School for the 'profoundly gifted'

Super-smart students are enrolling in Reno’s Davidson Academy for the “profoundly gifted,” reports AP. Davidson is a free public high school on the campus of University of Nevada, Reno.

“Schools don’t handle odd ball kids very well,” said Jane Clarenbach with the Washington, D.C.-based National Association for Gifted Children. “The more highly gifted you are, the bigger problem you present to your school district.”

The school now serves 100 students scoring in the top 99.9th percentile. They take classes based on  “ability level rather than age.”

In Boise, Rachel attended six different schools, sometimes three in one day, to find classes that challenged her. Hanging out at the mall was not her idea of fun. In her spare time, Rachel is writing a seven-volume novel.

Being around intellectual equals at Davidson, she said, exposed her to a social network she lacked. The academics, she said, may have been her main reason for coming to Davidson, “but my favorite part has definitely been the social atmosphere.”

Some super-smart kids look like goof-offs in elementary school because they’re so bored Clarenbach said.

“Gifted and talented” programs may not provide much challenge to these kids — if they’re available.

My ex-husband let his daughter skip high school and enroll in a nearby college. She’s on track to earn a classics degree in three years.  Eventually, she’ll find intellectual peers her own age but it will take awhile.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Robert Wright says:

    This is a really tricky issue.

    The gifted in the Bay Area, by some accounts, have a high school dropout rate that exceeds 50%.

    Gifted in public school means disabled.

    This was my son’s first year of high school and it was the first time he was ever in a mixed class of ability and motivation.

    Teachers had to dumb down the curriculum to get through the day.

    This was the first year that my son didn’t love school.

    I don’t know what the answer is. Tracking is very destructive to many students yet mixed grouping can often ruin a class unless the teacher happens to be extraordinary.

  2. These kids are ripe for homeschooling. Mix homeschooling with individual classes taken at the local public schools, colleges and online, and they’ll find peers and intellectual stimulation.

    Institutional education via public schools is like prison for some of them.

    But, then again, all of the above would work for most kids whatever their ability level.

  3. Margo/Mom says:

    Robert:

    I have a lot of sympathy for your son, it doesn’t feel good to be ignored or overlooked, no matter what the reason is. I know that you didn’t intend it, but think about how some of the others feel when people talk about “dumbing down” the curriculum for them. I really believe that a good bit of differentiation is not about dumb vs smart, or slow vs fast. It is really about the ability to honor the best that every student brings with them.

    What the elusive extraordinary teacher is able to do is to put aside these notions that students have an internal speedometer that is immutable and to meet the needs of some is to overlook the needs of others. Certainly by high school there is room for greater differentiation by class–based on interest, etc. My son is gifted in areas of creativity, music, the arts. It has always been very difficult to get him into sufficient classes of this nature at school–particular as he has documented challenges in other areas. Certainly students by high school should have opportunities to excel in areas like math or science as well. Where we have erred in the past is in creating various wheel spinning courses of “integrated” or “practical” math that just slow everything to a crawl (based on that speed assumption). “Dumbed down curriculum” isn’t really good for anyone.

  4. tim-10-ber says:

    I believe this should be the model for education for all students. We have kids that need more time to catch up to “grade level”. We have those bored to tears waiting for those kids to catch up when they could be moving ahead. We have others who are completely disengaged because the day is of no interest to them.

    The factory model of school where everyone moves down the assembly line together at the same pace does not work. I doubt it truly ever did other than to dumb down the vast majority of the student body and produce…what?

    This would be great for all students…I think kids would thrive. The kids that act out because they cannot read, do numbers or are bored to tears would be challenged at a higher or more appropriate level. Kids would realize they are not dumb…it was just the teacher than thought they were and would not spend time on them because there were 30 other kids in the class that “got it”. When the “slow” kids get caught up they can then move at their own pace through the various subjects to be mastered to graduate.

    This would revolutionize compulsory er forced er government schooling in this country. Think of the possibilities!! This might attract really top notch teachers to the schools as they would be able to work in a more challenging and exciting environment. Yep, think of the possibilities…

    My high achieving kids would have loved this model!!!

  5. Bill Leonard says:

    This matter of what to do with brighter kids, as well as slower kids, is both an interesting and a troubling situation.

    In my own past, I attended the Des Moines school system thru 6th grad and into 7th (junior high school, in 1955). The system was designed to maintain discipline in the classroom, and in the elementary grades at least, to do certain things well: kids would read and perform arithmetic at grade level before promotion to the next grade. Junior High School was rather like high school in California, only much more so, with a far broader curriculum.

    I found myself nearly a year ahead of my seventh-grade class in California; that class was conducted along grammar school lines, with kids in one homeroom for all but phys ed, and the “innovations” included a lot of drawing pictures to music and forming into “committees’ for social studies and English.

    I was tested for what passed for a gifted program; I passed, but was denied admittance becuase, presumably, the other kids had been in there for a year or so and I would have trouble catching up. I was told; my parents were not informed (keep in mind, this was 1955.)

    I managed to get through college and thru graduate level in spite of all that; so did my wife. So did my brother-in-law and several members of our wedding party. ButI wonder how many kids simply learned next to nothing in that educational paradigm, one the education lobby then and now has characterized as one of the best in the world?

    If I were raising bright kids now, I would either opt for home schooling or find some way to find the money for good private schools.
    Public schools in this country, and particularly in states such as California, are largely a failure.

    Yes, I know that there are good and conscientious teachers, many of whom ae regulars on this blog, who will disagree. But bottom line, California public schools, especially, are simply shit.

  6. I wish there was such a school for my sons. I continue to fight with our local school districts for them to have the opportunities they need for their intellectual development. We recd. their Calif. State standardized test scores today, and both are at the top. Which perhaps means, they are not being challenged ? Fortunatly, my wife and I fill in some of those many missing bits.

  7. I’m not sure I like this phrase, “what to do with ::insert your choice of descriptive terms here:: kids.” As if students were things that had to be dealt with, rather than individuals who had a choice of their own.

    Not that I’m saying people who use this phrase necessarily think that way. The words bother me, not the people.

    For all my students, both gifted and otherwise (although technically, all students are gifted in something), I recommend after school activities such as sports, learning a musical instrument, clubs that the school/community center/library/religious center might offer. The issue of money is involved here, but I like to research the local community offerings and provide parents with a list with a range in cost, so that families can make their own decisions about what to do.

    That’s merely a suggestion, until that bright and shiny day when public schools can meet all student needs in a satisfactory manner. Although I’m not sure that is a totally effective idea either…

  8. Robert Wright says:

    True, the profoundly gifted are often bored, but I think worse than that and more common is that they feel ignored.

    And once they feel ignored, they disconnect.

  9. > I’m not sure I like this phrase, “what to do with ::insert your choice of descriptive terms here:: kids.” As if students were things that had to be dealt with, rather than individuals who had a choice of their own.

    I’m not sure the kids like it either, but I’m willing to bet most of the ones attending Davidson have heard it more than once.

    > …I recommend after school activities such as sports, learning a musical instrument, clubs that the school/community center/library/religious center might offer.

    The above comment completely misses the point of the article. How do the extracurricular activities mentioned address the problems of a student being forced to waste six hours a day listening to material they already know, surrounded by peers who consider her a freak?

    > That’s merely a suggestion, until that bright and shiny day when public schools can meet all student needs in a satisfactory manner.

    Here’s a better suggestion: let the money follow the students, so that they can find a school that works.

  10. > True, the profoundly gifted are often bored, but I think worse than that and more common is that they feel ignored.

    I think what’s worse is that such a student is fully aware that he is being robbed of a quarter of each day of his life that is spent in a regular classroom– time that could be spent trying to reach his own potential, and time that can never be replaced. It’s not just about boredom and bruised egos.

  11. Andromeda says:

    Margo: but what about when the best in a student is about slow vs. fast? I attended one of the summer programs mentioned in the linked article, at which, among other things, I did a year of high school chemistry in three weeks. That was just about right. How on earth can you make me spend nine months in a class I can cover in three weeks, and make it challenging? Two or three months, maybe, if you were really good at differentiation and could add lots of depth to the curriculum. But nine?

    I’m not going to say a pace like that is for everyone. (It wasn’t even always for me; a year of physics in three weeks was more than I can handle. I would’ve been a lot better off with four or five weeks.) But isn’t that the point, that it isn’t for everyone?

    If you’ve got a group of kids for whom the optimal pace for your material might range from, oh, eight months to ten, and you’ve got nine months to teach it in, and you’ve been trained in differentiation and are supported by your admin in how to do it (big if — I wasn’t when I was teaching), then yeah, you can make it an engaging class for all those kids. But if you’ve got the kid who can do it in three weeks — who would, indeed, actively prefer to — how on earth do you differentiate that?

  12. deirdremundy says:

    Andromeda— Easy! You hope the student in question has at least ONE challenging class, so she can do her homework for it in your class. And then you ignore it when she spends the class reading novels, and if another kid complains you say ‘When you have a 110% average in this class, you can read too!’ and then you hope and pray that said student FINDS a school/program for gifted kids, you give her the info on early college admissons programs, and you sympathize with her when she informs you High school is a waste and your heart breaks for her because she has no freinds and all the other teachers think she’s a snot, and then you rejoice when she finally finds a way OUT because now she won’t have to deal with the soul-crushing boredem and cruel classmates.

    But you feel a little sad, because she WAS your favorite student…..

  13. Margo, like plenty of other parents, teachers and administrators is determined to ignore human differences. There is a bell curve of students, and it is impossible to meet the needs of kids from +3 to -3 in the same class, or even the same school.

    Some kids do not belong in a regular academic setting at all and some belong in the kind of program described above. Even in the +2 to -2 window, academic needs cannot be EFFECTIVELY and EFFICIENTLY met in the same class. Even in that window, some kids can master material at far greater speeds, and with greater depth. Mainstreaming, group work and differentiated instruction allow all concerned to pretend that all kids’ academic needs are being met; despite the fact that that emperor is wearing no clothes.

    Also, NOT everyone is gifted at something; everyone is better at some things than others, but most kids/people are average.

  14. “soul-crushing boredem and cruel classmates.”

    That’s a capsule history of my life in grades K-9.

  15. Margo/Mom says:

    Don’t know why you think I see everyone as identical–as much time an effort as I put into trying to shine a light on the unmet needs of the folks whose differences put them on the fringes. But–there are all kinds of ways to approach meeting those needs. I might point out that the Japanese, as a matter of culture, approach differences very differently than we do. For one thing, they put a far greater emphasis on effort, as opposed to ability than we do. For another, they put a high value on the social good–where we put a premium on individualism. Their schools regard as anathema any tracking or slow vs fast kinds of things. It is very hard to get data that looks at things like socio-economic impact, or the ways in which various cultural groups (and they do have some) do in school. They are very uncomfortable with the suggestion of these kinds of differences. Public school is to best meet the public good. Where they do experience a high level of differentiation is in the afterschool juku–which are privately operated. For some they provide enrichment. For others they provide intense preparation for tests to get into the high school of choice. For others they provide remediation.

    Their kids, as a group, do quite well. Only the most severely disabled are “pulled out” for education in specialized sites (and these appear to be an area of weakness)–far lower percentages of kids identified than we have.

    But I’m with Bonnie. We put far too high a premium on putting kids into groups and labelling them, to the detriment of understanding some broader ideas about how to educate.

  16. The problem with using afterschool programs for bright kids is that bright kids waste six hours a day, when they are at their freshest and most able to learn, sitting in a classroom doing nothing. If my kids could get appropriate services, they can be called anything.

    Differentiation doesn’t work. I think it is educode for ignoring kids who have already mastered the material.

    “Even in the +2 to -2 window, academic needs cannot be EFFECTIVELY and EFFICIENTLY met in the same class.”

    It would be nice for those who say differentiation works to give concrete examples of how it works.

    One other issue I have run across in California is the number of teachers/administrators who claim that it is illegal to put bright kids together and let them learn at their own pace. Of course, no one can point me to the relevant portion of the Ed Code.

  17. Margo/Mom says:

    “Differentiation doesn’t work. I think it is educode for ignoring kids who have already mastered the material.”

    And yet–there are those pesky Japanese who seem to be able to get good value out of a more group oriented approach.

    But the issue is seldom one of the kids having already mastered the material. If that were it, we would be getting more mileage out of acceleration programs than we are.

  18. I can describe how differentiation didn’t work for my kids. How does it work and what does success look like?

  19. Margo: Who gives a damn about the Japanese? We’re not in Japan. How do you know how well their approach works? Maybe the population is more uniform than ours. Or maybe they’re just too stoic to complain.

    It may work in some sense, but it’s not what I’d want for any kid. Anyway, we haven’t come from a culture where people could be ordered to disembowel themselves.

  20. CA Teacher says:

    Differentiation can work well for bright and most gifted kids. It does not work for profoundly gifted, which is the demographic this school is set up for. Further, many districts, including the one I teach in, do not allow for acceleration. I was a highly gifted child, and my own child falls into that category. School was an isolating experience for me–I spent most of my K-8 years in a corner with separate curriculum, working at “my own speed,” and in HS I did much “independent study.” I got little actual instruction from teachers, and I felt like a freak. Still, I am thankful for that– a lot of teachers took the time to be sure I wasn’t bored out of my mind. My son is not even getting that–he gets “differentiation,” which basically means he’s grouped with other kids from the gifted programs for slightly more challenging reading and math activities, and he is assigned tons of mind-numbing busywork. That is not enough for him. As he enters fifth grade, he is starting to hate school. I get tired of hearing that these kids need to be homeschooled or sent to private school. As a single, working parent, I can’t provide those options. I wish that there were a school like this where we live.

  21. Eric Jablow says:

    In 1970 when I was 8 years old, in a Brooklyn elementary school, I was bored out of my skull. I had just finished going through a high school algebra textbook and had started a (not-very-good) calculus textbook. Meanwhile, I was getting simple multiplication problems in school. The ‘social science’ books were boring collections of mush. What would you and your readers suggest for that situation now?

    My parents panicked. They first tried getting help from the school, and got nothing. Someone from the school headquarters at 110 Livingston Street interviewed me, and asked my parents what my horoscopic sign was. Finally, they called the Brooklyn College mathematics department and spoke with the chairman, whom they did not know. He agreed to interview me, found that my parents were not faking the situation, found that I was learning the material, and arranged for a professor there to tutor me. It was only the tutoring and B.C. allowing me to sit in on an occasional class that kept me sane for the next three years, until they were able to extricate me from the public school system.

    In retrospect, the thing that hurt the most was that the math teachers I had did not know the subjects they were trying to teach.

  22. The Japanese have the highest rate of teen (and adult) suicide in the world.

  23. stacy, do you have a source for that statistic? From the links I can find, I believe the Russian Federation has that dubious honor, and the US has more young suicides than Japan.

    http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/country_reports/en/index.html

    2006

    Japan ages 5-14, 77 suicides
    ages 15-24, 1892 suicides

    Russian Federation
    ages 5-14, 275 suicides
    ages 15-24, 6654 suicides

    As a matter of fact, according to the WHO data, the United States of America (in 2006) is much closer to the Russian Federation than Japan.

    U.S. ages 5-14, 272 suicides
    ages 15-24, 4202 suicides

  24. CA Teacher says:

    Actually, Sri Lanka has the highest rate of suicide in the world, in both teens and adults. It doubles Russia’s. Parent 2, according to the very charts you link, the actual suicide RATE is higher in Japan for the 5-24 year-old population than the U.S. rate. You’re looking at actual numbers, which make no sense if you don’t put them in context of population. However, other sources I saw put the teen rate (15-19 year-olds) in the U.S.in 2000 a little higher than Japan’s. Ours is 8 per 100,000, theirs is 6.4. Sri Lanka’s is 46.5.

  25. Ach, sorry, of course. My only excuse is that it’s late on this side of the continent.

    That’s a horrifying rate for Sri Lanka.

    I wonder, though, what our teen suicide rates would look like, if they included single-car automobile accidents by teen drivers? My impression is (and I could be wrong) that American teens are allowed to drive at a younger age than teens in other countries, and due to our affluence, many teens have easy access to cars.

  26. Wow, my reference to seppuku was merely to point out that Japan had a long tradition of conformity and respect for authority, some of which may still color today’s culture & expectations.

    You know things are getting bad when a discussion about gifted education turns into a debate about comparative teen suicide rates.

  27. I’ve been able to address the “soul-crushing boredom” aspect of schooling for my children by homeschooling them, however there is something I struggle to provide them that the Davidson Academy does so well– a peer group. Children need an environment where their differences and abilities are not merely tolerated, but celebrated. They need to feel comfortable sharing their gifts with others and interacting with a peer group that challenges them to rise even further.

    The lack of a peer group was an issue when they were in school (with absolutely no gifted program and vehemently opposed to acceleration) and continues to be an issue even now that I educate them at home. Students shouldn’t have to settle for anything less than what the Davidson Academy offers its students, but at present too many have no choice but to make do.

  28. Parent2, You’re quoting the gross number of suicides not the rate of suicides per 100,000, adjusted for population.

    Japan’s rate is 14 suicides per 100,000 in the age group 15-14.
    For the same group the U.S. rate is 10. The Russian rate is 27.3, but the WHO suggests the Russian info is inaccurate due to inconsistent reporting.

  29. Robert Wright says:

    I think differentiation does work.

    The only problem is, true differentiation is very difficult and very rare.

    I don’t know what the answer is.

  30. Robert Wright says:

    No, I don’t know what the answer is, but I do believe there are many false assumptions we make about smart kids.

    They need help and they’re not getting the help they need.

  31. For some reason the term “profoundly gifted” sounds vaguely pathological to me.

    I suppose the requirements of rube-confusing jargon-creation demand a phrase that sounds more learned, and is definitely more pretentious, then “really smart” but it just sounds like it’ll be followed by the doctor saying “and I’m afraid there’s nothing medical science can do about it”.

  32. The profoundly gifted are not the only smart kids being shortchanged in most schools; the “average” gifted kids are also. In my experience, “enrichment” means busywork all too often. Even these kids need to move with greater speed through more and deeper content; acceleration. Most ordinary gifted kids could easily finish high school in 10-11 years, including 1-2 years of AP and/or college classes. They would then be ready to “start” college with sophomore or junior standing; allowing time for extra majors and/or internships or acceleration into grad school.

  33. What momof4 said.

    If you are looking for contradictions and hypocrisy, the way public schools relate to most gifted children is a gold mine.  The party line is that teachers are supposed to instill a love of learning, but the gifted are deliberately prevented from pursuing learning in their classes no matter how much they want it.  They are held back and suffocated with busywork from the teachers and often bullied by their classmates.

    All it takes is a look at a few textbooks to see that we have gone backwards over time; things were much better a century ago.  The academic failures were not even in high schools, so the bulk of the bullying from jealousy was simply not there.  The fewer students remaining were the cream, and the classwork was at a more rigorous and intellectually satisfying level.  This sort of material does not appear to be used any longer in public schools outside of AP classes; real education is restricted to the elites who can pay for it.

    What we’ve had for at least a couple of generations is “almost no child gets ahead”.  Taking the position that kids are not interchangeable cogs will get you labelled “elitist” if not “racist”.  I don’t know what to do about it, but ending the careers of the dogmatic egalitarians looks like one of the first steps.

  34. what momof4 and engineer-poet said

    How many of us reading this blog were the ignored smart kids and/or are the parents of ignored smart kids?

  35. Every state ought to offer a government-run boarding school for the profoundly gifted the way North Carolina does. And every county ought to offer an exam school similar to Stuyvesant in NYC, Thomas Jefferson near D.C., or Boston Latin for “garden variety” gifted kids.

    India and China don’t have any philosophical problem with offering rigorous schooling to their best and brightest students and they’re kicking our egalitarian fannies in the global economy…

  36. linda seebach says:

    Deborah Ruf works with profoundly gifted kids, and notes that they respond very differently depending on their personality types. Some rebel; that’s dumb, I won’t do it. Others figure out how to work the system (that was me). It won’t surprise you that the former are more often boys (who get ground up in the gears) and the latter more often girls (who end up, Ruf says, running the school. Well, I had no interest in that, but I did ensure it ran for me.)

    My son was referred for evaluation, in first grade I think, because he couldn’t tie his shoes and he didn’t have any friends. The school was appalled to discover he was “severely gifted” — their term; sorta tells you where they were coming from, doesn’t it? They had no idea what to do with him. And you know what? I don’t think they should be expected to. These kids are too rare. 3 S.D. (up or down) is about 3 per 1,000 — on the up side, as far from the average as a child with an IQ of 55. An averaged-sized elementary school has maybe one, and a lot of teachers have never had any in their classes.

    If there are enough of them at the district level, put them together in a one-room school (with a profoundly gifted teacher who’s been there) and let them fly. They don’t need much except an absence of busywork and bullies.

  37. deirdremundy says:

    “run-of-the mill” gifted schools (Like Math/Science Magnets) may not be IDEAL for the profoundly gifted, but I think they might be at least a decent option for most of them.

    I went to a magnet school (just normal gifted, not profound) — we had a few kids who were MILES ahead of everyone else…. but the teachers were willing to organize small tutorials for them, the state university sent in professors for their math classes, and the rest of us enjoyed their company — So it was an environment where kids could get a decent education AND have a decent social life.

    Looking back, I think that, at least for me, the nerd-friendly social life was actually MORE helpful than the education…. When I got to college, I was one of the few people I knew who’d actually gotten to do ‘normal’ teenager things (ultimate frisbee, street hockey, movies, trips to the bookstore, parties, late night boardgaming, hanging out and talking….)

    But for areas that DON’T have enough profoundly gifted for a dedicated school, having a gifted school for the run-of-the-mill gifted (IQs above 140 or so?) can at least provide some shelter….

    I almost feel like what a lot of these kids need is PROTECTION. If you plop them in a normal school and let them go at their own rate, they’ll be ostracized and abused by their peers (and half the teachers will figure they ‘have it coming’ for being so aloof)– A good way to end up with a severely depressed teen.

    If you put them in a place where intelligence and curiousity are appreciated and everyone shares a love of learning, then they can actually have FRIENDS….. even if their friends aren’t super-geniuses, they’ll at least be smart enough to follow their conversations and interested in what they have to contribute…

    Mainstreaming and Differentiation is just another form of torture for a lot of smart kids…. either you hate every moment of every school day, or you learn to live behind a mask so that you can escape the bullies and at least have a few shallow friendships. We’re putting kids in situations that send the message that who they are isn’t valuable– that they’re less of a person than the people around them just because they’re not ‘normal.’ We need to make sure these kids have school environments where they can be appreciated for who they are, with teachers who see them as an enjoyable challenge rather than a millstone.

    Also— Are these kids more likely to be diagnosed as ADD? Because it’s a lot easier to be inattentive when none of the tasks before you REQUIRE any attention. And daydreaming about interesting ideas is the only escape really allowed at most elementary schools……

  38. “Mainstreaming and Differentiation is just another form of torture for a lot of smart kids…. either you hate every moment of every school day, or you learn to live behind a mask so that you can escape the bullies and at least have a few shallow friendships. We’re putting kids in situations that send the message that who they are isn’t valuable– that they’re less of a person than the people around them just because they’re not ‘normal.’ We need to make sure these kids have school environments where they can be appreciated for who they are, with teachers who see them as an enjoyable challenge rather than a millstone.”

    I have been trying to find a way to articulate what deirdre said.

    One major problem with hetereogenous classroom groupings for smart kids is that this situation prevents the smart kids from having peers in their classroom. The smart kids are isolated with maybe one other kid in the room who gets their jokes and they can converse with.

    Even two standard deviations away from the mean is huge. A child with an IQ of 130 is as far away from the mean as a child with an IQ of 70. And in a class of 100 kids, there are probably 3 of those kids.

    Not all districts are big enough for a gifted school, but almost all schools are big enough to put the bright kids together in a classroom, even if it’s a multigrade classroom.

  39. I, sadly, agree with a lot of the issues being raised. Our society doesn’t value education in general, never mind our brightest members.

    The profoundly gifted are not best served in a regular classroom; I have great success with differentiation (when I get it right), but it has its limits, and either end of the bell curve are beyond it. I can differentiate for giftedness in my AP classes because the difference is workable. I find it a real struggle to do it in the regular class when I also have kids performing below grade level.

    I disagree that profoundly gifted students should have profoundly gifted teachers. That’s a volatile mix sometimes; they just need energetic, curious, bright teachers who are not easily intimidated. You have to enjoy this type of kid.

    My district has a gifted program, and for a small district we have a large critical mass of gifted kids due to the fact that we have a huge number of parents who are university faculty — but it isn’t perfect. And we have a hard time hiring teachers with gifted credentials (I can’t teach the classes because I’m not certified in gifted ed. — which is fine with me because I don’t want to do any more university education classes EVER).

  40. deirdremundy says:

    I agree that it’s not necessary to have a GIFTED teacher….. but you DO need to have a teacher who’s academically ahead of the kids, enjoys the subject matter, and finds curiousity and questions energizing. (A bit of humility is good too… these kids need a teacher who is willing to say ‘I don’t know the answer to that question–I’ll research it and get back to you tomorrow.’

    At the same time, you need a teacher who isn’t intimidated by the kids, and who WILL hold them accountable, no matter how smart they are.

    I was lucky– the magnet school I attended had GREAT teachers, and even some of our non-magnet classes were good. (Great English dept–at least for honors/AP—history….mediocre, but it was only one class a day so we all just ignored it…)

    One problem, of course, is that whenever there are budget cuts, gifted education is the first to go…. and parents of the kids not in these classes are frequently resentful…. (which is weird, because you don’t hear them complaining about ESL and Special Ed classes).

    For districts without gifted programs, homeschooling+early college isn’t a bad combo– our state university’s local campus will enroll kids starting in 10th grade, so they can graduate in 12th with a BA, if they work hard. (Not the most challenging courses, but better than high school, and they can always go on for another BA from a top school later….) I’d urge parents to see what options they can cobble together for their kids… the school system isn’t going to help you, so you’ll just have to do it on their own.

    Also– if you’re near a university, even if official policy won’t let your child sit in on classes, individual professors might. Combined with homeschooling, this can keep your child motivated AND give them a great education. (Most professors love their subject, and a bright, interested student is a huge treat for them.)

    I’d also suggest looking into Museum and Zoo internships… interesting, educational, and a great environment for nerds! =)

    But the big thing is, as parents, don’t accept a system that leaves your kid alone and miserable. Make sure they know that there ARE peers out there for them, even if they’re not age-peers. If you’re totally isolated, invest in internet and help your child find online communities that share their interests. No kid should have to go through school alone. Every kid deserves to have friends and a social life. No kid should have to change their identity to ‘fit in.’

    Schools today spend a lot of energy making sure that gay kids can fit in and be accepted. Well, a lot of gifted kids have it WAYY worse than the gay kids. It’s just noone cares because ‘they’re smart enough to get over it.’

  41. Margo/Mom says:

    “If you plop them in a normal school and let them go at their own rate, they’ll be ostracized and abused by their peers (and half the teachers will figure they ‘have it coming’ for being so aloof)– A good way to end up with a severely depressed teen.”

    Interesting, this is the same thing that kids with disabilities experience. Clearly the problem is with the pathologies of the “normal” kids. They should be removed, with their “peers,” and provided with intervention so that they are better able to socialize in real world environments.

  42. Margo/Mom says:

    “Schools today spend a lot of energy making sure that gay kids can fit in and be accepted. Well, a lot of gifted kids have it WAYY worse than the gay kids. It’s just noone cares because ‘they’re smart enough to get over it.’”

    Interesting observation, but as a parent, kids don’t come in nice neat boxes. Some kids are gay and gifted. Some are gifted and have disabilities. Some kids with disabilities are gay. Some are all three, and some are none (not to mention that some are girls, some are boys, all have an ethnicity, a home life and a socio-economic background). I don’t observe that schools are doing a very good job overall of responding to the needs of the kids actually in the building. And I don’t see that situation improving as long as we think that the best way to do it is to subdivide kids into categories of likeness. Pity the poor playtpus duck, and all who, like it, just don’t seem to fit the categories.

  43. It took me some time to catch on that our local public school wouldn’t be willing to educate my children. I had had no such problem in the public school system, but that was before tracking became a dirty word.

    Within three years, all of my children will be out of the public system. Heterogeneous grouping doesn’t work after the first grade, because the range is too large. My older children spent years waiting for peers to catch up. Unfortunately, learning is cumulative, so for many, that won’t happen.

    I now know that when a teacher starts praising extracurricular activities as a means to meet the needs of gifted children, it’s a bad sign. It’s a sign that the school does not like children who perform above a rating of “proficient” on the state exams. It’s a sign to get out of the system. Playing musical instruments, joining sports teams, volunteering, learning handicrafts, etc., are all worthy things–but they don’t make up for hours of boredom.

    “Profoundly gifted?” I could care less. That, in my opinion, is an artifact of testing. If a child enters school in September, without a realistic prospect of learning anything new, that child is wasting her time in school. To restrict this problem to “profoundly gifted” misses the point. The smaller a group of children is, the easier it is for school administrators to dismiss the group’s needs.

    Unfortunately, with heterogeneous grouping, and mainstreaming, the level of instruction drops–has to drop–to below the average level of the children in class. It drops below the average because the children with special needs, and the children who are on the verge of “basic” or “proficient” take priority.

  44. deirdremundy says:

    Margo– it’s true that disabled children have many classroom problems as well. The difference is that disabled children have legal protection. They can get IEPs. The school system is required to provide them with the help they need, at the taxpayer’s expense. Parents can pull them out and force a tutor to come to them at home.

    The disabled also have societal protections — children’s television shows try to teach compassion for them, few teachers will overlook someone picking on them.

    In my experience, gifted kids are often considered to be ‘asking for it,’ ‘just need to adapt,’ and ‘don’t need help anyway, since they’re gifted.’ Teachers and administrators seem to assume that because these children may be able to handle adult academic material, they should also be able to handl;e social situations as an adult would. Gifted children are still CHILDREN though. We need to offer them the same protections we offer to disabled children!

  45. Richard Aubrey says:

    Add a touch of ADD to “bored because so far ahead of the material” and you have a kid who’s not even there, mentally, for the bulk of the day.
    Then there’s the green-monkey issue.
    IMO, everybody should learn self-defense, aka scientific dirty fighting.
    Especially those who are at more risk, which in this case is the profoundly (or “severely”–what a hoot) gifted.
    My twins were gifted in the average sense, NHS and so forth, and the green monkey thing was not a problem since my son was an all-conference tight end his senior year, and had the physical capacity that implies vis-a-vis his classmates in earlier years. Neither he nor his twin sister were picked on.

  46. Margo/Mom says:

    “Margo– it’s true that disabled children have many classroom problems as well. The difference is that disabled children have legal protection.”

    deirdre–Deborah Kendrick writes on disability issues and just this weekend had a column on that topic. You may find it interesting. http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/editorials/stories/2009/08/09/Kendrick09.ART_ART_08-09-09_G5_9IEN7QO.html

    Personally, I think we have a huge problem in schools that relates to children picking on others. The institutional structure of schools frequently sets that up (why are those kids in a “special” room down the hall, why don’t the regular teachers want to teach them, why do some parents not want them in the regular classroom), but there are other factors as well. The push to be tolerant of intolerance, for instance, which leads to difficulties any time that schools acknowledge that some students (and teachers) and their families are gay–and have a right to not be ostracised.

    I wouldn’t say that students who are gifted are likely to be “asking for it” (whatever “it” is) as a group, any more than students who are gay are just “asking for it.” But I would say that the folks who talk about things like “dumbing down” the curriculum for the students who are disabled, or merely proficient, or suggest that the “level of instruction drops” when those kids are in the room are not contributing to an atmosphere in which all are respected.

  47. Margo…respect also includes acknowledging reality. If there are thirty kids in a classroom and the reading skill level ranges from second grade to senior in high school, the teacher has to decide which end of the skill level she is going to ignore. (Admittedly, some teachers will ignore both ends). The issue that so many have brought up in this discussion is that the bright kids tend to get ignored in heterogenous classroom situations. The level of instruction always drops to slightly below the average level of the kids in the classroom. If the spread of ability is smaller, then the number of kids who end up with somewhat adequate instruction increases.

    And, as for respecting bright kids….last school year, my kids’ school had “Brainac Day” where kids were encouraged to dress as a braniac (wear glasses and carry books). Surprisingly enough, they didn’t have f*g day, wetback day, or minstrel day.

  48. I’d like to see a situation where each kid was in a classroom where both the level and the pace of instruction matched his situation, subject by subject; a place where he is appropriately challenged, but capable of success with appropriate effort. It’s harder to do in a very small school, but bigger schools could do it. Between political correctness and the romantic/progressive views of the educational establishment, such a suggestion is heresy.

  49. Margo, you can find a multitude of teacher blogs on the internet which lament that certain topics can’t be touched, certain books can’t be read, certain assignments can’t be chosen, because “my kids can’t do that/aren’t ready for that, etc.” The children who are tagged as gifted are ready to discuss high school level novels in middle school (or before), but, in heterogeneous classes, are assigned books which they find deeply boring–because the teacher must assign books which every student is able to understand. The greater the range of heterogeneity present in a classroom, the more difficult it becomes to teach all the children present, particularly the outliers.

    Sorry, I don’t care about “an atmosphere where all are respected,” when children who have the potential to become rocket scientists aren’t taught to their capacity. I would argue that the children who are required to be present in a classroom, when the teacher knows that they’re above grade level, and knows in September that they won’t learn anything new this year, are not being respected.

  50. Margo/Mom says:

    “I would argue that the children who are required to be present in a classroom, when the teacher knows that they’re above grade level, and knows in September that they won’t learn anything new this year, are not being respected.”

    How sad that they already know everything.

  51. Especially in elementary school, it is likely that these kids have significantly more intellectual horsepower than many of the teachers. It’s not a valued attribute in most cases.

  52. Jane:  I was one of them.  I’m not a parent yet, but I’m not going to let this kind of thing happen again if I can prevent it.

    Linda Seebach:

    If there are enough of them at the district level, put them together in a one-room school (with a profoundly gifted teacher who’s been there) and let them fly.

    My elementary school had at least 3 of us in my grade level.  The principal deliberately put us all in separate classrooms.  I’m an atheist, but if there’s a hell she deserves to be there.

    A nerd-friendly social life in K-12 would have been heaven.  It took me years to recover even a little bit from the isolation.

    dierdremundy:

    Mainstreaming and Differentiation is just another form of torture for a lot of smart kids…. either you hate every moment of every school day, or you learn to live behind a mask so that you can escape the bullies and at least have a few shallow friendships.

    Yes.  Yes!  A THOUSAND TIMES YES!

    I get the feeling that this is no accident.  This situation has to be deliberate on the part of the economic elites, because if the most intelligent among the middle classes have to waste their energy on evading the hazards of bullies and the stresses of teachers who may be outright hostile, they can’t spend that energy competing with the upper crust.  I would not be surprised of the stresses of being the freak in ElHi is not terribly different from the mental (and physical) health toll of other stressors.

    The gifted need legal protections at least as good as the handicapped.  They (we) are freaks, but freaks that society cannot do without.  Wasting their potential isn’t just a tragedy, it’s a crime.

  53. dierdremundy again:

    One problem, of course, is that whenever there are budget cuts, gifted education is the first to go…. and parents of the kids not in these classes are frequently resentful…. (which is weird, because you don’t hear them complaining about ESL and Special Ed classes).

    ESL and SPED come with money; haven’t we read a number of posts here talking about districts which classify kids as one or the other to pad their budgets?  Gifted ed doesn’t get that.  This is why the gifted need legal protections.

    And this could not be more true:

    Between political correctness and the romantic/progressive views of the educational establishment, such a suggestion is heresy.

    Is it too early to start suing for mandatory, appropriate (meaning challenging) education for the gifted?  One precedent could start tipping dominoes.

  54. “How sad that they already know everything.”

    This rather snide remark says it all. ‘They’re just know-it-alls, troublemakers, and want to be treated better than everyone else.’ It brings back a few memories of elementary school in the sixties.

  55. Sorry, I should have just let that one go. But it honestly did trigger a few memories.

  56. deirdremundy says:

    Note –it’s not that they already know everything, it’s that they know everything that will be covered in that class. Or, any random trivia they DON’T know could be squeezed into about 20 minutes instead of spread over the year.

    It’s true, however, that a gifted second grader still probably needs to learn second grade social skills. But he can’t learn those if he’s being mocked, ostracized and beaten on a regular basis– so he’d still be better off in a mixed-aged gifted room, where he could learn to interact with peers AND get better academics.

    Margo, I don’t think you understand how much these kids are suffering. Or what it’s like to be stuck somewhere 6 hours a day, bored stiff with nothing to do, and then get sent to the principals office for reading, doodling, or daydreaming instead of paying attention to someone explaining something you mastered several years ago.

    It’s like one of those bad teacher’s inservice lessons, but it lasts for 180 days with no hope of reprieve! (unless you’re really lucky and get chicken pox and stay home in bed reading for two weeks! The joy! The decadence! The glorious memories that stay with you forever! 🙂 )

  57. Margo/Mom says:

    Bart–do you think that those who are considered gifted are inherently lacking in empathy? Or are there parents? I posted Deborah Kendrick’s column because she writes from the point of view of one with a disability. The experience is not analogous. Nonetheless there are states that provide “protections” for kids who are gifted based on the IEP model–Pennsylvania is one. And the lawsuit that one district is waging against one parent of gifted/disabled brothers is likely to have a ripple effect on the lives of students with disabilities and their families.

    The reality, as I see it, is that there are no students (regardless of what someone believes that their “intellectual horsepower” is) who have nothing to learn from a class–unless the class is extremely limited in scope–in which case I question why any student is there. The language of this discussion is certainly troubling (fast vs slow, more intellectual horsepower than the teacher, freaks that society cannot do without, kids who can become rocket scientists, dumbing down the curriculum to a lower level of instruction to accommodate the merely proficient or those with disabilities). But language is only an indicator of thinking. The thinking that those with a presumed level of intellect are in some way superior to those with less is so deeply engrained that the people who are asking for sympathy for us poor nerds don’t even realize how perjorative their terminology is towards others. Institutionalizing that thinking (or continuing that institutionalization) through child sorting has such ugly ramifications. If in fact a student has already learned all that will be/can be taught in a classroom, then lets move them on to the next (my state not only allows for acceleration, but districts are required to have acceleration policies). But segregating kids based on some imperfect measure of innate intellect has never advanced any society that has sought to go there, so far as I can tell. And lots of other things end up being figured into the mix.

  58. Margo/Mom says:

    deirdre:

    I am a former gifted student. I have two children who are gifted (one of whom also has disabilities). Classrooms where children are ostracised are not good places. Neither are schools or districts who turn a blind eye to such ostracism. While exclusion is damaging and inexcuseable where ever it occurs, I don’t find it to be unique to the gifted population, or even more prevalent among the gifted. I don’t see that anyone benefits from comparing battle scars, but there is a real want of feeling to ask on the one hand to be considerate of the feelings of the smart kids and in the same sentence or paragraph to denigrate those with disabilities, merely average intelligence, or who are gay.

  59. Margo,

    If the class curriculum consists of learning to read and learning to add and subtract with regrouping, and a child already is reading novels and has mastered adding and subtracting with regrouping, the child will learn nothing of value in that class. Of course, they may learn that their needs are of no consequence, that they are worth less than the other children in the class who get to learn new material everyday, and that there is something fundamentally wrong with them. I do not consider these valuable lessons.

    Most of the other posters on this blog are asking that children be allowed to learn new material in school. Also that once the children have mastered the material that is being taught, that the children be allowed to learn new material.

    Many of us and our children have battle scars, yet you seem to deny our injuries even took place. Why?

  60. This is a really fascinating discussion. A couple of facts, though: depending on the state, gifted education is a separately funded category. Many programs are beginning to screen for it much like a disability; it used to be gifted programs catered to the bright/hard workers on up. Now the bright/hard workers are being screened out because the realization is that kids with 130+ IQ’s require specialized programs. (Our district gets around this at the K-middle levels by having two programs — one for the very bright who are operating in the top 10th and one for the very gifted — at high school, the very bright program disapears with the new option of honors classes, etc.)

    Secondly, the biggest difference between gifted and non-gifted is learning speed. A gifted child will “get” a concept in one or two iterations, while a very bright child will still need five to seven.

    Lastly, very gifted kids truly can be pretty darn difficult to get along with, even when their intellectual needs are being met and they have a peer group. Look how mean you guys all get! It’s a common trait that goes with the profile.

    Please keep this thread in mind — the difficulties of addressing the needs of the profoundly gifted and those with disabilities in the same class — next time the topic of class size comes around.

  61. Margo/Mom says:

    Jane–well by any qualitative or quantitative indicators, your case is a difficult one to make, particularly on a comparative basis. But, I do not understand the need to make this a zero sum game. If I say no one should be hurt by the process of education, there are so many responses defending the need to hurt the kids on the bottom in order to protect the ones on the top. I just don’t agree that is the case.

  62. deirdremundy says:

    Margo -how does taking the gifted kids out of a regular class and putting them in a specialized class hurt “kids on the bottom?” What do gifted kids actually contribute to a mixed ability class?

    Education is NOT a zero-sum game. The problem is that we’re too wedded to the idea of grouping by birth date — which is pretty arbitrary. Where else in life does age matter more than ability and interest?

    A class for the gifted doesn’t have to be expensive– they don’t need fancy gadgets or extra trips –those may be fun, but they’re really just time wasters. All they need is a dedicated teacher who’s willing to challenge them and present them with difficult material.

    School systems COULD work to meet every student’s needs. They choose not to, because it’s easier to throw everyone into one class and bring up the average test scores that way then it is to actually EDUCATE the kids in their care.

  63. > Bart–do you think that those who are considered gifted are inherently lacking in empathy?

    Perhaps not. I always seemed to associate myself with peers at the opposite end of the grading curve. I think we recognized each other as misfits, and frequently banded together to cause whatever havoc we could–anything to register our discontent and relieve the boredom.

    Why do you ask? Are you suggesting that ‘those who are considered gifted’ should just suck it up and sit quietly and quit complaining in order to spare the feelings of ‘those who are not considered gifted’?

    It’s not clear whether you are questioning the empathy of gifted students, or of those who post on this blog on behalf of said students. If the latter, are you really so offended that some consider the pace in a typical classroom too slow? If it’s merely the language used, why not suggest alternate terminology rather than dismiss peoples’ valid concerns.

    It so happens that for ‘those who are considered gifted’ the pace of education is one of the major concerns, if not the greatest concern. If not ‘faster’ and ‘slower’, what words would you use to describe differences in pace?

    But back to your question, I think people who would force everyone to learn in lockstep are seriously lacking in empathy, whether they do so out of a warped idea of egalitarianism or simply because they resent gifted kids.

    > But segregating kids based on some imperfect measure of innate intellect has never advanced any society that has sought to go there, so far as I can tell. And lots of other things end up being figured into the mix.

    I give up–what exactly are you trying to insinuate? Examples?

    Actually, I’m not all that crazy about the idea of sorting everyone into ‘gifted’ and ‘non-gifted’ bins either– e.g. what about the kids who almost make the cut? I’d much prefer solutions that work for a range of ability levels and rates of learning.

  64. > If I say no one should be hurt by the process of education, there are so many responses defending the need to hurt the kids on the bottom in order to protect the ones on the top.

    I haven’t seen one such response yet. Who is ‘defending the need to hurt the kids on the bottom’? I wasn’t aware that there was such a need.

  65. “do you think that those who are considered gifted are inherently lacking in empathy?”

    No, but being stuck in an inappropriate learning environment can often create resentment towards classmates who aren’t as quick to learn new material. In hindsight, I now realize that it wasn’t fair to blame the other students for my frustration at the pace of my classes being too slow for my own needs. But at the time, I absolutely resented them. Am I proud of the attitude I developed? No. But it’s understandable why it happened. I was bored out of my mind and blamed the other students rather than the situation.

  66. Margo,

    I read through your rather lengthy posts with some care, and as usual I can’t make much sense of them. Apparently I’m not alone in this.

    Nevertheless, it’s fairly easy to state the issue: many of us feel that bright kids are often neglected or worse in class. If so, this is wrong, no ifs, buts or ands!

    Are there other kids who suffer the same fate? Yes – including the disabled, the dull, etc. However, they are often treated better than the bright kids because (a) there’s more money and (b) there are statutory requirements.

    I don’t see anybody here saying that the second group needs to be hurt, as you allege. Cite, s’il vous plait?

    On a different tangent, The Post has a quote from one of the “profoundly gifted” (what a disgusting phrase!) kids at Davidson saying “We’re intellectuals”. That’s hubris, and we owe it to such kids to teach them some humility.

    Lightly Seasoned said:

    “Secondly, the biggest difference between gifted and non-gifted is learning speed. A gifted child will “get” a concept in one or two iterations, while a very bright child will still need five to seven.”

    I’m not sure this is true. Ken DeRosa had a good section on this, the gist of it being (I think!) that there are concepts that one kid can understand and which a less intelligent kid can’t, regardless of the number of iterations.

    “Lastly, very gifted kids truly can be pretty darn difficult to get along with, even when their intellectual needs are being met and they have a peer group. Look how mean you guys all get! It’s a common trait that goes with the profile.”

    Not guilty – I just do it for fun 🙂

  67. Bart said:

    “Actually, I’m not all that crazy about the idea of sorting everyone into ‘gifted’ and ‘non-gifted’ bins either– e.g. what about the kids who almost make the cut? I’d much prefer solutions that work for a range of ability levels and rates of learning.”

    Yep!

  68. Everyone has an intellectual/conceptual ceiling; but at different points. Some kids will never be able to handle abstract thinking and some will get there years ahead of the aveage. Appropriate education is both level and pace.

    Margo, I have heard no one suggesting that any kids should be hurt or their needs ignored. Quite the contrary. The issue is that kids, especially those at either end of the academic spectrum, have different needs.

    Christianity, and the Western civilization which flows from it, recognize the inherent value of the individual. Our Constitution and legal system establish equality before the law. However, it also recognizes that some individuals are not capable of full legal status; for intellectual, emotional or developmental (children) reasons. For those people, a guardian exists (parents) or is appointed. That accommodation says nothing about their value as a person, nor does academic grouping by level and pace.

    I think the phrases “warped egalitarianism” and “resentment of the gifted” apply to some people. Even after reading many ed blogs, I am surprised at the level of bitterness directed at the gifted kids and their parents. Why is it acceptable for parents of kids at the lower academic end and/or kids with disabilities to advocate for their kids’ needs and not the parents of other kids? What about the “average” kids and their parents? These kids can, and often are, ignored as well. In many situations, the teacher’s focus (quite likely dictated by admin) is on the kids “on the bubble”; close to passing whatever test. Kids who have no hope and kids who will pass easily can be ignored.

  69. Margo/Mom, when I was at primary school and complained about being bored, my mother used to tell me “Your Great-Aunt Marion said school was boring, to prepare you for life, which is boring.” She stopped when, one day, after having thought about it, I replied that if life was as boring as school I’d kill myself. I was serious, I couldn’t bear the thought of going through another 50 years of what I was going through at school. Luckily I got into a rather academic high school, and about age 16 school finally became challenging, and of course as an adult I can get out of dead boring situations.

    There may be no students who have nothing to learn from a class, but, well, imagine that you were doomed to spend 6 hours a day for 180 years listening to a series of very dull speakers, with merely the occasional piece of new information. What I was learning was just not enough to make life worthwhile to me.

  70. Margo/Mom says:

    Ragnarok–I believe that I have been citing as I go along. What I am seeing is a profound difference in point of view. Some are looking at a slice of the population not getting their needs met and believing that the solution is to put them in a box and ensure their needs are being met. These folks have already rejected out of hand that there is any possibility that the needs of that group can get their needs met in any other way. They reject the example of Japan. (I would throw in Finland as well–where they do an exemplary job of what we might more appropriately consider to be inclusion and differentiation).

    I am seeing a whole population whose needs are not well met. Within that population there are many kids with all kinds of “definitions.” If you want to slice and dice, you will most likely NOT find that the kids in that pull-out slice of profoundly gifted are the most overlooked. But, I don’t see that as particularly relevant in attempting to build schools that respond to the needs of all the kids. I personally don’t know any kids who are well-served by “mind numbing worksheets.” I also need to point out that parents who advocate for kids with disabilities are seldom appreciated (by schools or anyone else).

    What I have learned, as an advocate for my kids needs, is that my kid will never be well-served until ALL of the kids are well served. That requires for one thing that we stop looking at kids as if they are arranged along some intellectual hierarchy. I’m sorry, but it just ain’t so. Disability may or may not relate to cognition–but both test scores (as an indicator of education outcomes) and attitudes indicate a problem in this area. Even students whose disabilities are non-cognitive come out of school with less measureable learning (as a group) than students without disabilities. I cannot tell you how often they are blamed for “holding back” the class–if they are allowed in a classroom with non-disabled students (but if anyone wants to go back through this thread, there are examples here). To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence of “cognitive ceilings,” and recent work with people who have both innate disabilities and people with traumatic brain injuries tend to demonstrate just how elastic the brain is.

    I am wholeheartedly opposed to schools that overlook bullying and ostracism for any reason–particularly based on categories such as assumed intellect, but also race, gender, orientation, ability, age. There are methods for building positive school climate in which this kind of disrespect is less likely to occur. Far too frequently we not only overlook it–we institutionalize it.

    I spent most of my schooling in a district that revered intellect. We were tracked and they were exceeding proud of the accomplishments of those at the top–National Merit scholars (and I was one), % who went on to college, those who went to top colleges. As an adult, and beginning when I was in college, I have realized that not only was this atmosphere damaging to other family members not so “chosen” (although I am not all certain less “intelligent”), but that I had some serious holes in my own experience.

    I don’t know that I am going to shine any light on the world here for anyone, and that saddens me. But the ability to learn from others, particularly those who are different, is something valuable that I have only learned from being in diverse environments where the contributions of all are considered and honored.

  71. deirdremundy says:

    Re: The Gifted and empathy

    I think one of the problems is that we don’t give gifted kids the oppurtunity to LEARN empathy. For instance, how can a child be expected to empathize with a classmate who’s struggling to learn arithmatic until HE has had to struggle to learn something himself? Without sufficient challenge, he’ll never understand the challenges of others.

    And how can a kid learn about empathy in social situations if he’s constantly ostracized? A second or third grader really doesn’t have the social development necessary to empathize with a bully, for instance. But he’ll never GET that social development unless you give him a safe place to learn it.

    It’s true, no school should overlook bullying. But they do. No teacher should treat the gifted child as a hassle who prevents them from getting their job done. But teachers do.

    We’re never going to have an ideal world where everyone magically gets along and all children at all ability levels can have their needs met in one classroom. So we need to do what we can with the society we currently have.

    Margo, I think comparisons to Japan and Finland are especially inappropriate here–in both cases you’re dealing with very homgenous societies that have a high level of respect for teachers and education. The US lacks that basic underlying social structure, so solutions that might work in another country probably won’t work here.

    Also, I suspect those countries also have differences in teacher training and achievement. If you have a 5th grade teacher who’s struggling to understand long division (I had one!) how on EARTH can she differentiate so that the kids who could handle prealgebra are challenged? (Well, OK. She sat me at a computer with Oregon Trail and let me play games during Math. And it was the older edition, so it WAS pretty challenging— but not particularly educational, or mathematical. =) )

    If you have a school system that frowns on Math and Reading groups, how (practically speaking) does a teacher address the needs of both the pre-algebra-ready kids AND the “Never quite got long addition” kids? How do they address the needs of the “Just finished LOTR” kids and the “Little House in the Big Woods is really HARD” kids?

    Do you have any concrete examples of how this works? Are there any websites/blogs that highlight long-term success in this area? Or is it just a theory that never works in practice?

    (Once again, this is a place where our ‘segregation by age’ system seems to break down… not everyone will learn the same things on the same time-frame.)

  72. As an adult, and beginning when I was in college, I have realized that not only was this atmosphere damaging to other family members not so “chosen” (although I am not all certain less “intelligent”), but that I had some serious holes in my own experience.

    Everyone has holes in their own experience, especially when you’ve just left school. I went through a school system that didn’t track much, and while I was at university I had the surprising shock of actually needing to work hard to learn something for the rest of my life. My transcript shows the impact it had on me.

    But looking at it another way, wouldn’t it be awfully depressing if we had finished growing and learning at age 18? The next, what, 60 years of life, to be spent just repeating what we had already learnt? No surprises about yourself or others?

    But the ability to learn from others, particularly those who are different, is something valuable that I have only learned from being in diverse environments where the contributions of all are considered and honored.

    Are you really considering and honouring the contributions of all the participants on this board? How about when you talk about “These folks have already rejected out of hand”… Is that an example of honouring?

    (Personally, I reserve honouring for the truly exceptional contribution, which may not of course be intellectual, I think if you honour everything, you make the word “honour” meaningless.)

  73. Margo,

    I don’t see much substance in this post either.

    “…I believe that I have been citing as I go along.”

    I repeat: Where in this thread do you see anyone asking that disabled kids be hurt? It’s simply not enough to say that you believe this to be the case.

    “What I have learned, as an advocate for my kids needs, is that my kid will never be well-served until ALL of the kids are well served.”

    This is trivially wrong.

    “That requires for one thing that we stop looking at kids as if they are arranged along some intellectual hierarchy. I’m sorry, but it just ain’t so.”

    What on earth do you mean by this? That you don’t believe that IQ means anything? That battle was lost a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. There’s just too much evidence to ignore, and waving motherhood, apple pie and good intentions around doesn’t change that.

    “But the ability to learn from others, particularly those who are different, is something valuable…”

    Of course – and how does this contradict anything on this thread?

    Bright people are human beings too, and you do yourself a disservice when you assume that they’re elitist pigs. They want company as much as anyone else, they want attention, they want to share their thoughts and feelings.

  74. I think the comparison with Japan is particularly inappropriate; the homegeneity there has a racist aspect, by our definition. Just ask the Koreans.

  75. Tracy W. said:

    “I think if you honour everything, you make the word “honour” meaningless.”

    Awesome 🙂

  76. > Some are looking at a slice of the population not getting their needs met and believing that the solution is to put them in a box and ensure their needs are being met. These folks have already rejected out of hand that there is any possibility that the needs of that group can get their needs met in any other way.

    I’m open to other possibilities, so long as they work. I’m sure there are ways to put a cross-section of the population in a single classroom, including those who are profoundly gifted, profoundly disabled, and profoundly average, and allow each of them to progress at something close to an optimal pace. But I’d like to see a solution that (a) we can afford, (b) the teachers’ unions would permit, (c) would really afford every student an optimal education, and (d) wouldn’t be blocked by someone else with an objection.

    I think differentiation might work if the classroom were multi-age and/or multi-grade-level, like an old fashioned one-room schoolhouse. That’s the only way I can see to make sure that different levels of material are really being taught, rather than simply one track plus a lot of busy-work for students who finish early.

    In other words, if a differentiated learning classroom can’t adequately teach students of several different grade levels together, then it’s basically just a hoax as far as being able to handle kids of varying abilities.

    > They reject the example of Japan.

    Perhaps I was hasty. What exactly does Japan and Finland do that would address the needs of so-called gifted kids?

  77. Actually, there *IS* tracking in Japanese schools. At the elementary and jr. high level it is within school, and at the sr. high level they have entirely separate schools for the different tracks. See here: http://www.aasianst.org/absts/2009abst/Japan/j-39.htm

  78. And, there is what I would call tracking in Finnish schools–after 9th grade, they’re assigned to different high schools, based on grades. They drop the bottom 47% from the academic track after grade 9.

    “Delineated High School
    While there is little grading and in essence no tracking in Finland, ninth grade does become a divider for Finnish students. Students are separated for the last three years of high school based on grades. Under the current structure, 53% will go to academic high school and the rest enter vocational school.

    Using that format, Finland has an overall high-school dropout rate of about 4%. Even at the vocational schools the rate of 10% pummels America’s 25% high school drop out rate.

    There is no silly “college for all” mantra and there certainly isn’t a push to have all students sit through a trigonometry class if that is not relevant to the student. More importantly, there is also no negative connotation to the concept of vocational school.”

    (http://www.openeducation.net/2008/03/10/several-lessons-to-be-learned-from-the-finnish-school-system/)

  79. Andromeda says:

    Margo, I do not see how your Japan example relates to gifted students. How does valuing effort (which I agree is important) help people who already know much of the material of a class? How do afterschool programs help to maximize people’s potential — to honor the best that’s in them, as you say — if the during-school portion of the day is not at their level? I’m sure the Japanese do quite well on a variety of international tests, but that’s not a good indicator of whether highly gifted kids are getting their needs met, as you generally have to use out-of-level tests to get at their potential; they may ace the on-level tests *before* the year starts, so the fact that they ace them *after* says nothing. (And yes, there are many gifted kids who have little to nothing to learn from the academic content of a class — and yes, it is sad. Does this mean they have nothing to learn, period, from that class? Not necessarily (although the lessons they learn, e.g. about being excluded and devalued, may not be the ones you would wish). But there may well be other classes in which they could be learning more, and more positively.)

    Deirdre — at least in some states gifted kids can get IEPs on the basis of giftedness — I had one in WV. However, it was of limited use, in part because the school administrators and teachers by and large did not wish to follow it (or understand why I needed it in the first place), and in part because my schools simply did not have the offerings I needed.

    Engineer-poet: different states’ laws on both the presence and the funding of gifted ed vary. There are states in which gifted ed comes with a funding mandate, although they are not in the majority. (I don’t remember the details; I think I got this from one of Deborah Ruf’s books.)

    Everyone who mentioned the importance of a peer group: I totally second this (and it was the most valuable aspect of summer programs for me). Someone, I don’t recall who, pointed out to me once that we put gifted kids in a harder social situation than most kids — classrooms where they have few or no peers — and then criticize them for not having social skills when they don’t do as well as other kids. How terribly cruel.

  80. Andromeda says:

    Margo, when you read denigration of non-intellectually-gifted students or zero-sum games, I think you’re reading things into some people’s words that aren’t there. It’s true that in the general political discourse on the subject, there’s a lot of us-versus-them thinking, and there certainly are people who think, e.g., that intellect is the major yardstick of people’s worth. But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks that way — I certainly don’t. Intellect is a nice trait to have, but there are lots of other nice traits to have as well.

    What I do think is that every child deserves to learn in school, and to feel cared about. And what I know, from my personal experience and those of many friends, is that heterogeneous classrooms are not generally good places for many gifted children to either learn or feel cared about. I do not see any need to say that they are better than other children, or to say that other children’s needs or interests must be slighted, in order to say that these kids, also, deserve to have those needs met.

    If you want to argue that heterogeneous classrooms are places that can accomplish those goals, you are going to need to bring much stronger arguments to the table, particularly in light of many people’s negative experiences in such classrooms, and positive experiences (both academically and socially) in more intellectually selective environments. Presenting an example of groups that accomplish social good tells only about the group, not about the extent to which individuals in that group are thriving. Presenting examples of other kids who deserve to have their needs met — groups which you rightly point out overlap with highly gifted kids — is a red herring, because all kids deserve to have their needs met.

    Heterogeneous classrooms apparently worked for you. That’s great — really, it is; I wouldn’t wish the kind of crippling depression my schools inflicted on me, on anyone. And some gifted kids have temperaments or goals which let them thrive in those environments. Some don’t.

  81. Andromeda makes a good point. The usual testing is functionally meaningless even for the average gifted students. In my kids’ affluent suburban middle school, virtually all the kids taking the honors track passed the high school exit exams the first time they were given (7th grade, I think); most with the highest pass level. There was no test prep, either. That is why the SAT is used as part of the assessment for admission to magnet high schools; I know several kids who scored in the mid-700s (old scale) on both math and verbal, in the fall of 8th grade. These kids were not at the highest-gifted level, either; not the type who would be better served by bypassing high school and going straight to college.

    Even with “effective” differentiation within a heterogeneous class (and I have never seen it), it is inherently less efficient. Instead of having the teacher’s instruction for 60 minutes, the top kids might have it for only 10. It is particularly inefficient for those kids who are able to learn material at high speeds.

  82. Addendum: It is also ineffective for those kids who need to have instruction repeated multiple times or in several ways; they learn less effectively when working on their own.