Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Welcome to Lake Woebegon, where 100% of children are in the top 2.5%

100% of children are in the top 2.5% of children. It sounds ridiculous when it's stated mathematically, but you hear it often in its common form: "All children are gifted." No matter how you say it, it is still nonsense.

Nonsense. Not sensible. Not true. And certainly not defensible.

Would it be defensible to ignore a special needs child in school? Yes, you need a ramp because you're in a wheelchair, but really you are just like every other child and you have no special needs. Yes, you need your textbooks on tape because you are dyslexic and cannot read the books yourself, but really you are just like every other child and you have no special needs.

It sounds ridiculous, and there are U.S. federal laws to protect these children from such ignorance. (Section 504 and IDEA). But for the gifted students, those above two standard deviations from the norm, there is no such federal protection.

If they are lucky, gifted kids might live in a state like Pennsylvania, with a mandate to both identify and serve gifted students from K-12 under Chapter 16 of the state education code. Chapter 16 even calls the education of gifted students "Special Education." But it falls short of actually providing special education protections to gifted students. Chapter 16 includes no enforcement, though they've added a feature where 10 districts a year are reviewed to see if they are meeting Chapter 16 guidelines. In just over 50 years, all the districts in Pennsylvania will be reviewed, and we will learn just how many are not meeting Chapter 16, not offering FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) to gifted students. What happens if the schools fail this compliance monitoring? They are issued a "corrective action plan." Punishment for failing Chapter 16 Gifted Education compliance monitoring? In 50 years, they may be monitored again.

Or you might live in a state like New York, with a mandate to identify but not serve gifted students. Massachusetts? Gifted students don't exist there at all, unless they are identified and offered gifted education under local school district policy. But it's not required by state nor federal government, and often doesn't happen. When it does happen, it is often the first head on the chopping block during fiscal crisis. Heads will roll! There are excellent school districts for gifted students in each of these states...if you can afford to live there. Davidson Foundation: U.S. Gifted Education Policies by state

Most people presume that gifted kids "automagically" get what they need in school. All they need is to learn, and everyone gets to learn in school, right?

Not as much as you'd think.

Longitudinal research from Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth shows that among the top achieving students in the country, those who score 700 or above on the math or critical thinking tests of the College Board's SAT before age 13, many go on to do great things, lead companies, win prizes, invent amazing things! But many more do not receive appropriate education in their schools, their families cannot afford appropriate education through private schools and enrichment programs, and these students do not go on to accomplish great things in their lives. Read The poor neglected gifted child.

What does a typical school offer the gifted student? In Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades, and in some schools even 3rd, 4th, and beyond, most schools offer the gifted students... Nothing. Gifted kids come into each school year knowing most or all of these early years of curriculum, and having literally nothing to learn. These students are held back with their age cohort, to raise the school's test scores and "be leaders" for the other kids.

And we all know, if a child is gifted, she can figure out a way to entertain herself when she is bored in school. It's true! The problem is, the teacher may not find it entertaining when she decides to talk to her neighbors after she finishes her work. Or she reads a book under her desk... And forgets to return her attention to the teacher when the next subject is "introduced." (She already knew it anyway.) Or he decides to make a creative "pea shooter" out of materials he finds in his desk, to shoot tiny paper wads at other kids while he's bored and waiting. And then he gets entrepreneurial, and sells them to other kids in the class. What an excellent example of gifted leadership! But not appreciated.

Gifted students are required to complete worksheet after worksheet, years of them, proving what they already know so that they hopefully "qualify" to participate in what is often just a the fun-and-games gifted enrichment program beginning in 3rd or 4th or 5th or 6th grade. IF they qualify. If they don't offend the teacher and school by creative boredom-fighting activities. Or by correcting the teacher one too many times. Or by begging to learn new things!

Meanwhile, they spend 2-3-4-5+ years learning that everything in school comes easy, that praise is easy to get, and in today's U.S. schools, that everyone gets an award for something, so their giftedness is just another gift, like being the tallest or being the prettiest, or the best public speaker. Everyone's gifted, they're nothing special.

Until they reach a tough subject. It might be middle school creative writing, or 8th grade algebra, AP biology or even advanced college mathematics. At some point the gifted child is going to reach some material he has to work at to learn. And if he's had years of practice in learning difficult material, organizing his work, creating study materials, failing and getting back up again to learn some more, he will fare well. He understands Struggle, Challenge and Meaning. But many gifted students have never had these opportunities. They've drifted through school for years, perhaps even a decade, learning only that learning is a breeze, it's all easy because I'm gifted, my brain makes it easy.

These are the gifted children who panic and quit easily, because they've develop what Carol Dweck calls a "fixed mindset." Because they were not challenged in school from the beginning like the other kids, they have gained a warped view of their own abilities, and of the process of learning. And when the difficult material comes--and it will come--they have no idea how to get the hard work of learning done, because they were never allowed to learn how in those early years, when the rest of the kids learned. Too many years of minimal learning in school takes its toll. And at this age, instead the toll of a bad grade on an elementary-grade assignment or report card and a chance to "do better next time," the toll will be high school course placement, college admissions opportunities, or college scholarships. Lost. Gone, forever.

This is education's gift to the gifted learner.

Because, don't you know, All children are gifted!

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