Friday, February 01, 2008

Gifted Education in High School

In Florida, over the past few years, lawmakers have been weighing whether to appropriate funds for gifted education in high schools. You can read a story from the Orlando Sentinel about the issue here. This is an issue that affects all of the states, and both sides have some good points. As some folks have pointed out, gifted students do have a lot of options at the high school level that are not necessarily labeled "gifted education" as such. Advanced Placement classes, other accelerated classes and dual enrollment are often options for pupils looking for challenging work.

Indeed, high schools come closer than elementary and middle schools to what a "good" education for a gifted kid should look like already. Since students usually change classes every hour, moving to a higher-level class isn't quite so logistically difficult as it is for elementary students. In math and English, at least, there are often different levels (or -- scandalous! -- "tracks") which makes readiness/ability grouping par for the course. And there are no silly pull-out programs that have the kids doing enrichment activities about Robin Hood, insects, the culture of Japan, etc., but not advanced math, science or English. Since AP classes, accelerated classes and dual enrollment aren't labeled "gifted education" as such, they don't have the same political sensitivity. When things come out of more general funds, they tend to be safer. As parents across the country have discovered, when something needs to be cut, a line in the budget called "gifted education" is often the first on the block.

That said, my guess is that Florida's high schools don't universally offer the whole suite of AP classes, or prepare kids to take them in grades 9-11, rather than solely in grade 12. Dual enrollment at local community colleges is a great option for gifted students who have particular interests or who have exhausted their local high schools' offerings. But my guess is that few schools make such arrangements as a matter of course.

If Florida -- and other states! -- want to nurture their gifted teenagers, one good option is to create residential high schools for gifted students. Such schools can offer the full suite of AP courses, which can be broadcast to students elsewhere who can't or aren't willing to enroll in a residential school. The legislature could also appropriate gifted funds for creating a dual-enrollment office or coordinator in the various districts. In general I don't like creating more bureaucracy, but since this person or office will have to do something with their time, they may make it more likely for schools to actually make dual enrollment work.

I'm curious if parents reading this blog live in districts that have made good arrangements for gifted high schoolers, and what you think about gifted education at the high school level.


Anonymous said...

I actually just posted on the question of why in my jurisdiction, Maryland, there are no state academies for gifted students...or at the local level public schools dedicated to gifted students. There are just programs within schools.

You can read the post here at:

I agree that at high school there are many more options available for the highly gifted student. The problem is at elementary and middle school where scheduling and transportation issues are frequently cited as the reasons why student can't be accelerated/accommodated.

Anonymous said...

Our school district has a gifted education class in high school. The program is an optional 2 day or 3 day/wk one period class which counts for 1 credit/semester. The class is an indepentent study where students can work on any passion project they want. This is a good option for students in the 9th and 10th grade who don't have access to advanced level class such as AP or "early start" until 11th grade. The students who participate in this program seem to enjoy the class, but many more students could take this option don't use it.

I would like to see the students have the option of taking more advanced level classes in the lower grades. Gifted education should be all day, instead of one hour 2 or 3 days per week.

Anonymous said...

Another reason schools are often loathe to give up their gifted students and have them concentrated together in a few schools is "school accountability" and standardized test scores. In an age when people are paying attention to which schools make AYP--or not--if the perception is that a high concentration of gifted kids automatically gives a school "great" scores, then schools will not want to give them up. There is sometimes pressure even within a school to "distribute" the top students (usually but not always the gifted ones) amongst teachers, which works against other "best practices" such as cluster grouping of gifted students. (Besides, then each class has built-in teaching assistants, right? Gifted kids often find themselves in this role, whether they want it or not.)

Anonymous said...

There were several magnet schools catering to various interests and skills and a few for the academically gifted in my county in florida.No the full array of AP classes were not universal but were reasonably common.Unless things have changed drastically since I left, gifted funding in Florida follows the child instead of the program. I've often wondered how much of that money is actually used for the child it was intended to help.I grew up as a gifted student in Florida, graduating just half a dozen years ago. I think they did an excellent job. I was in the same program, a public magnet school, from 6th through 12th grade. They started in kindergarten and allowed kids to take classes at the next school up as necessary.In order to be accelerated to the next level, all you had to do was get an 80% on the final exam for the previous class.The local colleges taught courses on our campus if enough students signed up. We could have any class we wanted if at least 10 people signed up and someone agreed to teach/facilitate. All gifted children had IEPs. Dual enrollment was an option for any student with a 4.0. Some of the middle school students were in AP classes and no one blinked an eye.The gifted labeled classes petered out as we got older but there were still a few through the 11th grade curriculum.We had a gifted study hall for passion projects and an externship to get credit for Interning at various workplaces. Most importantly I felt supported and challenged.

mdeckstein said...

I love the idea of gifted studyhalls for students to receive mentoring on independent passion projects. (particularly if students can receive credit for their work in this activity.)

Our high school has both a AP and IB program and a ton of classes but the 9 & 10th graders are not offered access to these classes. Students have to take the pre-IB honors classes first which are not nearly as intellectually stimulating as they could be. GT students frequently need more than honors classes or even AP and IB offers. They need access to these classes earlier and they need more opportunities to think critically and creatively in these classes.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see EVERY state offer college tuition for dual enrolled high school students. Some states have these programs and some offer none at all.

Our local high school offers an intensive math/science program but it is all AP centered and is too often more about quantity than quality. The homework load is excessive. The environment is high pressure. It isn't what I'd want for my child.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to read about this threat of removing gifted funding in Florida, because I am a product of such a great gifted program there. I entered the school in 4th grade. I vividly remember finishing work early and being asked to help the slower kids, the resentment from kids and sometimes teachers, pressure to help others to cheat, pressure to slow down until everyone else caught up, etc., at the old elementary school. Overnight, at my new school, the emphasis changed to what each of us as individuals could achieve, creativity, increased responsiblity and trust. And in 10th grade, when I decided to go back for the regular high school experience, complete with honors classes, I found exactly the same situation I had left behind in elementary school. I finished high school at my gifted school, surrounded by peers and teachers who understood and encouraged me.

What worked there: a test which admitted only the top 2% of students; differentiation even among those at the school to allow for different strengths, interests and abilities; teachers thrilled to teach such an enthusiastic and receptive student body; and a small and welcoming environment of kids who had faced similar challenges. We had the option of pursuing interests such as sports or band at the regular high school, but our core education was among our peer group. Kids who have never been challenged and are at the top of the class without ever lifting a finger are never going to achieve the same heights.

For me the single most important consideration in a school for my children is will there be other kids on their intellectual level?Faced with my two elementary-school-aged highly gifted kids and the makeshift and constantly threatened gifted education they are receiving in NC I am sorely tempted to pack up and move back to Florida.

Anonymous said...

The problem with state of FL is that each district is left to their own idea of what a gifted ed program should be. There are state mandates for identification but after that, the particulars and specifics are skewed - yes, some districts accomodate gifted students very well, and go above and beyond the general practice of ability grouping and actually encourage acceleration of subjects or grade level.
Unfortunately, the majority of districts still leave these kids with a bare minimum of services. Many districts have zero leadership and throw responsibility on the schools to come up with a program. Then many of these administrations throw the key words around like - differentiation, critical, divergent, creative & higher level thinking skills, enrichment - and call it a 'program'. Resource programs are the most popular option of gifted services for K-8 throughout the state - kids are pulled out of a reg ed class for 2 hours or a full day, grouped with kids in a variety of grades and no core curriculum subjects are taught - it is a enrichment environment.
All while many teachers get a one day, once a year meeting on how to recognize a gifted student or differentiate for that student in their class. Including guidance counselors who are clueless as to the needs and challenges these kids face, continuing to address social issues with a book of the month geared towards 7-8 yr olds in a regular classroom.
Until we conquer the prevailing attitude towards gifted kids and gifted ed in this state and in districts - that enough is being done for them - we will continue to fight an uphill battle. It's clearly not about engaging these kids and feeding their desire to learn - it's about running them through the system step by step, getting the funding afforded them and the scores they will provide on FCAT yearly. Score a point to the state and many districts for this strategy.

Anonymous said...

The FCAT encouraged my school to get rid of its gifted program because the gifted children were not showing improvement on the fcat since they were already maxing the test out.

Mark Halpert said...

I went to a high school with all gifted kids in New York and it was a terrific learning experience

We need to forget the FCAT for these kids and focus on cultivating their interests

On May 30th, 2008 we are bringing Dr. Linda Silverman to speak on Making The Difference for Your Gifted Children -- for more information contact 3D Learner Foundation at 561-361-7495 or visit our website at

Kahdeadrah L. Stone said...

They say that the Upland school district is one of the best in California. I am in junior high. Ever since I was in third grade, they basically stamped a big GIFTED sign on my forehead. I know I'm smarter than the rest of my classmates. If I ask my best friends a mathematic equation, with all of my help, they could never work it out on the same paper that I solved and explained the question mere minutes ago. I just don't think this district is going to insure my success in life. I am growing distracted by friends and my family's drama, so I've decided to enroll into a boarding school. In my community, without a car there is no place to earn volunteering credit for a scholarship. The SSAT will be very easy to complete, but I would have to find a location for that. My family, while having 3 college graduates ( such as my mother from Berkley ) can't afford anything more than 2,000 dollars a year. My mother only makes 45,000, and she's got me, my brother, and is basically supporting my father who is in Pennsylvania. That would be a full scholarship with room and board. It's very costly. Oh, and my e-mail's

Anonymous said...

In my county, there is one full-time public gifted school with an IQ requirement that caters to grades 2 through 12. At the other county schools, there are gifted programs at the elementary and middle school level and 'honors' programs/academies at the high school level that separate the high achievers and the gifted students from the rest of the school population (they also offer dual-enrollment by paying community college professors to come and teach on the school campus one or two periods a day). This system seems to work very well though there is considerable resentment towards the full-time gifted school. State funding is essential to the entire county because without this funding, the full-time gifted school would be forced to become private (making it impossible for some students to attend) and there would not be as many options for the honors/gifted programs at other schools.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a gifted class in high school, but it is a total waste of time. We don't do anything as a class. We are supposed to pick a "gifted" project to do as an indivdual, and then work on it for the rest of the year. I always pick a project and then wait to do it

Anonymous said...

I have a 7 year old gifted child that loves science, reading, and math, but I can't afford any of the summer camps or year round programs. I am so stuck and feel as a parent I am failing to provide the best educational environment for her. The second grade has been troubling for her in Orange County Public Schools. (I am not against public school.) I decided to pull her out of school and become a at home Learning Coach. She is doing so much better, but am simply overwhelmed with the task. Any suggestions?