The sorry state of gifted education

Today I went to a parent meeting on gifted education at my son’s school.

We learned about what school is doing for the gifted and talented students. Then the parents were asked to participate in a survey. The main question is: “Do you think your kids are challenged and their needs are met and supported at school?”

Many parents think our kids are not challenged enough and the learning pace is too slow.

Personally I agree with that.

Four years ago I wrote an article titled the sorry state of gifted education. I don’t think things have changed a lot or fast enough since then.

If I compare the G&T education or education in general in the US and in China, there is a huge difference. They are at two opposite ends of the scale. 

In China, students are grouped based on their abilities in schools, in grade levels and in classes. They can get into better schools and better classes if they have better scores. From better schools they have a better chance to get into better colleges. The competition is fierce. So students, parents, teachers and schools all work hard to get better grades, to get a better education, to get a good reputation, and to get ahead. Students are overly challenged by their parents and teachers, and are pretty stressed out.

Many kids in China start taking private lessons in various subjects at an early age even before they start school. Their school year and school day are longer. They have to do school homework for several hours every day. It’s common in China that kids have to do homework for several hours every day till late at night. 

Here is an example to show how busy kids in China are. I don’t think this is common even in China, but it’s something I witnessed while I was visiting my parents in China last summer.

One of my cousins has a daughter in high school. Every day my cousin drives to school to bring her daughter home cooked meal for lunch. Then late afternoon she drives to school to pick her daughter up. The girl eats her dinner in the car to save time. So once she gets home, she can focus on doing her homework for several hours. No time is wasted on eating dinner at home.

For Americans, this may sound like crazy, because here we are living in a totally different culture.

My kids don’t have much homework to do. When I ask them: “Do you have homework today?” Most times their response is either: “No” or “Yes, but I have already finished it in school.”

What an easy school life they have here.

I wish there is a middle ground between these two sides of spectrum. American schools need to be more challenging, especially for the G&T kids, while in China, they need to loose up a little bit and give kids some room for breathing.

Below is an article I wrote for my Woodbury Bulletin column in 2007.

The sorry state of gifted education

Recently I became interested in learning about gifted education. What I have read so far was surprising, partly because I didn’t grow up here and am not familiar with America’s education system. I feel dismayed by what Jan & Bob Davidson called “the sorry state of gifted education.”

According to their book “Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds,” America spends 143 times more on special education than gifted education.

Two reasons cause this situation. 

First, America is a country that prides itself on being an equalitarian nation. Our school teaches to the middle. Teachers tend to adapt instruction to the average ability of their classes. 

Emphasis is on special education to raise the bar for those on the lower end of the achievement ladder. The fact that gifted children on the higher end of the ladder also have special needs is often ignored. 

Second, America has also become an anti-intellectual nation. If you walk into any American high school, the trophies displayed in the hall case are more likely to be related to athletic competitions. We build better stadiums while libraries have to be closed or cut hours. 

The result is universities and businesses have shortage of scientists and highly skilled workers. Many of them are now imported from abroad. 

I believe every child should receive an appropriate education and be challenged to the extent of his ability. Every child should be taught at his ability and pace. Equality should really mean equal opportunity to learn and to excel according to everyone’s ability. 

Two things that have happened this school year are very encouraging to me. 

At the School District 833 level, thanks to the great effort of Marcia Dolezal, District’s Gifted & Talented Coordinator for K-6, and the support of School Board, a GT program called Gateway was launched for the school year 2006-07 at the Royal Oaks Elementary School. 

Approximately 45 students in grades 3-6 from the top 1 percent of classes throughout the District participate in the program. 3-4 graders are grouped in one classroom and 5-6 graders are grouped in another classroom. 

At the Liberty Ridge Elementary School level, we have a new enrichment teacher Tina Van Erp who demonstrates a passion for gifted education. In November 2006 she started a parent community group for parents with gifted children at Liberty Ridge. The purpose of the monthly meeting is to share information and support each other.    

I am glad that our District, School Board and schools have recognized the importance of gifted education and are doing something to better serve the special needs of the gifted students. 

In comparison to other school districts in Minnesota, our District has really done a good job providing gifted education. In addition to the new Gateway Program, there is the Cluster Classroom Program that exists at all District 833 elementary schools in grades 3-6.    

But still more can be done. 

A successful gifted program should include a variety of elements. 

Ability grouping 

The new Gateway program is an example of ability grouping. Highly gifted students are grouped together in the self-contained classes within the school. But only a very small group of students can benefit from it. 

Stillwater District provides ability grouping for reading. Students in the same grade are divided into several reading groups according to their levels. Each teacher has a group of students with the same reading level. Can we do something like this in our schools? 

Acceleration 

What gifted students truly need is the accelerated curriculum, not just a few hours a week of enrichment activities that happens in some schools. 

Acceleration includes such practices as early entrance into kindergarten and grade skipping. Students may be accelerated in one discipline or across disciplines. 

I wish our District would make it easier for early entrance to kindergarten. If a child demonstrates he is gifted, he should be eligible for early entrance. It should be the school’s responsibility to test and evaluate the child for eligibility for a small fee. 

Acceleration allows the gifted students to learn and progress at an appropriate pace and depth which is compatible with their ability. Acceleration allows them to develop advanced skills in reading, math, writing, etc. 

If a 1st grader needs 2nd grade work to be adequately challenged, the school should make it happen. As long as the student meets the criteria and passes standards for a certain level, he should be able to move to the next level. He should not have to relearn what he already knows. 

Differentiated instruction 

It would be nice for the teachers to provide differentiated instruction. But I think it’s hard for one teacher to meet the needs of over 20 students in her class whose abilities and levels are miles apart. For this reason, I personally prefer ability grouping and acceleration. 

Early start of gifted education 

Many children show their giftedness before they enter kindergarten. The identification process should start as early as possible. Schools should screen students for giftedness and lower the age of identification to include kindergarten. Gifted education shouldn’t begin until 3rd grade, as it is now in our District. 

Flexibility 

Recognize that tests are not the only mean to identify gifted children. Individual giftedness and certain talents may not be revealed by general intelligence tests. Some children do not exhibit extreme intellectual giftedness on a group intelligence test, but they demonstrate exceptional achievement and superior performance in special areas of their interests and talents. 

Schools should have the flexibility to meet all children’s needs. 

American’s education should be reformed to offer gifted children an appropriate education. It should challenge the gifted and talented to make the most of their abilities, to provide them the opportunity to develop to their maximum potential. The society should demonstrate through actions that we recognize and reward excellence. 

My interest in learning about gifted education comes from my concern for my 1st grade daughter. She said many times: “I hate school. School is very boring, because it is too easy.”

If my daughter brings home math work with 100% correct all the time, it’s not really a good thing. It can mean it’s too easy for her and she is not learning and being challenged. 

Both my daughter’s teacher and her school are doing their best to help meeting her needs. I hope our District and schools in general can do more for students like her. We don’t want to see smart students become underachievers. 

The gifted students deserve a meaningful, challenging and rewarding school learning experience just as the special needs children. They deserve the same kind of support and protection for an appropriate education that special needs children are entitled to. 

Until the gifted education can get more attention and support, until every child can be challenged to the extent of his ability, America can’t claim it’s leaving no child behind.

9 Responses to The sorry state of gifted education

  1. Luke Maier says:

    I am a middle schooler at Woodbury Middle School. The math emphasis is actually good. I am in 6th grade, taking a high school credit math course, which is actually challenging. BUT, The other core classes fall short. I am actually getting low grades because I think the material is severely lacking, and no higher courses are available because of the way the system is set up. I went to the Gateway program, (now at Bailey Elementary) and found it an enjoyable experience. Shout out to Ms. Matulka, my 3rd grade teacher, who was AWESOME. But back to my point, this article really hit home for me, because it is EXACTLY how I feel about the system at WMS, and I am frustrated.

  2. MR says:

    Just stumbled across this article while doing a search for “best states for gifted education,” since my own stinks. Apparently, others aren’t much better. My two children, not even school age yet, are showing clear signs of giftedness (pointed out by pediatrician early on). My oldest daughter, almost 5, misses the cutoff for kindergarten but is more than ready, reading at a second grade level, etc. Our district makes no exceptions to allow early entry, and refuses to test (on their own dollar). However, a neighbor of mine whose child has a speech delay is getting free services (extra days at the district preschool, one on one help for her delay), to bring her up to speed. I find this infuriating and believe that you could argue giftedness is also a special need. These kids aren’t just bright – they also tend to have many behavioral and emotional issues that wear the parents and families down like any special need. To get to my point, we are homeschooling our girls because of a feeling of helplessness – we can’t afford private school and I see no other choice. A sad state, indeed.

  3. Ann-Marie Gogan says:

    Thank you for posting such a great article. I have been going through many of the same challenges with my 2nd grade son in Miami Beach. He is in the best public school here and is in the gifted & bilingual program. The school has also been certified an IB school…. but my son is not being challenged at all. He completed his math book long ago and is almost done his science book….. always gets perfect scores…. I am definitely wanting to do the online curriculum this fall in order to allow him to get through it at a much faster pace. In addition, I am looking into enrolling him in the iMacs program (Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science) which is for accelerated/enriched math, computer programming, robotics, critical thinking and electronics. They also have a program specifically for homeschool children to supplement their education held in the mornings…. I am hoping this will challenge my little man much more…. Unfortunately I feel as though I have to take his education into my own hands in order to provide him with what he needs and deserves in order to thrive….. I am glad I am not alone out there!!!! Thank you again for taking the time to tell your story to let everyone out there know that they are not alone ;-)

    • Avatar of Qin Tang Qin Tang says:

      Ann-Marie,
      Thanks for the comment.
      Your son is lucky to have a parent like you who takes his education into her own hands. You are doing great by being the advocate for his education.

  4. E.H says:

    In the first grade I was tested for being gifted. I was put into special classes and I liked being with other people at my level. In fifth grade I was in a much higher math class, and for he first time, I actually enjoyed math. When we moved to a different state, I guess we never really addressed the situation, but I for the past 4 years I have been in classes that are below me. Even though I do have the opprotunity now in high school to take honors and AP classes, I still feel frustrated. My school has no gifted program, and I hate being in “advanced classes” and still not being interested enough to do my homework. I never really thought much about it, because really in those 4 years, I forgot I was gifted. It was just brought to my attention again, and I started actually researching it. I realized that I have been experiencing everything that all of these sources have mentioned. Everything just makes sense now, honestly. I really wish that my school did have gifted classes. I truly think that the reason I am not doing as well as I should in school, is because I’m not interested enough in the lessons. It’s almost insulting. This past week I have seriously been considering homeschooling.

    • Avatar of Qin Tang Qin Tang says:

      E.H.

      I hear your frustration. Many kids in this country are not being challenged in school and become underachievers, like you feel. Homeschool is an option. You and your parents can also be your own advocates at school. Talk to teachers and administrators and ask what they can do for kids like you.
      Good luck.

  5. Avatar of Qin Tang Qin Tang says:

    Cynthia & M:
    I admire your dedication to homeschool your kids. Many parents homeschool their kids for the same reason. Their needs are not met at schools.

  6. M says:

    I am the parent of two children, both receive special education and one is also very highly gifted. So, I see the need for both special education and gifted services.

    From the special education side, these children NEED the services in order to have a chance at a normal, independent life. The more intervention received early in life, the better the chances are that the child will be independent or semi-independent as adults, AND it reduces the amount society spends caring for these special needs children as adults. These children do have potential to be contributing members of society, but it takes a lot of time and expertise to teach them the necessary skills.

    I also do believe that the highly gifted are very under-served and under challenged. There are several districts in our area (not ours) who group all highly gifted children into one classroom. They tend to work 2 or 3 grade levels ahead. This doesn’t seem like it would significantly increase the cost of gifted education. I would imagine there is a smaller student to teacher ratio in these classes, but it seems like it would actually be more cost-effective than what our district does – weekly pull-out services for gifted students. Gifted teachers travel from campus to campus throughout the week.

    I am now homeschooling my younger child (Asperger’s and very highly gifted) since his public school experience was a disaster. He is 7, in 2nd grade. The public school’s recent evaluation showed that he had already mastered the elementary school curriculum and was at a 7th- to 8th-grade level. They could not find a placement for him which could address both of his special needs: the disability (Asperger’s) and the giftedness. Such a shame!

  7. Cynthia says:

    I am a parent who is an active in extra curricular/enrichment activities in and out of our school district. I am frustrated when I hear so many of the children I meet express that… school is boring; this teacher doesn’t like me; I am afraid to talk in that class because the teacher is mean or makes fun of other kids. This is in both elementary and middle school. This is not just happening to gifted kids. The gifted kids are even more frustrated! All students need exposure to these types of “gifted” programs. One never knows if a certain activity will spark an interest in a child…art, science, literature, history…it could be anything. Sometimes students who are struggling with the basics (for whatever reason) benefit from the skills they acquire from these enrichment activities whether they be social or academic. I believe that exposure to a variety of topics/activities is essential for our childrens’ development. Developing a special interest or discovering a talent for something is a great source of self esteem that will carry over into everything they do.
    I currently homeschool my two middle school aged children (6th and 8th grade).
    Both are very bright. One has been home for 3 years due to the schools inability to accomodate his needs (asperger’s) and the other asked to come home this year due to increased frustration from learning the same things every year and excessive “busy work”. She was not working at an appropriate level for her needs and ability. Not to mention, many of the teachers do not seem to be good role models for middle school students.

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