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? 


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. 


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.

Dumbing us down – John Taylor Gatto on public education

Friday evening I went to a presentation by John Taylor Gatto at Macalester College.

Gatto’s presentation, sponsored by the Institute of Theological & Interdisciplinary Studies, was thought provoking. So are his books.

John Taylor Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. In 1991, he quit because he no longer wished to “hurt kids to make a living.” He then began a public speaking and writing career.

Gatto is the author of the following books:

In his article “Against School: How public education cripples our kids, and why (2001), Gatto says: “Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.”

Gatto promotes homeschooling. He thinks compulsory schooling cripples children’s imagination and discourage critical thinking.

Teacher conference

I went to Lake Middle School right after work for my son’s teacher conference.

For the last two conferences in fall and spring, I had to spend more than two hours each time to go around the rooms, wait in lines and talk to a few core subject teachers.

Today, there were hardly any lines. For each teacher, there were only one or two parents ahead of me. I was able to go around and visit with every teacher, not just the core subject teachers, but all teachers my son has classes with right now, including language, math, science, social studies, art, Chinese language, band, and gym. It was the first time I met the Chinese and gym teachers.

This time I finished the conference in less than two hours, and also got to talk to all teachers. That was great.

Teacher conference provides a good opportunity for me to talk with teachers and find out how my kids are doing in school and how they can improve and do better. It also provides an opportunity for me to find out who my kids’ teachers are and to connect with them.

Keeping good communication between teachers and parents are beneficial for all parties involved.

When the science teacher told me that Andy is doing well in the class and got an excellent grade for his recently finished project, I mentioned that science is not Andy’s strong subject. He doesn’t feel very confident in this subject area himself. The teacher was surprised about it. She said she would pay more attention and encourage him more in the class.

By communicating with teachers, both teachers and parents can better help the students improve.

As I said in a Woodbury Bulletin column, education is a joint venture.


Education opportunities in Woodbury

Education was the topic of today’s session, the session six of Woodbury Citizen’s Academy, held at Woodbury High School.

The following school principals and administrators from local schools gave presentations about birth to adult education, school choices (public, charter, private) and brief introduction about individual schools.

  • Linda Plante, Principal, Woodbury High School
  • Nicole Robbins, founder, Footprints Academy/Peace of Mind Early Education Center
  • Terry Campbell, Administrator, New Life Academy
  • Matthew Metz, Principal, St. Ambrose of Woodbury
  • Tiffany Simmons, Globe University

Alison Canty, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator at School District 833, shared her experience as a student growing up in Woodbury.

Woodbury is a growing community with a variety of education opportunities. Having high quality education and different choices of schools have certainly contributed to the growth of the community.

I can’t believe we have already been more than half way through with the 10 week program offered by the Woodbury Community Foundation. I look forward to every session to learn different things about Woodbury. When you have fun, time just goes by so quickly.

Next session’s topic is about local media. As a writer, that certainly will be my favorite topic. I look forward to meeting with editors and publishers of the local media.