Sunday, July 26, 2009

Gifted education and budget cuts

Education makes up a large share of any state budget, and with states facing falling tax revenue, it's inevitable that education budgets will take a hit. In Illinois, for instance, state education officials had to recently figure out a way to cut $146 million from funding levels from the year before. I'm sure no one will be surprised to hear that, according to this article from the Chicago Sun-Times, gifted education was simply zeroed out. In tough times, gifted education is treated as an optional perk. And unfortunately, many gifted programs leave themselves open to this criticism by focusing more on fun field trips to science museums or short pull-out enrichment programs than accelerated academic work.

It's really too bad that gifted education is going to wind up bearing a disproportionate amount of state budget cuts over the next few years. But here's what I hope will happen. Advocates for gifted kids -- mostly parents -- will use the absence of funds to truly press the case for acceleration, a.k.a. "skipping grades."

Acceleration costs nothing beyond the usual per-pupil funds. In the long run, it saves states and districts money, since it costs less to pay for 10 or 11 years of compulsory schooling vs. 13.

The evidence in favor of acceleration is very strong, and yet there is incredible academic resistance to it. I have yet to figure out why this is -- I'm curious what reasons parents who read this blog have heard. Anyone who's observed children between the ages of, oh, 8 and 16, knows they develop at different rates anyway. The whole notion of grades, per se, is relatively modern. In the 1-room schoolhouses of yore, it was not a distinction with much weight.

I don't want to let parents entirely off the hook here, either. If parents of gifted kids were completely unified in pushing for more widespread use of acceleration, I think school districts would find it harder to say no. But, just like teachers, some parents worry about social issues, sports, and perhaps some worry about just how hard a gifted 8-year-old might have to work to stay on top of the 6th grade curriculum, vs. always getting A's... and getting to go on science museum field trips with the gifted program.

But if the latter is no longer an option, maybe there will be a bit more of a unified front with acceleration. It is worth lobbying for as a broader solution than it is, currently. That would certainly be a silver lining in all this.


Anonymous said...

I have never understood why some school districts consider learning about dinosaurs or field trips as gifted education. A pull out program is disruptive to a regular classroom and it is like a child is only gifted 3 hours a week. All kids should have access to fun enriching programs, not just gifted.

Our school district has one classroom designated as gifted and the curriculum is accelerated to 1-2 years ahead. It costs no additional funds for the district and serves most of the gifted students. Some profoundly gifted will skip a grade level and the school is open to it. Once kids reach middle school, there are more options for acceleration. I am fortunate to have found the school we are in and I have experienced the pull out vs. true gifted education.

Kevin said...

We have a very gifted son, but have not tried to get whole-grade acceleration. This is not from any opposition to acceleration (I was 2 years younger than my classmates through most of school), but because we have so far managed to find other options that work.

For K-3 we had him take some of his instruction in a non-native language. For 4-6 we had him in a private school for the gifted, where he got subject acceleration in math and adequate challenge in other subjects. For 7 (again at a private school), we had a great history teacher and OK math and Spanish, and are getting some extra acceleration next year in science.

I'm sure he would do ok with whole-grade acceleration, but there are some advantages also to not accelerating---like more chances to do science fair and more time for non-core activities, like theater.

In many subjects, it is possible to get sufficient challenge by doing projects fully, rather than in the half-assed way that teachers expect.

The Princess Mom said...

Kevin wrote: "In many subjects, it is possible to get sufficient challenge by doing projects fully, rather than in the half-assed way that teachers expect."

True, but I have yet to see a 7th grade boy who is willing to put in more effort than the teachers expect!

One of the problems with a grade skip is that the teaching in the higher grade is not necessarily any faster or more gifted-friendly than it was in the age-appropriate grade. Yes, the child will take a couple months to acclimate to the new curriculum and fill in any "holes" he or she may have missed in the skip, but then you're back to the old "gifted kids need 1/5 the repetitions to master a concept as most of the kids in the class" conundrum.

My son skipped middle school (7th and 8th grade) entirely and will be academically ready for college level classes next year, at 15, but not emotionally ready to leave home. Acceleration may be better for gifted kids than the "Disneyland Daddy"-type of pull-out program but it's not a panacea, either.

Mom of LPSP said...

I think Princess Mom makes a good point. I could've easily graduated early and headed off to college but I chose to stay back because there's a lot of extracurriculars that I would've missed out on and friends that I would've had to leave early.

I do agree that the pull out programs are pretty much useless (and why can't normal developing kids check out the dinosaurs too?). But I think schools would get much more out of their students if they were entirely ability grouped. Granted, that probably is very unrealistic at this point but I don't see how it would change costs at all (rather, it would be more of a mentality switch).

Kevin said...

"True, but I have yet to see a 7th grade boy who is willing to put in more effort than the teachers expect!"

Parental expectations are as important as teacher expectations. We've also had teachers who assigned big projects not expecting any but the top students to do the whole thing. Our son also loves getting more than 100% on a test or project.

That said, it is sometimes difficult to get him to do all his homework, particularly on the subjects that he doesn't care much for or when the teacher assigns busywork. Luckily, we've not had too much in the way of busywork assignments.

Anonymous said...

Kevin mentioned the problem with getting a gifted child to do busywork. Like you, we have not had too much busywork assigned, but sometimes what is good practice for most kids is busywork for ours.

My eventual decision was to allow my son to do only a portion of those assignments, say, three or four problems so the teacher would know he could do it and wasn't just blowing it off completely, while reminding him that he might well get a low grade for not doing all the assigned work. I let him decide whether he's willing to pay that price.

Please note: this procedure only applies for assignments that I agree are busywork, and when most of his work is thoroughly done.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why schools can't do one classroom of the top gifted and academically advanced students? If a school district is large enough to have 10 classrooms of each grade, the top 10% could be in a class together. This way they can accelerate, which is no additional cost and also explore subjects in more depth. Also many schools do block scheduling, which allows students in lower grades to join a higher grade math or language arts. These strategies will be enough for most gifted kids to keep the engaged in the learning process until middle school or high school where there are further acceleration option.

Carmen said...

I've been facing a fierce opposition to full grade acceleration here in the middle of Kansas. They didn't have a choice in math but going all the way is taking a lot of fighting.

The reasons given are all related to problems that might arise in the teen years. My son is 7. He's supposed to be miserable the next 5 years so he maybe won't be miserable as a teenager.

I have talked to many adults who had skipped years in school and had found none who was unhappy about it. Can anyone suggest research that explores this?

Davidson Institute Staff said...

Dear Carmen,

Thank you for posting about acceleration.

Research and experience has shown us that full grade acceleration in the early years of education is a better option because of the amount of materials covered in the school year. A skip between 2nd and 3rd grade is going to have much less material skipped, in other words less of a “gap” than a skip in high school, simply because there is more material covered in a given school year as the child increases grades. The earlier you can find a challenge for a student he will be able to become part of a peer group as he moves through middle school and into high school.

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS) 3rd edition is a great tool for this age of student. The IAS is a set of forms that parents, educators and administrators sit down and fill out. Once you have completed answering the questions, everyone compares scores to the scoring manual. This will give both parents and the school a good and accurate idea of whether the student is a good candidate for acceleration. Cognitive achievement or IQ testing scores are recommended to have before taking the IAS as these are factored into the end result. The IAS takes both social and academic goodness of fit into consideration.

Also, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students is a great resource to read, and share with your son’s school. This comprehensive report compiles research and debunks many of the myths about acceleration.

Here are additional acceleration resources from our public Davidson Gifted Database.

Finally, the acceleration resources on this Educator’s Guild page may offer the teachers and administration some useful information.

If you have any additional questions or if we can be of further assistance, please email


Davidson Institute Staff

Anonymous said...

Our experience (British Columbia, Canada) has been that school administrators stress that "school is more than just academics" for denying grade acceleration requests. We've been told that our daughter needs same-age peers for social reasons--even though she already gravitates to kids who are two or three years older, reads seven years above her grade level, and there are no gifted options beyond a one hour a week pullout. The principal says she can help tutor kids who are struggling in reading.

Inclusive education is also an issue: the argument that children with disabilities should have access to their neighbourhood schools has somehow been misconstrued as "all children of the appropriate age should be together all the time"--so children who are not academically ready to pass are still placed in the next grade, and children who could be doing work two or more grades above their assigned class are left to stagnate.

Anonymous said...

I skipped second grade and was unhappy with my parents for not allowing me to skip a second. But after my children attended high quality and very selective gifted magnet programs starting at age 8, I now view whole grade acceleration as a second best to highly selective magnets.

Academic instruction is far more rigorous in classes with kids about the same age who are all gifted, than in classes with older kids with mixed abilities. Co-curricular and extra-curricular options also are better at schools with a large critical mass of highly and exceptionally gifted students.

This is especially beneficial for students who appear to be the best candidates for skipping multiple grades. It's no coincidence that the US math and science olympiad teams have so many students from selective public magnets and private schools.

John said...

We are lucky enough to live in an area where gifted education may not be totally eliminated. The initial talk is to cut transportation to gifted centers.

When my son entered the gifted program he was the youngest student and the largest/tallest student. To advance him a grade would have put him in an untenable situation regarding emotional development.

Shannon said...

Thankfully a few years ago our school district instituted a zero hour pre-algrebra class.

Before he starts his 6th grade elementary school day, he will go to the local middle school and take pre-algrebra with other advanced math students.

Ironically, even though he was the only kid in the school to score perfect on the end of year math tests last year, he isn't in the pullout gifted program.

I decided not to enroll him since all they did was enrichment, and he just ended up missing classroom seat time to do posters or field trips.

Rachael said...

I'm sorry that I am commenting on this so late, but i just recently found this blog thanks to a project I am doing for my honors class in college.

I have been part of my district's gifted program for 8 years and I believe that skipping grades is much different than gifted education. Gifted children understand things quicker and we have a different outlook on our own education. We also understand topics much differently than regular students. Skipping a grade just causes us to miss information from that grade. Our classroom attitude is much different than the demeanor that other students have. The teachers are not just going to give us extra work, either. We need work with different understanding and in depth projects. We also need teacher that can work with us to try to expand our knowledge and our way of thinking. They help us with further question we might have and they assign projects that don't just require more work, but a different kind of work.