Geniuses teach themselves

“Gifted” education doesn’t do much for geniuses, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. “An occasional pullout class is likely to be less interesting to them than their own research in their parents’ bookcases, kitchens, the local library and the Internet,” he writes.

Our schools have more than they can handle in helping other students become fully functioning adults. There may be something to the view that socially awkward geniuses need a safe place to be weird, but the better approach is to focus on stopping bullying of all kids. Public schools are mostly successful at finding people who know how to teach English, math, history and science, but we don’t know how to encourage creativity very well and might find it better to let the gifted do their own exploring.

He offers a counter-example: In her 1977 book, Turning On Bright Minds: A Parent Looks at Gifted Education in Texas, Julie Ray profiled a Houston sixth-grader she called Tim.

He was in an ambitious public school’s gifted-education program that would later be called Vanguard. Tim was reading dozens of books and had several science projects underway. He was surveying classmates in order to rate all the school’s teachers. He loved the school’s small group discussions, where he was free to share his wildest ideas.

“Tim” appears in Brad Stone’s new book, The Everything Store. His real name is  Jeff Bezos. His store is Amazon.

Checker Finn is researching how other countries educate high-ability students. No country does it very well. Singapore is the best — but only for the top 1 percent.

“Nobody is compensating well for the absence of pushy, prosperous, influential parents,” though Hungary is trying hard to reach disadvantaged students.

Class time isn’t shorter in U.S.

U.S. schoolchildren spend as much time in school as kids in high-scoring countries, concludes a report by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants a longer school day and year, notes the Washington Times.

“Right now, children in India … they’re going to school 30, 35 days more than our students,” he said at an education forum in September, explaining one reason he thinks the American education system is falling behind those of global competitors.

“Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” Mr. Duncan said.

Students in India spend more days in school, but fewer hours in class, totaling 800 “instructional hours” at the elementary level. Forty-two states require more class hours, the report found. Texas requres 1,260 hours a year for elementary students.

High-scoring South Korea requires 703 hours for elementary students, though many parents pay for after-school lessons. Hungarian students score at nearly the U.S. level despite requiring only 601 hours.

U.S. high school students average 1,000 hours in class each year.

In Poland, high school students need 595 hours in the classroom, the lowest of all the countries in the study, yet they top U.S. students on the math and science portions of the PISA exams, the most widely used measuring sticks for international comparisons.

Finland, Norway, Australia and other nations also show higher levels of student achievement while requiring less instruction.

Of course, it’s not just the time spent at school, but how it’s used.