Stop ignoring the smart kids

Americans think high achievers don’t need any help to reach their full potential, writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper. He’s the author of Closing America’s High-Achievement Gap, published by the Philanthropy Roundtable.

Educated, well-resourced parents can provide special help to their gifted children, writes Smarick. The “talented, low-income child” depends on support at school. And teachers pay much more attention to struggling students than to achievers.

When a high-potential child isn’t challenged, she misses “the opportunity to acquire skills and knowledge but also invaluable attributes like grit and perseverance, which will be essential when she faces difficulties in higher education or the workforce.”

. . .  the “excellence gap,” the difference in performance at the “advanced level,” is large and growing. Low-income, minority, and English-language-learning students are terribly under-represented at the highest levels of achievement.

. . . new accountability systems should pay more attention to “advanced” and less to “proficient,” or they should calculate the “value-added” gains of gifted children (as Ohio’s does). We should create more specialty schools for high-potential kids (like those identified in Finn and Hockett’s superb Exam Schools).

. . . We need to do a much better job of identifying gifted kids and developing policies requiring that they receive attention. We need more out-of-school supplements, such as distance-learning opportunities and university-based programs. And we need to seriously reconsider how we recruit, train, certify, and compensate those who teach gifted kids. These boys and girls desperately need very, very smart educators.

“We should care about all boys and girls,” Smarick concludes.

Busy with the move to Common Core standards, teachers have even less time for gifted students, reports Education Week. “In order to differentiate, you have to understand the standards and know what they entail. That’s ground zero,” said Jared B. Dupree, a Los Angeles Unified administrator. “Quality differentiation” for gifted students may be  “three or four years down the road.”

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  1. America has never ignored its bright kids – they have been the target of bullying and ostracizing for decades.

  2. My late FIL began teaching in the 30s and the mindset that “those kids (the smart ones) will do fine, anyway” was alive and well then. That attitude drives the reluctance/refusal to offer more and deeper content and a faster pace (acceleration) to the kids who can handle it. This need is not restricted to the top 1-2 % overall; it applies to all kids who are significantly more able/prepared than their classmates. This could be a few kids with IQs of ~105 in a class wherein most kids are below 90, kids with 120 where most kids are 100 or kids of 150+ where most kids are 130. In other words, kids need to be challenged and if that means grouping them separately so they can do more at a faster pace, that should be done. The “acceleration is bad for socialization” argument doesn’t fly, either; such kids don’t fit with the average kids in their class: hence the first comment. Funding isn’t the issue; it’s philosophy and the need to pretend that “all” kids are equally academically talented.

    • Educationally Incorrect says:

      The smart kids will ‘succeed.’ So what is the definition of success? Getting good grades (easy and getting easier with grade inflation) and graduating. What happens after graduation is completely out of mind.

    • Nice to know.

      I’ve begun to suspect that the “good, old days” of public education, wherein kids were supposedly disciplined, parents were supposedly engaged, teachers were treated with God-like respect and administrators were uniformly competent and concerned was a crock of crap.

      Your anecdote is one, little data point in support of the view that the only things that’s changed since the river of money in which public education wallows, starting roughly in the mid-1950’s, is that the buildings are more expensive and the professionals better-paid.

  3. 30 years ago, when I was in school, there were also occasionally the idea that the “smart” kids could be paired with kids who were less capable (or, more commonly, just unmotivated) to “encourage” the unmotivated kid. Sometimes you got a really social-engineery teacher who made you do group work, and everyone in the group got the same grade – meaning the smart kid did all the work.

    It taught us something but probably not what the teacher intended for us to learn. Then again, it was good to learn early that “Some people have to work hard in life and others will take the credit.”

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      Ugh. My semi-literate (literally) 5th grade teacher did that for reading class. She claimed it was supposed to teach us compassion. What it did was ensure that the kids with severe reading issues got good grades even though their reading wasn’t improving.

      Looking back, my partner probably wasn’t ‘dumb.’ She most likely had a learning disability. But the ‘deal’ we worked out was she read one sentence, then I read one page…. then I answered all the comprehension questions for both of us.

      What genius thought that this was ‘compassionate?’ Compassionate would have been getting the girl a reading specialist, not an impatient 10 year old who just wanted to finish the assignment so she could go back to reading her ‘real’ book……

      • What it’s likely to teach is resentment – and very heterogeneous classes do the same on a larger scale. Kids are capable of understanding the limitations imposed by a very small school, with only one class per grade, but deliberately scattering struggling and disruptive kids (and advanced kids) across all classes amounts of large-scale misery, boredom and frustration.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    This isn’t the whole story. There’s a whole host of subtle things going on with talented kids. Here’s one of them:

    It’s not just a dependence on school and teachers. To the extent that the talented, low-income child does not or cannot depend on his or her parents, he or she often depends on his or her talented, high-income friends’ parents.

    That only happens, though, if there’s fairly strong and discrete “tracking” (which I mean broadly to include class- and subject -level segregation) in place to make sure that there is some regular socialization between the haves and have-nots at the gifted end of the spectrum.

    If there is, then the higher income parents can be willing to put in some time and effort because the charity case has been “pre-screened”, as it were. They’re worth the effort.

    It’s a strange dynamic, but a real one.