Even though gifted is listed as a special education category, Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) never adequately addressed it. Intellectually advanced students are complex, not always easy to understand. They need and deserve school support.
Much debate surrounds gifted education. But charter schools will not be a sufficient answer to concerns.
Some gifted students are twice exceptional (2e), meaning they identify as gifted, but also struggle with learning disabilities. Most charter schools do not effectively serve students with disabilities, so 2e students might be left out.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a panel considering eliminating New York City schools for the gifted. They claim this will desegregate schools.
NYC’s gifted programs have been different than most school districts. They’ve aggressively screened four-year-old children, mostly Asian and white. This raises concerns about fairness and elitism. NYC is said to have more segregated schools than any city.
The Mayor’s suggestion for magnet schools might be worthwhile. But one hopes there’s not a plan for adding charter schools.
In “Can axing gifted programs desegregate New York schools — without triggering ‘bright flight’?” MSNBC highlights High Tech High (HTH) which is a charter school network based in San Diego. The schools have been supported and promoted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There’s already a HTH school in Brooklyn claiming to address diversity. HTH has its own teacher education program, but student ratings on GreatSchools.org are mixed and troubling. (Scroll down on the link). Many complaints concern students who feel ill-prepared.
I received a disturbing comment about the HTH curriculum from a HTH student in a post I wrote about the charter school in 2015.
While speaking about his plans on Morning Joe, Mayor de Blasio and commentators implied that the rest of the country would likely follow NYC’s lead in eliminating gifted programming. This seems odd since most places don’t structure their gifted programs like NYC.
Gifted education around the country is sketchy. States and local school districts handle this category differently, or not at all. Where are the protections? The key to better understanding children is to look for more appropriate ways of assessing giftedness especially in underrepresented groups that have been ignored.
Schools should work harder to find the strengths in all students, instead of repeatedly casting students as failing tests, and create a better plan for serving students who are both gifted and talented. This means ending the poor programs found in school districts today.
- Elementary schools often provide once a week pull-out programs where students labeled gifted get fun activities and projects that any child would love. Students instead should focus on projects that address their high intellectual abilities and receive counseling for their difficulties when required.
- Pulling gifted students out of class draws attention to them as elites. Either classes should be small enough for differentiation, or students should have access to a daily part-time resource or full-time class where they can work on advanced academic work, while still meeting with their peers for social functions and classes like art and music.
- The focus for 2e students is their disability. Why not focus on their strengths, providing support for the weak areas? Public schools must quit focusing on high-stakes testing to cast students as failures.
- Cut-off scores for admission into gifted programs are too rigid. Multi-forms of assessment are critical.
- High schools often rely on AP classes to address their gifted population, but these programs are not designed for gifted students. There’s often pressure and a focus on obtaining high test scores.
- Some schools permit students to skip grades, a process called acceleration. But students might experience social difficulties.
- Many schools lack qualified counselors to assist students who struggle with academic and social differences.
- Gifted students are usually identified through several assessments and also by obtaining an I.Q. The Hoagies Gifted Education Page, a good source of information for parents of students who are gifted, lists the typical I.Q. ranges to determine giftedness. But I.Q. is only one factor and is controversial. Many worry that the score can unfairly typecast a child. But most schools still rely on those scores.
Beyond special education, public schools have always struggled to determine how to group students with unlike academic needs. We want students to learn together, but it can be difficult to effectively mix students with academic differences. Talent is included in the definition, but many poor schools don’t have art, music, dance, and drama.
Inclusion with differentiation, or tailoring learning to a child’s needs, is a nice idea but much more difficult to do, especially when class sizes are large.
Technology is important, but those who promote technology without teachers as the answer, have little proof that this is the best choice. It doesn’t address integration.
Integrating students and ensuring that black and Latino students are chosen for gifted programming is paramount. Helping students to socialize in school and better understand their learning differences should be the goal.
Differences must be celebrated and encouraged, not swept under the rug, and certainly standardizing the curriculum in not the answer.
How should the gifted population be served effectively in democratic public schools, open to children with giftedness and disabilities, which are supposed to bring all children together? The debate must be had without destroying IDEA and public education. Magnet schools which are public schools might be one idea. But charter schools are not the answer.
Here are what I hope will be helpful facts and resources about students who are gifted and talented.
*The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) provide a definition for gifted.
Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
*NAGC also provides a complete description of concerns surrounding gifted education in their position statements.
*The Council for Exceptional Students say:
Unfortunately, the federal government has done little to properly address the educational needs of students with gifts and talents. In 2011, Congress eliminated all funding for the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, the sole federal program dedicated to supporting the needs of high-ability students. CEC, together with its members and like-minded organizations, advocate to reverse this action and support an increased federal role in gifted education. Every student should have access to a challenging education.
*The Davidson Institute provides helpful information.
*In 1993, Psychologist Linda Kreger Silverman listed the need for counseling gifted students.
- exceptional reasoning ability
- intellectual curiosity
- rapid learning rate
- facility with abstraction
- complex thought processes
- vivid imagination
- early moral concern
- passion for learning
- powers of concentration
- analytical thinking
- divergent thinking/creativity
- keen sense of justice
- capacity for reflection
- need to understand
- need for mental stimulation
- need for precision/logic
- excellent sense of humor
- acute self-awareness
- questioning of rules/authority
- tendency toward introversion
Edited by Herbert J. Walberg, Arthur J. Reynolds, & Margaret C. Wang, Can Unlike Students Learn Together? Grade Retention, Tracking, and Grouping, (Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing, 2004).
Edited by Linda Kreger Silverman. Counseling the Gifted and Talented, “A Developmental Model for Counseling the Gifted.” (Denver: Love Publishing Company, 1993), p. 52-53.
Jan & Bob Davidson with Laura Vanderkam, Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds. What You and Your School Can Do For Your Gifted Child, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).
Jacqulyn Saunders with Pamela Espeland, Bringing Out the Best: A Guide For Parents of Young Gifted Children, (Minneapolis: Free Sprit Publishing, 1986).
Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle, The Gifted Kids’ Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook, (Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 1983).
I have not run across very many truly gifted individuals.; they are playing on a whole different field and should be serviced under IDEA. I have seen many talented people. People who are naturally inquisitive, athletic or artistic will not develop their talents without the opportunities to develop them and a lot of hard work. I’m guessing that deBlasio’s desire to shut down the gifted programs had more to do with the perception that the programs were rewarding the family culture that encouraged achievement. I have heard the criticism that all schools should be providing a culture where all children have that chance to develop a talent and not limiting it to those who have grown up in a culture that pushes that achievement. Providing such opportunity is obviously not an easy task.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you. Your comments are always so thoughtful. Certainly, desegregation is a worthy goal, but the report that mentioned HTH charter is concerning. It seems like there’s room to change the assessment time (4 years old?) and procedures to be more inclusive. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Testing 4 year olds to make decisions about giftedness is laughable unless they are truly looking to identify students who are outliers (perhaps in the top .o5%?). In my wealthy suburban community, students typically test in the top 10% with a significant portion of those students in the top 1-5%. Yes, the students are bright, but they have also had every benefit that has been linked to achievement.
The obsession with standardized testing has really warped education. When I first started teaching at a school for “multiply handicapped students, I was not allowed to see their records. Of course, at that point I was totally unqualified to be teaching, but discovering that several of your students have seizures only after watching more than one student have one certainly would not now be considered best practice. Then again, seeing test scores might very well have colored my view of their learning potential. All of my students were significantly disabled and one stop short of state institutions. I was not capable/trained to give them the education they needed. I was a warm body with a sincere wish to be of help.
At that time public schools could routinely place students in private facilities of questionable quality. It seems we may be returning to a similar system in championing a culture of unregulated charters with, in many instances, people with good intentions but far from adequate training.
Nancy Bailey says
I agree, and I appreciate your taking the time to note this. I remember the privacy surrounding records. They were always kept in a locked filing cabinet in my schools.
I also agree about testing 4-year-old children. I worry about mislabeling although I think I’m in the minority these days.
Nancy Bailey says
Also, thank you for this!
Thomas Ultican says
The big money behind High Tech High comes from the Jacobs family, local San Diego Billionaires who founded and control Qualcomm. My friends at local colleges complain that students from HTH have no clue about how to succeed in a college classroom. They’re experience is limited to project based learning. I have always been drawn to that type of teaching but I believe there is also a place for direct instruction. Because of the big money behind them, they are a growing organization. As a local teacher, I had several HTH students come to my public school and express dissatisfaction with HTH and being happy their parents let them come to my school.
Nancy Bailey says
I like PBL too but when it is connected to classes with actual subject matter. I think too much is left to the student at HTH from what I hear from you and others. It’s interesting to hear more about the owners.
Also, thanks for the interesting post about the Broad Academy. The graduates are everywhere!
Rick B says
As a general rule, serious students dislike discovery, constructivist, or PBL approaches. They much prefer a TEACHER who actually TEACHES instead of having the burden of teaching dumped in their lap – or in the worst versions of these debunked and failed methods, having their time completely wasted. Unfortunately, many G & T programs follow this losing format. Students coming from schools like HTH are poorly prepared for college academics because the soft skills emphasized (creativity; problem solving; critical thinking) are not essential for the vast majority of undergraduate programs.. The time wasted hoping students can magically learn how to think results in getting short changed on the more traditional skills of organization, studying, note taking, etc. that are important for academic success in college.
Please let me vent:
ADULT EDU-MEDDLERS MUST STOP CONFLATING THE WAYS THAT HIGHLY EDUCATED,
ADULT PROFESSIONALS DO WORK , WITH HOW CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS BEST LEARN! “LEARNING BY DOING” (HANDS-ON) IS A MYTH THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUSTED DECADES AGO.
Nancy Bailey says
You make good points, Rick. I think the best projects involve classwork where students connect what they’re learning with the activity. I’ve heard some negative stories about PBL. There’s a push for self-direction as you indicate. Thank you!
Roy Turrentine says
Thanks for your article. As usual, you cover with balance and thoughtfulness a topic that is familiar to all teachers.
One thing my daughter responds to very positively is the pull out programs that allow her to discuss thematic and logical material with peers in a seminar/Salon-style setting. This removes the need for the class to be placated when they do not really understand what is being said and descend into bedlam.
She also notes that there are many of her peers who could be involved in some of the same experiences. I suspect that local financial interests do not allow schools to really delve into all the possibilities of children’s intellectual fertility.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Roy. It seems like there are many kinds of gifted set-ups in school districts. I think you are correct about finances. I often also wonder if those who want to privatize public schools don’t want to advertise the students who excel. They want failure to prove their point that schools fail. Just a thought.
Margaret DeLacy says
Most of your recommendations are widely accepted as “best practices” by the gifted community and would also contribute to better learning for all children. Parents have been begging for these for decades but most school districts have ignored them. However, your charter school comment relies on a single, possibly atypical, program (HTH). Like public schools, charters differ as much among themselves as they do from other types of schools. There is a lot more data on charters. than appears here–and I wince when people equate technology and/or STEM with giftedness.. I also feel hesitancy about grade acceleration is misguided. Grade acceleration may not be ideal, but it has been much better than nothing for a great many gifted students. No recent research I have seen has seriously contradicted the findings of A Nation Deceived
Overall, though, I just wish all our policy makers were as well informed as this article!