Thursday, January 23, 2014

Are gifted students slighted?

Are gifted kids slighted?
Alison DeNisco posed this question in her article by the same title in District Administration. As the parent of a gifted child, the wife to a gifted husband and the friend of parents of gifted children in different school districts the short answer is yes. States emphasize getting struggling learners to improve their skills. New York, like most states, does not in any way mandate or even, for the most part, think about gifted populations.
Students at the lowest end of the spectrum are allowed to take alternative assessments. Unless a student was fully accelerated by a grade level (or levels) there was no ability to test above grade level until the 2014 wavier that will now allow our 7th and 8th grade math students who will take a regents exam in algebra or geometry to not take the grade level math assessment.
In my school district alone, there are over millions of dollars spent on special education and struggling learner initiatives and a grand total of one salary (approximately $100,000) spent on all programs for enrichment.
According to DeNisco's article "A 2011 Fordham Institute study found that between 30 and 50 percent of advanced students descend and no longer achieve at the most advanced levels." As many as 30% of gifted students will drop out of school because of boredom.
When I asked about enrichment for my daughter, I was told there were some honors classes in middle school and there were AP and IB classes in high school. There were many years between first grade and the first honors class in 7th grade. The idea that our district mission about reaching individual potential was repeatedly proven false and put in the face of the administration until they changed their mission to "challenge all students to higher levels of achievement." We are, after all, sending her to the next grade- that is higher achievement. She learned what they taught her:
  • you do not have to work to be successful- studying is unnecessary
  • you will be the one who carries any group to which you are assigned
  • your needs will be acknowledged, but ignored
  • when no one else can contribute to the discussion, it will always fall on your shoulders
  • your friends are not able to talk with you about academic issues so immerse yourself in pop culture or passively observe the conversation
  • your parents are the only ones who are really going to push you.
She is lucky because her parents have consistently, and sometimes I am sure the staff thinks obnoxiously, pushed for more. Not more work, but more complicated work, work at a faster pace, and peers who might provide some kinship in being able to think at her rate. We pushed for a systematic method to access the services of our one enrichment provider. Our district, like most, continues to struggle with what to do with our brightest. Unfortunately one of the things they seem to have mastered is how to turn them off learning and working hard.
Organizations have argued that educating all students is important, but that creating a body of highly able and highly trained individuals is essential to economic success in the world today. By working as hard as we are to provide an equal education to all, we are neglecting the group that has the potential to keep our nation in the forefront of technological development. When we allow our brightest to descend to the level of the mediocre because they are not challenged. We are saying we do not want to educate our next Bill Gates. We want it to be a crap shoot to see if the person can individually overcome the daily boredom he is embraced by.
Yes, we need to address the startling lack of diversity in our gifted programs. Let us not, however, throw away the baby with the bathwater. We need to find better ways to identify the ability of our students so that there is balance in representation. We need to provide the training and support for teachers to be able to work with and develop our brightest students within their classrooms and we need to encourage use of the full spectrum of choices to enrich our brightest populations including a variety of free options such as- creating groups that a teacher can address, rather than letting them languish alone in a classroom; accelerating in subject or grade levels; and designing curriculums that do not force teachers to lock step instruction. We can do a better job, if we find the will.

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