adult life I haven’t contemplated suicide out of boredom).

    It still makes me uncomfortable that the ordinary kids get higher staff-student ratios than gifted kids. I don’t know that many people who enjoyed school that much regardless of their intelligence, and I know people do have varying needs independently of IQ.

  19. The Socratic Method? It’s not unique to San Diego, and I believe it’s been known, since Socrates, to be an effective way to educate children. For me, the deeper question is, why is the use of interesting, effective methods restricted to a small subset of the school population? Why do we persist in trying to separate out the few geniuses from the rest?

    The San Diego program may have begun as a program for the top .1 percent, but it’s grown far beyond that size. If it’s effective for the top 6%, what’s the argument for not allowing the top 7% to receive an interesting, effective education? I believe that many bright children are bored in school. Finland and Singapore don’t seem to have the same conception of an elite and the masses, at least they manage to educate far more of their children to a very high standard. The performance of our brightest in comparison to international peers is not something to crow about, and I believe this artificial stratification among the able is part of the reason.

    I am not pleading for a lack of tracking, or streaming. I am pleading for a much less restrictive approach to placement in more challenging sections. A bright child is not harmed if his classmates have to work hard to keep up with him, so long as the material is set at the bright child’s level. All will achieve more. If a “pushy parent” believes her son belongs in the gifted track, it is better to let him try than to keep him out.

  20. Many of the most successful people I’ve known in my life are dyslexic. Some of the least functional are academically superb. Terman’s Termites did not end up at the very top of their professions, although he expected them to, and they were given extra attention.

    Placement in gifted and talented programs can benefit children when facing the brutal rat race of competitive school admissions. Such children are more likely to achieve admission to the college most likely to send graduates to Harvard’s Medical School, for example. It’s important to try to distinguish the signaling effect of placement into prestige programs.

  21. Please note that I did not say that IQ was the end all and be all. I said, “If you combine smarts with hard work and a drive to succeed, . . .”

    One can be “successful” with any two of these, but one of these alone isn’t enough. Combining all three, though, and you have the Nobel prize winners, the scientists and researchers and engineers, and a sprinkling of top business managers and other innovators.

    Think about it. If you’ve ever been in the military, you have something you can use for comparison. An IQ of 100, by definition the average IQ, is the lowest (with a very few exceptions) IQ qualified to join the military. So the military is, in comparison to the civilian world, composed of average and above average people. Compare the type of people you come in contact with every day, and you can’t help but wonder about the sheer numbers of below average people there must be out there. Yet most of them get by, but they wouldn’t be able to get by without the contributions the top 5% (of IQ) make to society.

    It’s a painful truth, especially in an egalitarian society like ours, but it needs to be faced. Gifted children and adults “count” more for society’s benefit than non-gifted folk. And a lot of us recognize that with greater ability comes greater responsibility.

    Note that I am not saying that society can get along without average people; I’m just saying that ignoring the gifted children among us is a stupid policy.

  22. Parent2,

    I thought there was research showing that dyslexia had a positive correlation with above average IQ.

  23. Rex, you say The top 1 or 2% of people account for 30-40% of the innovations (if not more) and skills necessary for our modern technological society.

    Okay, firstly there’s a big difference between innovations and skills. It’s one thing to say that the top 1% or 2% people account for 30%-40% of the innovations of society (you don’t source this, but I’ll accept it for the sake of argument) and another thing to say that they account for 30-40% of the skills.
    For example, Alexander Fleming may have discovered antibiotics because of a combination of brillance and being in the right place in the right time. But for antibiotics to work their miracles, a lot of people have to get the manufacturing process right, the drugs have to be delivered, the doctors have to prescribe the right ones, the pharmacist needs to dispense the right one. If any step in this process falls apart, Alexander Fleming’s brillance won’t save someone’s life.
    Or take sewage systems, or roads, or power lines. The people who maintain those systems are not drawn exclusively from the top 1% or 2%, but their skills or lack thereof have a massive effect on our modern technological society.
    I don’t even know how to convert all the various responsibilities in a long string of people into a statement about what percentage responsibilities people have (I’ve never understood how lawyers do that either). But I am fairly sure that there is a lot more to the skills needed by society than just the top 1% to 2%.

    To put it another way, as P J O’Rourke said “No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they’re boiling stones for soup.”

    Yet most of them get by, but they wouldn’t be able to get by without the contributions the top 5% (of IQ) make to society.

    And the contributions the top 5% of IQ make to society would be far less without the help of everyone else. For example, a doctor who can focus entirely on being a doctor can make more medical progress than a doctor who also has to find his own food, cart his own water to his own house, weave or spin the fabric to make his own clothes, having made the loom or spinning wheel in the first place, etc, etc.

  24. Mark Roulo says:

    An IQ of 100, by definition the average IQ, is the lowest (with a very few exceptions) IQ qualified to join the military. So the military is, in comparison to the civilian world, composed of average and above average people.

    I’m sorry, but this isn’t quite correct.

    The Army (and, I suspect, the other services?) bins recruits into six categories: I, II, III-A, III-B, IV and V.

    Category I, II, and III-A are all in the 50th percentile, or above. Category III-B is up to 20% below average. IV is the next 20% down. Category V is the bottom 10%, roughly.

    As of the mid-90s recruits were running about 70-80% (depending on service) from categories I, II and III-A [for ‘nonprior-service’ recruits].

    So … 70-80% with an IQ roughly 100 or above, and 20-30% below.
    Lets keep in mind that there isn’t much difference between an IQ of 95 and an IQ of 100, but we still wind up with *only* 70-80% of the recruits from the top ½ of the intelligence pool. Better than the civilian population, but far from everyone being average or above average.

    In general, the military takes close to *NO* category V recruits, and very few from category IV. So it is fair to say that the vast bulk (90+%) of the military is in the upper 2/3 or so of intelligence, but one can’t conclude that almost all of the military is average or above average in intelligence.

    -Regards,
    Mark Roulo

    Data pulled from Rand reports MR755 (chapter 5) and MR818 (chapter 2).

  25. Rex, dyslexia is defined as a persistent difficulty learning to read, despite an above average IQ. Above average, not gifted. The top 49% are above average.

    Many factors lead to success. IQ, hard work, and drive to succeed are not sufficient. You need luck. You need adequate support, in terms of education and financial backing. Bill Gates is the definition of success in our culture, but people often overlook that he comes from a very successful and affluent family.

    You need social skills and charisma. Intelligence won’t help if no one can stand to work with you. Most Nobel Prizes in the sciences are awarded to teams of researchers these days. Most companies have more than one employee.

    Yes, our society should educate the brightest children to the greatest extent possible. I just do not accept that the best way to do that is to slam the door in everyone else’s face. You yourself stated that your IQ was measured at two different times as 120 and 155. In theory, that shouldn’t happen, which would mean that one (or both) of the tests were inaccurate. Now, should Rex the child be placed in the gifted box, because he has an IQ of 155, or the “hardworking, but not gifted” box, because he has an IQ of 120? Same child, in theory, same IQ, as it’s supposed to remain stable. Add in the propensity of affluent parents to game these tests, by subtle coaching and psychologist shopping, and you have a winner-takes-all method of restricting access to challenging education for all but the affluent and well-connected.

  26. Mark, I can only speak to the Marines. The categories you mentioned are DOD categories and thus are used by all the services. I was on active duty when Congress pushed through Project 100,000 which required the services to take 100,000 Cat IV’s. The results were disastrous. It took us a long time to recover.

    Parent2, I’m not trying to measure who becomes successful as that may be defined; I’m trying to measure which kids end up benefiting society more. A lot of people have benefited society hugely but have died penniless.

    Tracy W, I don’t think you realize how many key positions are held by the top 5% of IQ. Note that the top 5% includes far more than the gifted children who were the original subject of this topic, who I believe constitute less than the top 1%. But back to the top 5%. The several engineers running the solid waste treatment plant are in the top 5%. Doctors are mostly in the top 5%. A lot of the upper people in the pharma industry are in the top 5% (not necessarily managers), such as my brother and folks like Derek Lowe who has his own blog.

    The electrical engineers who design the power transmission lines are in the top 5%, as are most engineers. Maintaining a system is not difficult, but designing one is. There are tons more people who can maintain a system than design one, whether the system is a manufacturing plant, a computer chip, a wastewater treatment plant, or a nuclear power plant. Of course, I’m biased towards engineers, although I’ll concede that scientists have their place. 🙂

    Look at this another way, although things might have changed since my high school days. The National Honor Society (NHS) used to be composed of the top 10% of the high school. Take the upper half of those folks–that’s the upper 5%. I can’t emphasize this point enough: without these folks, modern society wouldn’t work. So paying extra attention to the top 10% of the NHS folks (the top 1% overall), even at the expense of the others (which isn’t what is being proposed), makes huge sense from a societal point of view.

  27. Marshall says:

    Of course they’re having troubles with class size if they’re letting in 60 times as many kids as they planned.

    [ 0.1% -> 1 per 1000; 6% –> 60 per 1000 ]

    That being said, I think that the idea of having special classes for “one in a thousand” kids is silly in SD Unified – how many schools in the district have as many as 2,000 kids attending? [ Let alone in the same grade ]

  28. Oh, and Parent2? My understanding of IQ tests is that they measure where you are compared to a norm, and that IQ changes over time. There is no reason in the world why my IQ should have measured the same in 6th grade as when I was 22. This is one of the reasons why thoughtful educators are against blind tracking, where the decision is made once in middle school and never revisited. Proper tracking requires re-measuring every year, and also taking achievement test scores into account. IQ is a measure of general intelligence and relates to a lot of things, but it’s also misused a lot.

  29. Rex – I don’t know why you think that the number of key positions held by people with a high IQ is relevant to my argument.

    Yep, the engineers who design power transmission lines are pretty darn smart. But power transmission lines do absolutely nothing to transmit power unless they are actually built and energised. There may be far more people who can maintain a manufacturing plant, a computer chip, a wastewater treatment plant, or a nuclear power plant than can design one, but if no one actually bothers to build or maintain the plant then all that design work is irrelevant.

    And if the plant is built poorly, or maintained badly, then resources are wasted too.

    I can’t emphasize this point enough: without these folks, modern society wouldn’t work.
    I agree with this point. What you are forgetting is that without the other 95% of society, modern society wouldn’t work (assuming that IQ is distributed amongst the working population in proportion to the school age population).

    I’m not sure really how I can make this any more obvious. Yes, design is important and difficult. But all the brillant design in the world is no good if the people actually building and maintaining the products stuff up their jobs.

    So paying extra attention to the top 10% of the NHS folks (the top 1% overall), even at the expense of the others (which isn’t what is being proposed), makes huge sense from a societal point of view.

    No it doesn’t. What matters is the marginal return from extra attention.

  30. I would argue for equal attention to the top 15 – 20%, which is not what we have today. In our own school system, which is not atypical, the lowest performing 10% receive 30% of the budget. Now, you can’t argue that the top 10% should receive 30% of the budget, because that would leave 40% of the budget for 80% of the school population.

    However, you also can’t create a single curriculum which will serve the top 90% of the school population. The range of ability is too great. I don’t know if it is so much more expensive to educate gifted children than to educate kids who are not gifted. To a certain extent, I wonder if the assertion that “it costs too much to educate the gifted” is a reflection of existing misallocations of resources within schools. If the argument is that you need good lab equipment to educate the gifted, for example, I’d reject that, because I believe that you need good lab equipment to educate all children. If you need a textbook for an honors class, well, surely you need textbooks for all the students. Instead of ordering 200 textbooks for a grade with 200 students, order x advanced textbooks, and 200-x non-advanced textbooks, x being the number of advanced kids in a grade. It gets expensive when you try to differentiate within the classroom, because districts seem to hire aides in order to allow a teacher to work with smaller groupings within the classroom.

    The argument that the top 5% are worthy of support is fine. You neglect to take into account that districts don’t have a uniform distribution of ability. A wealthy district with a well-known and respected gifted and talented program could well draw more families with gifted children than a district without a gifted and talented program. Schools near industries which rely upon a highly educated workforce will also have more really bright kids than rural districts. In order to support the top 5% of the national IQ range, in certain districts, the school would need programs for 15 or 20% of the population. It doesn’t mean that the school districts believe they are Lake Woebegon, it means that individual rational decisions have an effect in the aggregate. What about the towns which feed kids into Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia, for example. I suspect, although I’m too lazy to Google it, that those towns would have a higher percentage of very able children, because their parents chose to move to towns which would give them a chance of attending TJHSST.

  31. I’m having a hard time with the numbers. The SDUSD website claims 132,000 students, and describes two distinct gifted programs. The Seminar Program (http://www.sandi.net/gate2/programsandservices.html#1 ) was intended to serve students in the 99.9 percentile or above, as well as students in the 99.6 percentile or above who have other qualifying factors. The Cluster program ( http://www.sandi.net/gate2/programsandservices.html#2 ) was aimed toward students in the 98th percentile and above, or 95th and above with other factors.

    Plugging in the numbers, the original intent seems to be to allow somewhere between 2,640 and 6,600 students into the cluster program, and of those between 132 and 528 into the seminar program (with percentiles numbered 0-99).

    The Voice article must have confused a few facts:
    Roughly 5,500 students now qualify for Seminar programs, DiJiosia said. That equals more than 6 percent of the kids to whom the class is offered — a whopping percentage in light of the high testing bar set for Seminar.
    The 5,500 figure sounds about right for the cluster program. The rest of the statement doesn’t even make sense– if 5,500 represents 6 percent, the class must have been offered to 92,000 kids.

    I wonder if much of the preceding discussion hasn’t been over false figures.

  32. On the other hand, if the Cluster Program is offered to 5,500 students, then 6 percent of that group, or 330, sounds about right for the Seminar Program.

  33. Might gifted students’ “emotional fragility” be the result of years of bullying by anti-intellectual jocks? I’m describing about 1/3 of the teachers and 2/3 of the administrators in the generally good public school system I was trapped in, not just the fellow students.

    The second reason that the highly gifted often fail to achieve their potential is that the schools fail to intellectually challenge them, so they don’t learn how to work at learning and doing intellectual tasks. Out in the real world, if the job is easy even for a genius, someone else will have done it already. If you want to work out a new theory in Physics or design a bridge, it isn’t enough to know how to do the calculations, you’ve got to actually do them. For days on end. It’s not easy to develop that kind of work habits after 12 years of mind-numbing boredom and makework.

    Finally, if teaching the gifted is expensive, you’re doing it wrong. Give them books, assign appropriate work, and come back later to evaluate the results and give feedback. But the teacher administering this program had better be much smarter than the average education major. And maybe you ought to start doing this before they’ve spent years relieving the boredom by thinking up ways to torture the teacher.

  34. Markm is right on several counts; very smart teacher with strong content knowledge, good IQ-appropriate materials and assignments and the likelihood of torturing weak teachers.

    I know a high-school teacher who had to stop mentoring practice teachers. The teacher taught only honors/AP classes and the students were much smarter/better-read than the practice teachers. When challenged (often) by the students, the practice teachers tried to BS/pretend (despite instructions to the contrary); usually resulting in the total melt-down of the practice teacher.

    Teaching credentials are too often defined as education courses, not content courses. This is especially undesirable at the high-school honors/AP levels, where strong content knowledge is essential. I know a retired masters’-level engineer who volunteers as a calculus and physics tutor, but who is not considered to be a qualified teacher because he has no ed courses.