Monday, December 19, 2005

Update on the Bomkamp Story

Two months ago, I wrote about 5-year-old Alison Bomkamp's saga with the Kenton County Schools in Kentucky. Since Alison had already mastered the kindergarten curriculum, her parents placed her in first grade. But since Kentucky only reimburses districts for half-day kindergarten for 5-year-olds, the school district sent the Bomkamps a bill for $3,000 to cover the difference.

This blog pointed out how ridiculous this was (young Alison is actually saving Kentucky taxpayers money -- she'll take 12 years, not 13 to go through school. If she skips more grades along the way, that's an even bigger savings).

Fortunately, Alison's mom, Shauna, reports that saner heads have prevailed. State Sen. Jack Westwood and State Rep. Jon Draud have introduced bills clarifying that school districts will be reimbursed the full-day school fee for 5-year-olds who place out of half-day kindergarten. The school district has stopped sending their bills to the Bomkamps. And Alison is doing great in first grade. She's in the most advanced math group, has been awarded for excellent behavior and has made lots of friends. "She is truly with her peers," Shauna says -- even if she doesn't turn that magical first grade age of six until March.

The Kentucky Post and the Cincinnati Enquirer have both run stories on this battle.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gifted Girls and Legos

This story about an all-girls team of 6th graders winning a Lego robot-building contest just made me smile. Read the report from Pocatello, Idaho here.

Legos make great holiday gifts for kids because you can approach them at any level, and they require you to dream up ideas and then build them. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be a lot of toys on the hot-lists these days that encourage that sort of creativity. I experienced the joy of shopping in a crowded Toys R Us the other day for my niece and nephews and was struck by how many toys involved licensed cartoon or movie characters. Don't get me wrong, I love Dora the Explorer. But now instead of a kitchen set where you have to dream up the story line, you get a Dora kitchen set, with Dora's world already attached. I'm curious how people reading this blog go about choosing toys for their kids that don't take the imagination part out of play.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Obsessing with Outcomes

Last week's Christian Science Monitor has a fascinating story about an academically rigorous kindergarten program in North Carolina called "Einsteins at Five."

For the most part, the piece is balanced. Still, the author is a bit obsessed with waxing nostalgic for a time when kindergarten was about graham crackers and eating paste. That's disingenuous. All of us know kids who read The Chronicles of Narnia, or the Little House on the Prairie books in kindergarten and were horribly frustrated with the naps and counting lessons their teachers pushed.

But it's this paragraph that got me thinking:

"...while it's clear that young children have a large capacity for learning - research shows they learn faster at 5 than any other age - it's less certain whether all this early erudition has an impact in later years. The French have universal preschool starting at age 3, but Swedish children don't begin academic work until 6, sometimes 7. Studies show that both populations end up doing just as well."

This is the same issue that the Prodigy Puzzle in the New York Times hammered at for 10,000 words a few weeks ago. Yes, it's true that adult outcomes (however they are measured -- I have no idea how he's comparing the Swedish and French) are not necessarily dependent on what kind of enrichment bright children receive. We can't guarantee that a kid in a gifted program, or a kid allowed to skip 2 grades, will win a Nobel Prize while the unenriched child will not. There is a lot of luck (and other things) involved in achieving fame, or breaking new ground later in life.

But so what? You can't tell, looking at a group of babies, which will be professional athletes based on how fast they all crawl at 8 months. But that doesn't mean anyone should grip the ankles of the quick ones to keep them from scooting ahead.

Bright kindergartners want to learn as much as possible. They teach themselves to read better because they want to read better things than the tedious counting books on the kindergarten shelves. Keeping them in kindergarten programs that aren't academic, because of someone's notion of what the unhurried childhood should be, is like gripping a baby's ankles. I'm glad brainy five-year-olds are getting the chance to use their heads. Whether they become Einsteins later in life or not.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Small schools… small gains for gifted kids?

Bill Gates, by all accounts, was a very gifted young man. So it’s unclear why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is choosing to fund school projects that eliminate the classes bright children need most.

The Gates Foundation gave $11 million to the New Schools Project to develop 75 small high schools of no more than 400 students. Since this isn’t a capital building grant, these high schools tend to result from dividing existing schools into 3-4 schools.

By design, these split schools don’t have one school of faster learners, one of medium-speed learners, etc. Each school of 400 is supposed to encompass the whole range of learning speeds. Since that means there usually aren’t enough students to create full honors programs, many classes wind up containing all ability levels. You can read about some North Carolina schools’ experiences with this model here.

As the article starts out, “The days of the brightest high school students taking their own classes could be ending in the interest of helping slower students succeed.”

The consequences of mixed-ability grouping for quick learners are clear. As the article notes:

“If you want easy credit from an honors class, it's good,” said Lauren Hopton, 17, a senior at Southeast Raleigh High School. “But if you want a challenge, it’s not.”

Gifted children learn best in classes tailored to their speed of learning. It’s na├»ve to think even a very skilled teacher won’t slow down the class pace when children who are not capable of learning as quickly are added to the mix. In fact, skilled teachers may be more likely to slow down, as they are most aware of every member of the class’s progress.

Consequently, gifted children wind up with extra time on their hands as they wait for their classmates to catch up. Some enterprising teachers try to accommodate their gifted kids’ extra time by using them as teacher’s assistants.

This is exactly what’s happened in these new small schools. From the article: “Another benefit, Southeast Raleigh High Principal Beulah Wright said, is that the usual honors students are put in leadership positions as they help their classmates learn the harder material. ‘You learn more when you're teaching it yourself,’ Wright said.”

This is just not true. If both students are relatively unfamiliar with the material, the quicker kid may learn a bit more by teaching it to the slower one. But there’s only so many times a gifted kid needs to see the difference between “its” and “it’s” before she knows it. Explaining it three more times to other students won’t help her. It will bore her.

The saddest thing about these mixed-ability classes, though, is that for all the talk of raising the floor, de-tracking doesn’t help slower learners either. A major review of 23 ability grouping studies by James Kulik of the University of Michigan found that grouping students by ability in subject matter classes helps slower learners learn more. In Success for All reading program groupings, for instance, low-achieving fourth graders gained as much as two-thirds of an academic year over control groups in mixed ability classes.

If the Gates Foundation wants to fund small schools, how about funding schools that are grouped by ability? That will help slower and quicker learners a lot more.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Math vs. Verbal prodigies

The Siemens Westinghouse competition just announced its 2005-2006 math, science and technology winners, and the projects are stunning as always. You can read about them here.

One of the winners is a young man named Michael Viscardi, a mathematically gifted student who is also homeschooled. The press release says:

“Michael Viscardi’s project, entitled On the Solution of the Dirichlet Problem with Rational Boundary Data, develops exciting new approaches to a mathematical problem first formulated in the 19th century by the French mathematician, Lejeune Dirichlet. His research, in an area of mathematics called complex analysis, shows solutions to the Dirichlet problem which are, in many important cases, what mathematicians call ‘rational functions.’ Elegant, simple and useful, ‘rational functions’ are particularly amenable to computer implementation. …

"‘Mr. Viscardi dazzled us with his creative use of the mathematical language,’ said judge, Dr. Steven Krantz, Professor of Mathematics at Washington University in St. Louis. ‘His research is profound, substantial and complete, with potentially important practical applications ….’”

The phrase “creative use of the mathematical language” stuck with me.

You see, while mathematical prodigies making creative use of the language are rare, language prodigies are even more rare. Plenty of gifted kids learn to read young. But almost no new, widely available literature is created by people under age 20. I was struck by Davidson Fellow Laureate Heidi Kaloustian’s comment in The Prodigy Puzzle (NY Times magazine) on whether she hoped to publish her work:

“I wouldn’t dream of trying” she said. “I have so much more to learn.”

I can think of a few practical reasons for this dearth.

New research in science and math often happens within the academic world. Sure, universities have their politics, but a proof is a proof, a result is a result. A real world implication is great, but not absolutely required.

Literature, on the other hand, is a commercial business. Books are published not just because they are good, but because acquiring editors could see a market and thought the author had a good “platform.”

Second, more people view themselves as qualified to produce literature than new mathematical or scientific findings. Few people would send in an article to a peer-reviewed science journal without being a working scientist in the field. But scores of folks are typing away on what they believe to be the next great American novel, even if they’ve never published a thing in their lives. This volume means the publishing industry has set up a more intimidating process of agents as gatekeepers. A gifted child is unlikely to have the connections to get an agent to read a manuscript, and a manuscript sent unsolicited to a publisher will not be read.

But there’s a matter of skill, too. Literature deals with the scope of human experience, and even a very imaginative gifted child will have trouble writing about the disappointments and wisdom that come with age. Stories by children often feature the most dramatic of life events – deaths, usually. It is the one thing they know to be momentous enough to justify a story. But this lends a melodramatic tone to student writing. Audiences prefer true tension to deaths.

I also think young children with writing talent aren’t nurtured the way mathematicians are. Sure, few gifted kids are nurtured. But on the margins, we recognize math to be a “tough” field, and so a child with talent there is more likely to be recognized as precocious and sent to higher levels. What are higher levels of writing? Because we believe math and science are “tougher,” winners of those contests get more press. We believe that anyone can write. So young writers are simply encouraged to be creative.

To make a living as a writer, though, that creativity needs to be honed and trained. Given how infrequently it is, and the commercial savvy a young writer would need to navigate the publishing world, it’s no wonder you read of so few literature prodigies.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Prodigy Puzzle, redux.

The NY Times magazine printed a number of letters on the Prodigy Puzzle (the cover story on "The Rise of The Gifted Child Industry") in their Dec. 4 issue. See the letters here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Gender and Giftedness

Charles Murray wades into the waters Harvard president Larry Summers stirred last spring with a fascinating piece on the American Enterprise Institute’s website called Where are the Female Einsteins?

His thesis: For evolutionary reasons, men’s brains developed neurological pathways that elevate their abstract spatial reasoning capacities, relative to women. Consequently, men are more represented on the extreme ends of the spectrum in abstract fields. Math is abstract, hence there are more eminent male mathematicians. Musical composition is more abstract, hence there are more imminent male composers. Literature, on the other hand, is less abstract, and so even in times much more patriarchal than our own, women writers have been decently represented among important authors of the day.

He also hints at social reasons for the lack of women at the top of many fields, of course. As he says, “To put it in a way that most readers with children will recognize, a father can go to work and forget about his children for the whole day. Hardly any mother can do this, no matter how good her day-care arrangement or full-time nanny may be. My point is not that women must choose between a career and children, but that accomplishment at the extremes commonly comes from a single-minded focus that leaves no room for anything but the task at hand.”

I like much of Murray’s writing. It’s usually thought-provoking. But this is rather a dreary explanation. For starters, writing fiction is quite abstract. You have to imagine a world that doesn’t exist; why this involves such different abilities than imagining a sonata that doesn’t exist isn’t clear. And second, Murray is basically saying that extremely accomplished men must, by definition, be lousy fathers.

But there’s another way of looking at gifted girls’ choices that doesn’t even go into the abstraction or motherhood bit.

Gifted girls are finally pretty much free these days, encouraged even, to go into mathematical and scientific fields if they so desire. And they are. But the funny thing is, they’re going into “biophysics” over physics, biostatistics over statistics, etc.

Gifted girls are more likely to be talented in many areas than “spiky” in one. They also tend to rank “helping people” and being around other people as high on their priority lists. As these girls become women, they seek careers that use all their gifts. Since the cultural image we have of an abstract mathematician is a man sitting by himself in a turret dreaming up stuff that is of no use to humanity, it’s no wonder that highly gifted girls prefer to choose other jobs. Biophysics sounds like it’s the human side of physics, and may involve more than just mathematical talent.

This is a personal interest of mine… I scored an 800 on the SAT math section in 8th grade, and thought maybe I should be a mathematician. But it later occurred to me that while I liked math, I always felt if I chose that as a career I’d be missing out on something. I preferred writing – especially since it allowed me to dabble in many interests (writing about science, medicine, engineering and math is thrilling to me). That has little to do with my spatial reasoning abilities or any plans for future children. I just like the varied life.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Parental chit-chat, and the PG kid

Kim Moldofsky, mom of two gifted children, sent me a link to an essay she has in Chicago Parent this week on Giving Up on Public Education.

Moldofsky highlights a side benefit she's found by sending her children to a school for the gifted: she now has fellow "refugee" parents to chit-chat with. Why is this important? Turns out, just as some gifted kids feel isolated in their regular schools, their parents can, too.

Talking about your kid, and how proud you are of her, comes with the territory of being a parent. But there's a quid pro quo. One dad waiting to pick his kid up from Girl Scouts can talk about his daughter's great grade in English, then the mom next to him can say what a great goal her daughter scored in soccer over the weekend. No one wants to hear that the next mom's daughter is taking college literature classes and has just translated a series of Italian sonnets into English.

It puts parents of gifted kids in a bind. You want to praise your kid, but our culture doesn't like praising people's intellectual gifts, particularly when they achieve things without difficulty at times.

At a school for the gifted, on the other hand, parents may nod and laugh when you say, throwing up your hands, that you had to enforce lights out last night when your daughter insisted on reading one more chapter in her math book. They won't think you're bragging -- they'll think you're parenting.

No wonder Moldofsky quotes another mom saying "This conversation feels like a hug!"

Monday, November 28, 2005

More Standardized Testing Troubles

Under No Child Left Behind, states are supposed to test their students every year, and show "adequate yearly progress." NCLB is federal, but in a nod to the states, the federal department of education said states could use their own tests. Since 100% of students are supposed to reach proficiency in math and reading by 2014, it doesn't take a genius to see the temptation states face.

Why not make a really easy test? One that doesn't require much heavy lifting to get 100% of students proficient in the next decade?

This appears to be exactly what most states are doing.

This article from the NY Times notes that 87% of Tennessee's 8th graders were "proficient" on Tennessee's math tests. Alas, only 21% of Tennessee's 8th graders were "proficient" on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, the results of which were released last month.

Other states show similar gaps. In Mississippi, 89% of 4th graders were proficient in reading on the state tests; only 18% were proficient on national tests.

Of course, it's difficult to say what the right level of difficulty should be on a test (though having looked at NAEP questions, I'm not inclined to say that's a particularly difficult test either, which means Tennessee and Mississippi are probably merely asking students to count and identify letters).

That said, states do their citizens no favors by lowering the bar. South Carolina isn't -- that state's test produces similar (lowish) results to the NAEP. Making progress is difficult. But if SC achieves anywhere near 100% proficiency on that test by 2014, you will know something exciting has happened there. We'll be seeing every business in the country trying to relocate to Charleston twenty years from now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Why be Well-Rounded?

The Rhodes Trust recently announced the 32 American winners of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. This award pays for American students to pursue post-graduate studies at Oxford University in the UK.

Biographies of the winners are listed here (follow link to press release). All these young people seem highly accomplished, or at least have a lot of potential. But one thing that struck me, reading the bios, is that the Rhodes Trust is very into the idea of well-rounded students. Think a physicist who plans to try out for the US Olympic ski team, a mathematician who plays volleyball… On one hand, this is good – it shows that brainy people can be brawny, or have wide interests.

On the other… there’s a lot of marketing that goes into marking oneself as Rhodes material, and I’m sure many of these winners have been coached to show some other, resume-worthy activity that the Rhodes committee can seize on. The pursuit of well-roundedness can become pretty zealous at times. What’s wrong with choosing the kid who’s published the most exciting mathematical papers during his undergraduate career, even if he doesn’t play squash or tutor underprivileged youth?

The truth is, we live in an anti-intellectual culture, and even the Rhodes scholarship, given to the brainy, is influenced by this. In an anti-intellectual culture, few groups are willing to choose winners based on intellectual or academic merits alone. Look at lists of USA Today’s top college students, for instance. The winners always have a lot of community service, side interests, and are chosen for geographic and ethnic diversity in a way the lists of the top high school basketball players never are. (The Rhodes Trust also guarantees geographic diversity by choosing candidates from different regions).

People can certainly choose recipients of scholarships as they wish. But there’s a problem with the pursuit of well-roundedness. I think of it as the Miss America problem. To be crowned Miss America, you have to compete in multiple areas. You are supposed to look decent, have a performing arts talent, have the ability to speak in front of groups, and have a significant community service interest.

Not surprisingly, it is very rare to find anyone who excels in all these areas and hasn’t gone professional (as a model, as a singer or dancer, etc.). So you get mediocre talent performances, forced answers to the questions on the TV program, and candidates who aren’t all that attractive, to boot. No wonder TV ratings dropped, vs., say, Miss USA, which is solely a looks-based contest. In other words, their candidates aren't well-rounded.

Something for the Rhodes people to keep in mind.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"The Prodigy Puzzle" puzzles me...

Sunday's New York Times magazine featured a cover story on The Prodigy Puzzle or "Can Genius Really Be Cultivated? The Rise of the Gifted-Child Industry." (Requires registration).

The piece was thought-provoking and, while quite long, eventually made a point we've discussed here. Intellectual potential, and even early prodigious works, do not guarantee that a child will grow up to advance human knowledge or shape the culture. You need more than IQ. You need discipline, creativity, endurance. And luck.

But calling what's going on in gifted education these days an "industry" is pushing it. A handful of groups give scholarships, and attempt to make rock stars for a few days out of kids whose works place them at the national or international vanguard of achievement. These children then return to schools where principals will throw pep rallies because the football team won a few games against local competition. I wish gifted education advocates had enough clout in the culture to create an "industry."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Increasing College Enrollment -- good or bad?

This is a follow-up to my post last week about Mary Catherine Swanson's Ed Week article on saving the middle quartiles of students. Her AVID program, I noted, had helped many bright but underachieving students go to college. Interestingly enough, the major education news this week is about kids going to college, then not graduating (see the AP story, "Focus On Getting Students Into College Shifts to Getting Them Out").

A recent study found that only 54% of students entering four-year colleges in 1997 (my cohort) had a degree 6 years later. This is a problem because higher education has a huge degree effect in terms of boosted job opportunities and income. Quitting a 4-year college after 2 years is not the same as getting a two-year associates degree. Indeed, if you borrow money to attend the 4-year school, you might wind up worse off.

Former Princeton president William Bowen has announced he'll be studying this reality, which is why the subject made headlines. He points out that at comparably prestigious state schools such as the University of Minnesota and Penn State, graduation rates vary widely. At Penn State, about 80% of students graduate in 6 years; at U-Minn it's about half.

Clearly, colleges have some effect on the matter. They can make signing up for necessary classes easier. They can encourage advisors to be more pro-active about pushing students to fulfill requirements. They can boost financial aid so students don't drop out for monetary reasons.

But they shouldn't dumb down their classes and make it easier to earn a degree. Already there's been a disturbing trend toward grade inflation and remedial classes at universities. More of the same will just dilute the value of a 4-year degree. Education experts often say that a college graduate earns $1 million more over her life than a non-graduate, but the premium is falling as more people pour into college. Unfortunately, if this continues, people will spend many years and much money chasing degrees they might not get and that could be devalued anyway.

So what's to be done? First, education leaders need to stop pushing 4-year degrees as a universal solution when most students lack the foundation. A full 66.7% of 2004 high school graduates enrolled in college that year, but one 2002 study found only 34% of high school students were "prepared" for college. So no wonder only 54% graduate. 34% is just about 54% of 66.7%...

More students should certainly be challenged to build that foundation. I've often complained about a 10th grade English class I took where all that was expected of students was the ability to read from a book outloud and answer trivia questions. This was a class for college-bound students. No wonder reality often hurts when it hits in college classes requiring in-depth analysis of literature, papers advancing new theses, etc.

But higher standards is a long-term solution. In the interim, two-year colleges need to promote themselves better. They are not about "settling" -- these degrees vastly boost job prospects and income levels. Local businesses should apprentice high school students and ease them through 1-2 years of post graduation training and into work. Schools should push vocational education more. Some very skilled trades require college degrees, but others don't. As anyone who's called a plumber knows, they make a lot more money than your average college drop-out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Making "Pull-Out" Fair

I was interested to read a short note about Wake County (NC)'s efforts to tell parents about their magnet schools (a short item from a local TV news station).

I attended two magnet schools in this county, which includes Raleigh, from 1st to 6th grade (Washington Elementary and Ligon Middle). The more I've learned about how different educational systems work -- including having attended worse ones myself later on-- the smarter this system's moves seem.

First, Wake County put many of their magnet programs in schools located in not-so-nice areas of the city. Both my elementary school and middle school were across from housing projects. This was an easy way to desegregate schools -- put the good programs in schools that would have been segregated and boom! Middle class parents are willing to bus their children for an hour each way.

Second, both my elementary school and the middle school I attended for 6th grade had lots of "electives" for everyone. They also had gifted & talented programs. Instead of doing "pull-outs" though, for gifted kids, everyone went to fun electives for a few hours. Gifted kids could choose certain ones that were designed to fill that requirement, but anyone could take things like art, music, dance, sports, science & tech electives, etc. One of the things that bugs me so much about pull-out programs is that the classes tend to be outside core academic subjects (let's look at the story of Robin Hood!) and cover fun stuff that all kids would like to learn about. Consequently, they give gifted ed a bad name. Why can't all kids learn about Robin Hood, after all? And they don't give gifted kids what they really need, which is advanced academic work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities.

The way Washington and Ligon handled this, though, takes away the problem of giving gifted kids fun stuff and not other kids. Washington did not track so much for core academic subjects (outside math) but Ligon did. Sixth graders were split into four teams, based on academic performance, and then these four teams were subdivided even more, with the "apples" on the "Chell" team having all academic classes together, for instance. You took electives, though, with people throughout the school (tap, choir, writing and reading mystery stories). So the "pull-outs" were non-tracked, and academics were. Talk about a smarter way of doing things.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Forgotten Middle

Does making the case for challenging all students require making enemies of gifted ones?

That seems to be the opinion of Mary Catherine Swanson, creator of the Advancement Via Individual Determination system, which helps underachieving students prepare for college. She touts excellent results for this challenge-and-support method; 95% of students in her program go to college, vs. about a third for similar students not in the program. Her website is avidonline.org. She also has a commentary in the 11/2 issue of Education Week (www.edweek.org, requires subscription) called "It's Time to Focus on the Forgotten Middle."

Her calls for school reform are common sense: our economy needs a lot more skilled workers in the future. Our schools, though, do not adequately prepare the middle quartiles of students for college. To do that, schools need to invest in individual instruction and challenge all students to the extent of their abilities. Here, here!

But then we get this salvo:

"Today, our school policies focus on the top and bottom quartiles to the exclusion of the huge middle. Federal programs are aimed at either gifted and talented students or special-needs and at-risk kids. The two ends of the spectrum understandably have demanding and costly needs, but they have gotten most of the attention and money."

Say what? The 2002 federal education budget allotted only $11 million for gifted programs, and these funds are almost entirely for research and demonstration projects, not classroom instruction. Programs for gifted students are either funded at the state or local level. But they're not exactly getting "most of the attention and money." America spends 143 times more on special education than gifted education. The fifty states, Washington D.C. and the federal government spent roughly $50 billion on special education in 1999-2000.

But for a progressive educator, saying the hard truth -- that special education eats up the funds that might otherwise have been available to provide individual support and challenge to children in the middle quartiles -- is very difficult. So reform efforts rope in gifted education as an equal offender -- as though the tiny fraction of a penny of the educational dollar spent on high achievers is as powerful as the 21 cents on the dollar spent for special ed.

Swanson is right that both ends of the spectrum have demanding needs. She's wrong in thinking this country does much about the top.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

What to tell kids about gifted testing?

An interesting question came up from a mom the other day. If you think your child is gifted, having him/her tested is usually one of the first steps toward figuring out an appropriate educational plan. But few gifted children are satisfied to sit through a test, then be told "yes, you're bright." How bright? What did the numbers say? What sections did I do best on? Did I get any questions wrong? Do other kids have scores like that? Curious kids want to know. They can go to the library or Google and read up on IQ like anyone else -- probably faster than anyone else.

So this is a question for parents who've been through that. What did you tell your child about the tests they took for ID'ing them as gifted? How did you answer their questions?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ambition

Time magazine has a cover story this week on Ambition, why some people succeed and others don’t, and whether ambition can be taught. There’s a sidebar on how parents and schools can help kids learn ambition (sorry if this only allows subscribers to view. Some of Time content is premium).

I’m of the opinion that schools can do a lot more to teach ambition. Namely, they shouldn’t make work so easy for gifted kids. A lot of gifted kids coast through school, then arrive at adulthood and realize that the rules change. Grade 6 doesn’t necessarily follow Grade 5. Some people take risks and seek out opportunities that ignite rocket boosters under their careers. Others get stuck in the truth that there’s no crystal-clear path to, say, tenure, or getting big breaks in an artistic career, or starting your own business, or leaping out of middle management and into the top ranks. These people wind up back in graduate school in perpetuity to recapture the certainty they miss, or they switch careers or generally flounder. Gifted kids need to learn to stretch themselves. They need to learn to find questions that aren’t posed at the end of chapters, and then seek out the answers when there’s no certain right one. They need to try stuff so tough they risk failing. You can’t do that if your self-esteem is based solely on a “gifted” label -- with gifted kids being defined as those who never fail in their endeavors. Labels are worth nothing.

Time gropes toward that point but then, alas, the magazine misses the mark completely. Check out this stunner:

“Some experts say our education system, with its strong emphasis on testing and rigid separation of students into different levels of ability, also bears blame for the disappearance of drive in some kids. "These programs shut down the motivation of all kids who aren't considered gifted and talented. [They] destroy their confidence," says Jeff Howard, a social psychologist and president of the Efficacy Institute, a Boston-area organization that works with teachers and parents in school districts around the country to help improve children's academic performance.”

Oh dear. It’s because of ability grouping that children flounder? Hardly. It’s the absence of *enough* meaningful ability grouping -- with all children challenged to the extent of their abilities -- that causes the top students to flounder after school to start with!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Talent Development

As many readers of this blog know, Jan & Bob Davidson (with whom I co-wrote Genius Denied) are helping to open a new public school at the University of Reno called The Davidson Academy.

It has been getting a fair amount of press for being the first public school for profoundly gifted kids in this country. The school opens next year.

I would not be shocked to find families moving to Nevada to enroll their children. There are just not that many schools that aim to develop the talents of children with IQs of 160+. I've been thinking about this in the context of general talent development -- there are not that many schools or programs aimed at developing any kid's profound talents. If your kid is a profoundly talented musician, for instance, you'll probably need to live near a big city or a university with a great orchestra. Often, you hear of people moving to NYC for Juilliard.

Then these parents become known as "pushy." I've always thought this is unfair. Pushiness is necessary for some fields, because it's not an option to wait until the child is older or pursues such talents as an adult. I was recently reading about the English long bow, used in the middle ages against England's rival, France. British boys were trained since childhood on how to stretch the long bow, so their chest muscles grew in a way that enabled mastery. French children didn't develop those muscles, so even when the French got their hands on these weapons, they couldn't use them to full effect.

Likewise, almost no professional orchestral musicians picked up an instrument for the first time as an adult, or even late in their teens. Our brains develop in ways where pathways are forged early. If you do not learn the skills associated with many talents when you are young enough for them to become second nature, you will never develop the talent as you might.

Yet our culture is full of stories of pushy parents who forced a child to labor at a certain skill or talent when he really wanted to (fill in the blank) instead. We don't tell stories of the kid who would have been a great musician, but never became a professional musician, because his parents didn't want to push.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What Percent Gifted?

USA Today has a a feature piece on its website about Dana Kelly, one of the paper's 2005 All-USA Teacher Team members.

Kelly teaches gifted education in what sounds like a very fun program at Southwest Elementary in Lakeland, Florida. This post is not about that program's merits, though.

What stuck out for me in the piece is that 8% of the school's population participates in the gifted program. This is twice the level at other schools, Kelly explains, but she also chooses high-achievers who don't meet the "gifted" qualifications the district sets out.

It's a noble thought. There's just one catch. When the percentage of students participating in a school or district's gifted program starts creeping up, and the program consists of lots of fun extra-curriculars in addition to (or, alas, often in place of) advanced academic work, it starts becoming a prize.

Then, you have to justify keeping that prize from other kids. Why not the top 10%? Why not the top 20%? At some well-to-do districts, I've seen percentages as high as 25% in the gifted programs -- which at that level becomes more of a way of mollifying parents than meeting kids' needs.

But it's not like 4%, as this district chose, is inherently good, either. The old 130 IQ standard set the level at roughly 1% of the population. Children with IQs north of 130 are often too intellectually advanced to fit in around the margins of a grade level class (something children only one standard deviation above the norm can do with a good teacher). Of course, a child with a 130 IQ, and a child with a 160 IQ have very different needs.

So what is the right level for the gifted program? I can't necessarily answer that (though I usually do say top 1-2%). I can point out other ways of dealing with the problem.

One is to make sure the gifted program is no more "fun" than the classes other kids experience. Gifted kids need advanced academic work in all fields, not the pull-outs that have them learning about the pyramids and pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and what have you. There is no reason other kids can't do the activities in most pull-outs.

Second, schools can't start treating gifted education as a prize doled out to high achievers. Getting an A on a test is great-- but if you had to work hard to get that A, you might be in the right class already. Gifted kids get A's without trying in grade level classes. Or they get lousy grades because they're so bored they won't dignify the work by doing it. Schools need to treat gifted education as an intervention for students who need it. High achievement alone doesn't indicate that.

To ward off the prize mentality, schools could even call the program something other than gifted education. Maybe the "double homework" class ... :)

Monday, October 31, 2005

Davidson Institute on CBS News

The Davidson Institute's work with profoundly gifted children was profiled on CBS News this weekend. If you didn't get to see the program, check out the summary of the show here:

CBS NEWS Sunday Morning
The Other Epidemic: Bad Writing

Judging from the headlines, we're awfully concerned about a possible epidemic of avian flu these days. We should be concerned about that. But here's another epidemic we should spend a lot of air time and money dealing with: how badly Americans communicate with each other when we write instead of speak.

You know what I'm talking about -- business papers that rattle on in the passive voice about "processes that were implemented by stakeholders" and other such vagueness. College professors lament that only a few students show up -- at top universities -- able to construct papers that are coherent and engaging.

The College Board created the new SAT writing section in part to address this epidemic. The first students who took the new SAT last spring are applying to colleges right now. Several colleges, including Georgetown, have said they won't look too closely at the writing section scores. After all, these colleges already require essays for admission, and these essays test the actual writing process much better than the SAT does.

As a writer myself, I agree -- in part. The SAT writing section consists of a 25 minute essay. The grading scale, available on the College Board website, does not penalize for a few grammatical or spelling errors. One professor studied results and found that there was a bias toward longer essays scoring better. Given the number of needless words bobbing around out there, longer doesn't always mean better. Furthermore, the formulaic essays the SAT requires are infinitely coachable. Test prep companies have actually upped their score guarantees as a result.

But... the SAT does test the ability to crank out a first draft. So what if most first drafts are lousy. That's why the College Board doesn't expect perfection. And second, people ignore the other 35 minutes of the writing section in their critiques. Students spend those 35 minutes answering questions on improving word choice, sentence structure and paragraph structure. That sounds like a test of editing skills to me.

The biggest benefit, in my mind, though, is not what's on the test. It's that the presence of a mandatory writing section on the SAT forces schools that care about student SAT scores to teach writing. This is a big benefit over what's existed many places up until now.

Schools don't teach writing well for two main reasons. The first is that many teachers attended education schools that laud the "processes were implemented by stakeholders" school of writing as much as any corporation.

Second (and this is the biggie), teaching writing takes a lot of time to do right. Teachers must assign multiple papers. They must then grade these long compositions, make comments, return the papers, ask students to rewrite them, grade them again, etc., through three-plus rounds of edits. If a teacher has 100 students (not uncommon at the high school level), spending a measly 10 minutes per paper is 1,000 minutes, or nearly 17 hours. Try fitting that into your weekend.

So, with the SAT writing section giving all this a sense of urgency, here's my 3-part plan for improving student writing. Teachers should:

1. Make all students read Strunk & White's "Elements of Style." There's a new illustrated version coming out next year if people find text tedious. The language of this grammar book, though, is never dull. A high school English teacher of mine once said it was the book most often stolen from the school's store room.

2. Up the volume of writing assigned. Students should be writing something -- be it an essay, a research paper, or a critique -- every week.

3. Outsource the grading. There are armies of under-employed writers and English graduate students in this country who would grade papers for cash if schools put the money there. When I wrote about improving writing in USA Today a year ago, I made a joke about outsourcing grading to India, but the more I think about it, it's possible. Families are already hiring Indian tutors to work with students over web connections. College educated Indian professionals who are fluent in English could certainly grade papers. This would free up English teachers for higher value work, such as explaining to students that papers need a thesis (really. I didn't know this until my sophomore year of college!)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Gifted kids and standardized tests

On October 19, the Department of Education released "The Nation's Report Card" -- results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This periodic exercise always gets a lot of attention as we look at how the nation's 4th and 8th graders are doing on reading and math.

There are two long term trends:

1. Since 1992, reading proficiency has been absolutely flat.
2. Since 1992, mathematics proficiency has risen, by 25 points on a 500 point scale for 4th graders, and by 16 points on a 500 point scale for 8th graders.

While the latter sounds impressive, looking at some of the sample questions that only 50-60% of students get right at the NAEP website (http://nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2005/)
is kind of depressing. The questions are dull, frankly, and so is the reading material. Which is what brings me to the matter of gifted kids and standardized tests.

Yes, I understand that NAEP results are useful and necessary to crafting educational policies. Results are less robust if they doesn't include all students -- including those working several years above grade level. And in theory, participation in NAEP is voluntary for students. You can call in sick. Or sit in a corner.

BUT... I remember taking many a bland standardized test as a student. If you don't have to stretch your brain to take a grade-level test (and few gifted kids do), it's an exercise in profound boredom. It's even worse if, as many a test requires, you can't read quietly at your seat if you finish before the allotted time. The allotted time being eons longer than a gifted kid needs to answer "Which number could go at this point on this line?" in a line with an arrow pointed at the third of three slot marks between 5.4 and 6.2, you get a lot of time to think. I started making doodles, cryptic comments, even writing poems in the margins of the scratch paper you're allowed. I later learned this is what prison inmates do during lockdown when their things are seized from them.

Anyway, reading the results, I can't help but feel for gifted kids drafted into producing this NAEP data. Thanks to their sacrifice of hours of time, we now know that reading scores have been ... absolutely flat for 13 years.

Has anyone tried to get their kids out of standardized testing?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Pros and Cons of Mandates

Speaking of what Illinois pays for... (see last post), one thing not on the list is state aid for gifted education. Three years ago, Illinois cut the funds it gave to districts to provide gifted education programs. While districts can still use their own general funds for this (and many do), others have chosen not to. See this article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The most interesting issue raised, though, is highlighted in this quote:

"In education, there are so many things that are mandated, that have to be funded by law," said Mike Gray, superintendent of the East Alton Elementary district. "The last things you look at are the things that aren't mandated."

In general, I don't like big, broad and (even worse) underfunded mandates. In education, decisions are best made as close to the level of their implementation as possible. It's just more efficient for teachers and principals -- or maybe local school boards -- to choose what happens in a classroom than for the governor or president or congress to choose.

But... other education interests don't play by the same rules. Special education has been a mandate for decades. Schools have to fund it, often at amazingly high costs, even if local officials feel school dollars would be better distributed otherwise. Likewise, No Child Left Behind is a mandate. There's some flexibility -- states choose their tests -- but make no mistake. You have to follow that law.

So gifted education, which is not a mandate, doesn't happen in school districts that are strapped. It didn't necessarily happen well before the funding was cut -- the article talks about "pull-out" programs and such that are fun but seldom the kind of actual advanced academic work gifted kids need -- but it least it happened. Gifted education also doesn't happen in districts that are ideologically opposed to it.

Would the gifted education community be better served by trying to make gifted education a mandate? As parents of special education kids will tell you, the fact that it's a mandate doesn't mean programs are done well or meet children's needs. They can be very bureaucratic. A national gifted mandate could result in a lot of bad pull-out programs. It's also unclear that parents of gifted students would ever be able to convince legislators that gifted education deserves such treatment (and cash). As the article points out, people believe gifted kids can fend for themselves. I'm curious what people think about the mandate question.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

What should teachers earn?

Chris Wittle, the CEO of Edison Schools, has a new book out called "Crash Course: Imagining a Better Future for Public Education." One of the most quoted sections in the book deals with teacher pay. Wittle calls for a performance-based pay system for teachers that would give the best teachers up to $130,000 a year; and would double the average teacher salary to $90,000.

Few people go into teaching to get rich, but what's interesting to me is that the $130,000 figure is presented as a reach. There are teachers making that much -- and more. I came across this list of the top teacher salaries in Illinois, topped by one Ronald Kniaz who is earning over $170,000 for 10 months work a year (and in districts like New Trier, Illinois, the average salary is already over $80,000):

http://www.thechampion.org/teacher/cgi-bin/teacher.pl?ssd=topteach&year=2004

Of course, if you click on these teachers' names for the profiles, you'll see that most have over 30 years experience. The difference between Wittle's approach, and the one some Illinois districts already have in place, is the merit vs. seniority system.

On its face, pay for seniority seems fair -- and generally, teachers get better the longer they teach. But not necessarily. I recall one awful teacher I had for social studies in 8th grade. He put lists of questions and answers on the board; we were to copy them, and then we were tested on them. The big learning process was that the first quarter we got 100% of the answers to the questions, the second quarter 75%, third quarter 50%... This man had been teaching for 30 years. Every year he earned more, and he was there for good, sitting at his desk doing nothing except policing the classroom as we copied whatever was on the board. That same year I had a charismatic English teacher who spent hours on nights and weekends reading and marking up the short stories he assigned us. He left teaching after a few years in part because he couldn't make any money in it. Frankly, if the school had fired the social studies teacher, doubled the English teacher's salary, and then let us watch film strips during the social studies hour, we would have learned more.

But judging merit, as teachers will tell you, isn't easy. It can be subjective. It takes a lot of time. That doesn't stop many companies from judging merit when determining bonuses, but it is true. How could school districts design a merit-based pay system that would be fair? Judging from my experience in 8th grade, the seniority system isn't fair -- to the kids.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Grades and Behavior

What happens when students don't receive grades? Grades are a near universal feature of education, but plenty of more progressive educators don't like them (Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards" comes to mind). Grades create negative competition, they say, are always a bit arbitrary, and make learning about external rewards, not inherent value.

They have a point that grades affect behavior. But some data out of a few business schools shows that the behavioral costs of not having grades are pretty big too.

According to Sept. 12's Business Week, student grades at the University of Chicago's biz school, Wharton (UPenn), Stanford and Harvard are not dislosed to recruiters. Students can't make them available voluntarily, either. Since people generally go to business school in order to get better managerial jobs coming out, this in essence means that grades have no impact on student lives.

Nondisclosure policies were adopted to encourage teamwork and allow students to take harder classes without fear of the results.

But what is the result? Vice-Dean Anjani Jain of Wharton writes in a recent Wharton Journal article that the time students spend on academics has fallen 22% in the four years since the non-disclosure policy was adopted at his school. Professors have had to resort to near-primary school tactics to keep students engaged (Harvard Business School takes attendance).

It turns out that yes, grades are external rewards, but most people work for external rewards. Particularly motivated students may not need grades -- gifted students' independent studies come to mind -- but in general grades create a culture of accountability. And most students need that.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Finding brilliant children in tough circumstances

SAIGON-- I'm writing this from a hotel in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, where my husband Michael and I are on vacation. We just spent four days cycling around the Mekong delta with a Vietnamese guide named Hoc.

Hoc is from a small town in the central highlands of Vietnam. In his village, 30 young people graduated from high school with him, but he was the only one to go to university. Ten years ago, he said, if a young person from a small village went to college "he was a famous man." Now, higher education is increasing in Vietnam, but still, only 2 of 100 children have this opportunity.

Nearly 100% of children attend primary school here, though, so that is a start. We rode through several villages as school was letting out for lunch or in the afternoon -- you're immediately surrounded by dozens of children on bicycles shrieking down the road to their wood and sheet metal huts balanced on stilts over the Mekong river's canals or over the rice paddies. Poverty here is grinding -- average income is $200 a year. Though Vietnam's cities are growing and developing rapidly, malnourishment remains a problem in the provinces. According to the government, over a quarter of children are malnourished (and as a Communist government with little incentive to document problems on this front, you can bet the real number is higher).

So, here's the question I've been pondering. There are 20 million children under 18 years old in Vietnam. Let's think about the top 1%, or 200,000 children. Some of those children are in Saigon and Hanoi, where they can tap into international standards of education, internet access, books, museums and all that. But most of those children live in ramshackle huts, with parents who labor all day in the rice paddies or farm catfish on houseboats that get flooded out in severe rainy seasons. How can the government here, or international groups, or the multinational companies that do business in Vietnam, find the brightest children in these circumstances, and ensure that their talents are nurtured?

It's a question that matters for America too-- we have trouble finding and nurturing talent in inner city schools, or in impoverished rural areas too. What's the best approach to finding and polishing diamonds in the rough?

Friday, October 07, 2005

A Homeschooling Experiment

Families displaced by Hurricane Katrina are turning to that old-fashioned, albeit non-traditional, method of learning: homeschooling. See this AP article from Belle Chasse, LA.

From the article:

>>Nationally, about 1.1 million students are home-schooled, according to the U.S. Department of Education, a movement that's been growing steadily for decades. Usually, though, it's not a decision made under duress, since home-schooling demands patience and commitment from both parents and students.<<

This could be an interesting data point in homeschooling research (many parents of gifted children choose to homeschool at some point in their children's school careers).

All the studies of homeschooling contain a selection bias. The kinds of parents who choose to homeschool are often better educated and more committed to learning than those who don't. I have only come across one study that removed some of that bias. That study looked at rural Alaskan families who homeschooled out of necessity, not choice. The state would provide lessons by radio, and centrally located teachers would consult with parents on occasion. These students did as well as their conventionally schooled peers.

The Louisiana situation could provide a similar study, since parents are homeschooling "under duress" as the article says, not as a long-planned choice. We will see how these children fare when they return to their schools. My guess is they'll do pretty well.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How Kids Learn Science

I'm sure many of us, growing up, thought science was about memorizing facts and dealing with end-of-chapter questions (with the answers, conveniently, located in the back of the textbook).

I had the opportunity to interview Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Research Institute this week for another publication. As I was doing research for the interview, I came across this interview with him:

http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/col1int-1

(bear with me, I'm still learning HTML)

My favorite section describes how he came to learn science was about questions that didn't have ready answers:

>>It was the 10th grade in high school, it was the first day of the chemistry course. Mr. House, this wonderful man who'd dedicated his life to getting high school students excited about science, came in and said, "We're going to do an experiment today. I'm going to give you this box, which is painted black, and it has an object inside it and I want you figure out all the ways that you might investigate this to figure out what the object is." And my initial reaction was, "What a dumb idea!" And then I started to try to come up with a list of the kinds of experiments one could do to determine what's inside this black box. And I got caught up in it. It was the first time I think that somebody had challenged me to come up with the ideas. I had some exposure to science in previous courses, but it was, "Here's the facts, learn them." This was, "Okay, I'm challenging you. Here's a problem, how would you solve it?" And I knew something was different here.<<

Has anyone else had such an "A-ha!" moment, or seen one in your children? - Laura

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The War Against Grade-Skipping

I came across two interesting news items in the past week about children who sail over the age-grade lockstep (i.e., who "accelerate" or skip grades).

First, 5-year-old Alison Bomkamp and the Kenton County School District in Kentucky are battling over a $3,000 bill the district sent her parents. Young Alison was doing fine reading and writing, so her parents put her in first grade, instead of her age-grade of kindergarten. One problem: Kentucky only pays for half-day kindergarten. Since Alison, as a 5-year-old, is now using a whole day's worth of schooling every day, when 5-year-olds are supposed to be using only a half-day, the district sent her parents a bill for $3,000. That amounts to half the cost of educating a student for a year in the district.

I'm serious. You can read about it here:

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050924/NEWS0102/509240415/1058/NEWS01

Leave aside the fact that this makes no sense (Alison is saving the school district money, in fact -- she'll only use 12 years of schooling, or grades 1-12, instead of 13, or K-12). It's part of a broader distrust of grade-skipping. Around the country, parents and teachers are being told that grade-skipping is undesirable. For instance, the second news item, from the Northwest Arkansas Times.

The school board in Elkins, Arkansas just approved an official acceleration policy. Read about it here:

http://nwanews.com/story.php?paper=nwat§ion=News&storyid=32508

I'm happy they approved a policy. But read the quotes in the article from Superintendent Allen:

>>While the district now has a policy in place to evaluate such requests, Allen said acceleration should probably be done only on rare occasions. It should not be a regular occurrence.

There are many advanced students who would be better served staying in the same grade, Allen said. Based on Elkins’ enrollment, Allen has estimated the district probably shouldn’t accelerate more than one or two students a year.

If it becomes much more common, they should revisit the policy, he said. "I think it would be worse to promote a child and then later put him back down," he said.

Years ago while working as a math teacher, Allen recalled, the school he worked for instituted an Algebra program for young math students. Several children who were placed in the program struggled because they weren’t ready for math at that level, and moving them up early turned out to not be in their best interests.<<

Ah, it's that "one child" or "several children" from "years ago." Sometime I would like to meet this one child who had such a horrible experience with grade acceleration that she's kept countless others from moving ahead at their own level. It must have been so horrible on this one child, that the Kenton County school district in Kentucky is charging the Bomkamps $3,000 lest they be tempted to put their daughter through such a horrible ordeal!

Nonsense. I am married to a man who is 10 years older than me. I work with people my age, people younger than me, people 25 years older than I am. I am happy to count among my friends people who are 20 and people who could be my parents. School is the only time in life you spend the majority of your time with people who have birthdates within 6 months of your own. So why are so many school districts, like these in Kentucky and Arkansas, so enamored with keeping students in their place?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Davidson Fellows Award Ceremony and the Career Education of Gifted Children


Last night I had the privilege of attending a reception at the Library of Congress honoring the 2005 Davidson Fellows. These gifted young people received $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000 scholarships for their original works, courtesy of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (I co-wrote Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds with Jan and Bob Davidson, DITD’s founders).

The winners were a varied bunch. The Davidson Fellow Laureates (who received $50,000 scholarships) included Karsten Gimre, an 11-year-old who won for a musical composition, “Conversation Without Words,” and Tiffany Ko, a 16-year-old who did a technology project: “Designing a Capacitance-Based Security System Employing the MC33794 E-Field Sensor Chip.” A young man named Marc Yu (age 6) stole the show with his discussion about his “Performance Selections for Piano,” which won a $10,000 scholarship, and his thoughts on how societies should support their brightest young people.

I was mulling over the same topic last night, and it’s one I’d like to discuss with parents of gifted children. How we can help gifted children go from all this potential, and from these frighteningly precocious projects like I heard about last night, to solid, productive careers in their chosen professions? Even when you do great scientific research (such as Milana Zaurova’s “Gene Therapy Meets Chemotherapy: Exposure of Malignant Glioma Cells to Transgenic Embryonic Stem Cells and Temozolomide”) the path to becoming, say, a tenured science professor with the right equipment and grants at the best university for you isn’t straightforward. Few composers earn a living at their craft. How can we guide them into choosing work that supports their craft, or at least leaves them time to pursue it? As a writer, I can testify that I have seen many grown-up gifted children who were amazing writers struggle with the publishing industry and learning how to establish themselves in positions where they can write what the muses are telling them to write.

What should parents and schools (including colleges) do to help gifted children’s career development? Or is there much they can do? - Laura

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Magic of Boarding Schools

I have a column in Monday's USA Today about boarding education for gifted students. It is available online at:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-09-25-vanderkam-edit_x.htm

Welcome to those who saw the URL for this blog in the column!

The gist of the piece is that despite America's love of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, his boarding school, we're not sending our own children to boarding school. There's a wizard's brew of factors at play, including high tuition, and a general lack of awareness. But also, today, more parents who might see boarding education as an option are interested in keeping their kids home and becoming closer to them during their late teen years.

I say this is too bad, because boarding education, done right, can concentrate the brightest kids from a broad geographic area, and create an environment that values learning. This is what I experienced at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities. To do boarding education right, schools need to provide more scholarships, states need to build more public residential schools for the gifted, and policy makers can recognize that when gifted kids' needs can't be locally met, they may still be entitled to a free and appropriate education elsewhere (governments pay tuition for 17,111 disabled students at private residential schools or facilities around the country when their needs can't be met locally).

But obviously others disagree -- maybe parents can provide the best environment for gifted students. Maybe 15 or 16 is too young to live away from home, even if the educational environment is better. I'm curious to hear what people think- Laura

Sunday, September 25, 2005

What happens to gifted children when they grow up?

Well, some become gifted researchers at America's best institutions. For the past few years, Popular Science has been choosing a "Brilliant 10" list of scientists whose work will change our perception of the world in the near future. Read about them here:

http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/09a7dd9a0cc36010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html

(from the September issue)

Among the more fun ones: Maryam Mirzakhani, a 28-year-old mathematician at Princeton, is working on calculating the volumes of moduli spaces of curves. Nathan Wolfe, 35, of Johns Hopkins, does field work in Cameroon to study how viruses emerge.

While there's plenty to fret about concerning the declining number of engineering and science PhDs being awarded to Americans, it is good to see US-based researchers still producing plenty of quality work. - Laura

Friday, September 23, 2005

Welcome to Gifted Exchange! We are still tweaking the site, so please check back often.

Today’s post: Remember middle school? For many gifted kids, it’s a time for talent searches, MathCounts and other great things, but a new study from Cheri Pierson Yecke, “Mayhem in the Middle” says American schools are not taking these critical years as seriously as we could. In the past few decades, she writes, a new philosophy has seized education thought leaders, one called “middle schoolism.” This philosophy holds that the early teen years are best devoted to socialization, learning to get along with other people, and learning one’s place in the world – not academics.

Anyone who’s lived through middle school knows that the young teen brain is developing on all those social fronts. But Yecke points out that it’s still developing on the academic front, too, and this country pays a terrible price for not demanding rigorous work from middle school students. While American 4th graders do as well as the rest of the world on TIMSS scores, American 8th graders lag behind. Are middle schools to blame? Maybe we need a bit less mayhem, and a bit more mindfulness.

-Laura