Friday, January 30, 2009

Facets of Gifted Education: Hoagies' Gifted Education Pages

Today in our interview series we have Carolyn K., the host of Hoagies' Gifted Education Pages. Twelve years ago, this mom began compiling links to gifted education resources and articles. She called the page Hoagies because her husband's nickname had been Hoagies in high school and college, and so she became known as Mrs. Hoagies, and so the webpage became a Hoagie family effort. If you want to know why his nickname was Hoagies...you'll just have to go check out the webpage.

These days, if you're the parent of a newly identified gifted child and you go online to Google "gifted education," Hoagies is the first place you'll land. She joins us today.

GE: Who should check out Hoagies?

CK: Hoagies' Page is for everyone who knows a gifted child... Or is one! Hoagies' is divided into three parts: Parents; Teachers, Administrators, Counselors and other professionals; and Gifted Kids & Teens. The Parents and Teachers pages are full of articles and annotated links to other resources on just about every subject in gifted education: Identification, Parenting, Gifted Programs, Differentiation, Free Online High School Courses, Twice Exceptional Children, and hundreds more. Resources include research, professional resources and parent success stories, by authors including Miraca Gross, David Elkind, Kathi Kearney and dozens of others.

The Kids & Teens pages are lesser known... 20+ pages of child-safe links by topic, from Art to Space, Brain Teasers to Math, even a page of fun Multiplication links for practice. Plus the Hot Topics Reading List - a different kind of reading list, organized by topic then reading level, with topics including Early Readers, Math, Science, Biography, Classics, Cartoons, History, Puzzles, Social Stuff, Being Gifted, and more! There are also 15 pages of Toys and Games that gifted kids love, featuring many small toy companies who have developed great games that you won't find on the shelves of your local store; a page of Software titles that gifted kids love for more than just a day; Movies featuring gifted kids in a positive light;
Magazines; Contests; and even Nerd Shirts - those great T's featuring pithy sayings or likenesses of your favorite nerd.

Hoagies' Gifted Education Page is for everyone!

GE: You've been at this for 12 years (a lifetime on the web) - what have you learned while building and maintaining your portal? Anything you were surprised by? Is the web changing much about gifted kids and education?

CK: I have learned that there's still not a lot of information out in the
public on gifted kids. Most pre-service education programs don't teach about gifted children at all, and teachers come out of school with no knowledge of gifted, or worse, with misconceptions. Counselors, psychologists, and physicians, too! It's up to these professionals to learn about gifted kids after their formal education. The good news is, there are a *lot* more books and other resources than there were 12 years ago.

I've learned that parents of the gifted often feel alone and isolated. That's how I felt 12 years ago, and that's how many parents who write me feel today. The internet allows us to find information, but more important, to find each other. It's so relieving to learn that we are not alone!

The web has changed a lot, for those who use its resources, but I'm always surprised when I go to a conference and the majority of the attendees have never heard of Hoagies' Page, or worse, any of the resources that Hoagies' Page points to on the 'net.

Technically, I've learned the importance of keeping content fresh, keeping old links correct, and keeping the site looking new but quick and easy to load for folks still on slow connections in rural areas.

So far Hoagies' Page has been able to avoid accepting any paid advertising but I'm not sure that can continue; it must start to pay for itself. Our only income is through our affiliates programs... Visitor purchases made through our links to Amazon, Discovery Toys, Barnes & Noble and dozens of other affiliates (click here) on (the site) don't cost visitors anything, but support Hoagies' Page with a few pennies on each purchase.

GE: Any stories from readers that moved you? Has Hoagies made a difference?

CK: I get stories every week from parents, teachers, gifted adults and even teens who've benefited from Hoagies' Page. Compliments are always welcome.

"Your web site is totally impressive and you've gotten to be an expert yourself along the way, in MANY areas related to gifted." -- Peggy

"I want to thank you for Hoagies. If not for your website,
I wouldn't have found the GDC, my daughter wouldn't have been tested, I wouldn't know about Nation Deceived, I wouldn't know that there are other kids much like her, and she'd still be on the edge of a total breakdown, miserable at school." -- J.K.

"I first write to thank you for your tremendous website! This past year, I feel like I have passed through "Gifted 101" to "Doctoral Thesis in Gifted Ed!" Until last year, I had only "mythological" knowledge of the term "gifted." I came into a situation where I felt compelled to advocate strongly for my oldest daughter. I know I could never have done so successfully without all of the wonderful information you offer on your site." -- A Mom from Pennsylvania.

Here are a few of the most heart-warming stories:

"Without Hoagies, my entire family would certainly be MUCH worse off, and my local schools would still be badly damaging ALL the gifted students attending them. If the impact has been anywhere near as great in other places, the good resulting from Hoagies is IMMENSE!" -- Margaret

"I have you to thank for my not only being able to recognize and accept that I have a gifted child, but understand why I always felt like such an oddball my entire life - because I too am GT" -- Sarah

"I just wanted to send you a great big THANK YOU from Australia. About 5 years ago, in total frustration I sent in a couple of lines of text about my PG son literally being taught to twiddle his thumbs in 4th grade. Sensing my distress you wrote a lovely personal email to me validating my feelings about the lack of education my son was getting. Your website was a catalyst for us taking the leap into the last 4 years of homeschooling and it has been a joyous decision for our family. A few weeks ago my son started studying at a University in Sydney after completing the educational requirements and interviews for early entry. He is now a fulfilled happy young man and I am eternally grateful to you as you gave us the knowledge and courage to create the educational environment our son needed. Best Wishes."-- Trish

All these stories really encourage me to keep going. If I can help just one person each week, it's worth it. I think Hoagies' Page has made a difference.

GE: What's the biggest misperception about gifted kids (or their parents?)


CK: I'd say the largest misperception is that gifted kids already have "too much," and don't deserve anything different in their education. I think ALL kids need an appropriate education, and now that we're focusing on the lower-achieving kids (which is a good thing!) many schools are ignoring the high-achieving kids. And I think the solution is simple: let's educate ALL kids starting where they are and moving forward at their pace. Every child deserves to learn every day, every week, every year.

And the parents? There's a mis-conception that we're just pushy parents, that our kids are no different, it's just that we're pushing because we think our kids are "better" than everyone else. Gifted kids aren't better, they're just different. And sure, some parents are pushy, but most of us are just desperate to help our kids grow up happy and healthy. Learning is a big part of all kids' lives; gifted kids need to be happy and healthy in learning, too. That's what all parents want; parents of the gifted are no different.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Facets of Gifted Education: Richard Whitmire

In our continuing conversation with people involved in different aspects of education, we turn today to Richard Whitmire. Whitmire long served as the education editorial writer for USA Today, writing "voice of the paper" editorials. He recently finished a book manuscript about the challenges boys face in school.

GE: What's the most surprising change you've seen in education during your time covering it?

Whitmire: The acceptance of the fact that far more students -- including minority students from low performing high schools -- need at least some college is a huge change. Before, we could rely on the best and brightest from private and suburban schools to fuel our economy, but both the economy and the nation's demographics have changed. Trying to turn that corner is what the education reform movement is all about. It appears likely to go on for years.

GE: Do you think most education reporters are interested in gifted issues? What would make them more interested?

Whitmire: I think reporters like to write about gifted child programs mostly because they have high readership appeal. Either your own child is gifted, you think your child is gifted or you resent the children who were pulled out for gifted programs -- any of those categories will guarantee readership. At the same time I think reporters are very cynical about these programs -- lots of "Volvo brigade" jokes. Frankly, those jokes are partly warranted. School districts often treat the programs as something they need to do for parents rather than something they ought to be doing.

GE: Tell us a little bit about the book you have coming out.


Whitmire: Why Boys Fail, due this fall, is a reporter's take on the boys issue. Because the federal government continues to duck the issue, the entire field has been turned over to psychologists, psychiatrists, ideologues and others who have books to sell, lectures to be paid for, etc. I'm not saying their theories are wrong, but I do think there's a central cause for the problem, a cause that's already been identified in countries such as England and Australia where government investigators have stepped in. In short, what they've found is the world has become more verbal but boys haven't. The failure by schools to help boys adjust to the early verbal demands placed on them (today's preschool is yesterday's second grade) is the core problem. The other stuff -- video games, rap music, etc. -- is chaff.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kyle Hutzler, 2008 Davidson Fellow, on school reform

We're continuing in our Facets of Gifted Education series with Kyle Hutzler, a 2008 Davidson Fellow. Hutzler, a junior at Huntingtown High School in Huntingtown, MD, won a $10,000 scholarship in the "outside-the-box" category for a paper on education reform, and what Americans expect of their schools. He joins us today.


GE: What were the big findings of your paper?

HUTZLER: My paper argued that choice, accountability, and school autonomy are complementary pillars of effective school reform. Using this as my guide, I wrote a comprehensive policy paper that proposed a national framework designed to unify our educational standards, afford successful schools more autonomy in defining their curriculum, focus, and operations, provide greater tools and mechanisms to improve our underperforming schools, and empower students and parents to choose the school that is best for them. Tuition would be paid for by the federal government based on metrics designed to encourage schools to teach beyond the test. In essence, my paper centers on redefining the definition of what "public" schools are, which should be, in my opinion, independent, non-profit, free, competitive, and accountable institutions.

GE: What would you advise President Obama to focus on from an education perspective?


HUTZLER: While my paper emphasizes a national, federal-led "grand bargain" for education reform, many of its proposals can implemented independently and concurrently by the federal and local governments. From a national perspective, we should continue to move towards coherent, unified standards that reflect a united democratic and economic interest in a quality education that transcends the haphazard standards of individual states.

GE: Locally, what's most important for governors and local school boards to focus on?


HUTZLER: State and local governments can work at the same time to enhance school autonomy and promote individual choice. The latter is important not only for its recognition of education as one of our most important rights, but also because it introduces market mechanisms that (if coordinated with the proper incentives) spur underperforming schools to improve. On a more individual level, I proposed in my paper that as part of the tuition and accountability structure, outstanding schools should be given strong incentives to recruit students from underperforming schools – an opportunity unavailable without some degree of choice and autonomy. Freeing up the labor market for teachers is just as important, allowing schools to price talent for what it is really worth and attract the diverse, qualified "new army" that President Obama seeks.

GE: What's the worst educational idea you've seen floating around?

HUTZLER: In my paper, I refer to the No Child Left Behind Act as the educational equivalent of the Articles of Confederation. There should be no mistake that NCLB is flawed, but a reversion to the aimless system that proceeded it, as some argue, would be far more dangerous. Moving beyond NCLB to achieve the duality of national standards and funding coupled with independent schools is the most natural, logical step if it is communicated clearly and effectively. What makes education reform unique compared to any of our other policy debates is that all of us, regardless of our political perspective, share the same ends: the opportunity of a world-class education for all.

GE: In your personal experience, what do schools do well and do poorly for gifted kids?

HUTZLER: The fundamental principles of individualized instruction, flexibility, rigor, and expanding opportunities and experiences are the same for all students, whether they are the most gifted or the most at-risk. Schools should welcome acceleration and encourage intensive research projects for the gifted. Our schools should be flexible enough to accommodate students who will finish high school in three years just as much as those who need five. The closer we move to a "grade-less" school, where students advance subject-by-subject, not year-by-year, the more effective our education system will become.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Facets of Gifted Education: Q&A with George Peternel

Many years ago, as a 7th and 8th grader at Clay Middle School in South Bend, Indiana, I participated in something called the "Midwest Talent Search." This program, which had gifted middle schoolers take out-of-level tests, and then offered summer and other enrichment programs, was always quite exciting for me. I liked taking the SAT, comparing my score with other MTS participants, and I loved the summer camps, which were basically the highlight of my entire year.

These days, the MTS is called NUMATS (Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search), and today on Gifted Exchange, as part of our Facets of Gifted Education series, I'm happy to present a Q&A with George Peternel, associate director of Northwestern's Center for Talent Development.

GE: Why are out-of level tests important for gifted kids?


PETERNEL: There are a host of reasons why out-of-level (above-level) tests are important for gifted kids. Here are a few.

Most of the tests that gifted elementary and middle school students take are grade-level tests that are far too easy for them, especially the state-tests. There is little challenge and the high scores provide little satisfaction for the student.

Above grade-level testing is a more accurate measure of a gifted student’s academic abilities.

Grade level tests communicate misleading messages to parents and teachers about the academic capabilities of gifted kids. If a child scores at the 99th percentile of a grade level test, the message to many parents and teachers is: He/she is doing well and his/her academic placements are appropriate! If that same child takes an above level test and scores at a high percentile, the message is a very different: He/she needs a more advanced academic program.

Doing well on easy tests does not build confidence. Doing well on above-level tests does.

Gifted kids need to be intellectually stimulated in as many ways as possible. NUMATS testing is a powerful stimulus by itself. It also leads to taking advanced classes.

GE: What trends have been noticed over the past few decades … is there anything different about NUMATS? The kids? Their schools? Parents?


PETERNEL: When Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development began in 1981, the talent search included SAT and ACT testing for 6th, 7th and 8th grade students. In response to the demand for above-level testing of younger gifted students, EXPLORE testing was added in 2001. The name has been changed from Midwest Talent Search (MTS) to Midwest Academic Talent Search (MATS) to Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS), serving students in grades 3-9. Test dates in December, May and June have been added to the calendar to give students and parents more flexibility.

NUMATS serves students in the Midwest, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In recent years, the number of students participating in NUMATS has been fairly constant (approximately 30,000 annually). What has changed is the percentage of home-schooled students; the percentage is increasing as more gifted children are home-schooled.

The schools have changed in many ways. There are more acceleration opportunities for gifted students, primarily at the middle school level and usually limited to one subject area, mathematics. NUMATS has put pressure on schools to respond to the needs of students ready for advanced classes, and many schools have responded accordingly. Other changes, however, have not been positive. Gifted programs have been eliminated because of budget cuts. In turn, there are fewer teachers in the schools trained to teach gifted students who understand the value of above-level testing. NCLB has impacted the priorities of schools; instead of giving high priority to meeting the needs of all students, administrator and teacher time and attention increasingly focuses on meeting AYP requirements.

The level of educational attainment of parents has changed; an increasing proportion of parents have college degrees and have similar expectations for their children. More and more, parents look at NUMATS as practice testing for their children that will help optimize test scores when the students become high school juniors and seniors and take the ACT or SAT as a requirement of the college admissions process.

GE: What should happen once a child receives a high score on an out-of-level test? Does this usually happen?

PETERNEL: High scores are the norm. Our own research has verified that NUMATS students score almost as well, on the average, as the high school juniors and seniors across the country taking the SAT or ACT.

After students receive the test scores, the NUMATS staff sends them “Planning and Resource Guides.” These guides assist parents and students in developing an academic plan that includes the course sequences offered by the schools as well as supplementary courses that they choose to take.

The schools also receive the scores, and the realization of how advanced the NUMATS students are. In some cases, these scores are used as placement information. In other cases, the scores prompt the school to take a closer look at their academic options for gifted kids and incorporate this information as they plan advanced courses.

What usually happens is that high scores stimulate thought by the student, parent and school about the academic abilities of the NUMATS students and a variety of outcomes occur.

GE: What is the most rewarding part of the job?


PETERNEL: The positive feedback that we receive from parents is most rewarding, whether it be from telephone calls, emails or the online surveys that we administer to NUMATS clients.

Seeing the excitement and joy on the faces of the students whose high scores qualified them for either the state-level awards ceremonies or the NUMATS ceremony held at Northwestern is also very rewarding.

Finally, the knowledge that the academic careers of thousands of gifted kids each year has been stimulated by the NUMATS process is very satisfying.

GE: What would you like parents to know about NUMATS (that they may not)?


PETERNEL: One of the outcomes of being a NUMATS participant is that each participant will receive a stream of “smart student mail” and “smart student email” from a variety of sources until the student is out of high school. These mailings and emailings include information about academic programs as well as scholarship opportunities.

Taking tests like the ACT or SAT years in advance increases test-taking confidence and provides content familiarity, usually resulting in even higher scores when the tests are taken for college admissions.

NCLB has created negative attitudes about testing (in general) in the minds of many parents of gifted kids. Don’t view NUMATS tests as being just “more tests;” view them instead as “the right kind of tests.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Facets of Gifted Education: Jim Delisle

This week, we're starting a new series on various facets of gifted education on Gifted Exchange. This series will feature interviews with people involved in gifted education in all its forms.

I'm pleased to announce that we're starting with Jim Delisle, author of Parenting Gifted Kids: Tips for Raising Happy and Successful Children, and many other books. Delisle is now retired from being a professor of special education at Kent State University, and speaks and writes frequently on topics in gifted education.

GE: How does parenting gifted kids differ from parenting other kids (or does it?)

DELISLE: Parenting gifted kids is both the same AND different from parenting any child. The similarities are many: all kids need (and, even though they are loathe to admit it, appreciate) consistency, routine, specific guidance rather than general advice, and parents who present a united front to them, even if mom and dad disagree with each other.

Where the differentness comes in is related specifically to the gifted child's advanced development. Many parents of gifted kids find their child to have questions or concerns far earlier than other kids. For example, while your gifted child may seem oblivious to the TV news you are watching, you find as you tuck him in hours later that he wants to know why Israel and Palestine are always fighting. Or, if your child comes home from school with a sad expression, it might not be because someone was mean to her, but someone was mean to another child--and that hurt *your* child.

Annemarie Roeper, our field's most eminent and practical expert, from my perspective, defines giftedness thusly: "Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences." When you read this conception of giftedness closely, you can understand why parenting gifted kids usually has its own set of unique aspects that Dr. Spock never envisioned.

GE: How can parents help children deal with perfectionism?


DELISLE: A treasured colleague of mine, Joanne Whitmore, worked with severely underachieving gifted children in grades 1-3 for several years. Her classic book on this subject, "Giftedness, Conflict and Underachievement", selects two qualities that were pervasive in these children: supersensitivity (see above response) and perfectionism. How ironic, huh? The severely underperforming kids were also the most perfectionistic.

When you think about it, though, this makes (excuse the pun . . .) "perfect" sense. From a very young age, gifted children typically do things very well; often, these are things that other, nongifted children cannot yet do--read, make connections between disparate ideas, understand number systems and symbols readily. Thus, gifted kids are often praised not for who they are as people, but for what they can DO that astounds adults around them. Human doings instead of human beings, so to speak. Over time, gifted children internalize this adult response to praise and, thus, will do anything at all to avoid what they perceive as failure, as that might mean that they are less valued, in the eyes of adults. When they perceive failure to be anything less than perfection, it's easy to understand how an "A-" can be considered a bad grade.

Some useful things that parents can do to avoid this perfectionism quagmire are these: first, analyze the accolades you give to your children--what is it exactly that you are praising, their attempts or their results? Especially with young gifted children, it is important to put them is situations where they don't always come out on top. Also, parents need to show their children that they, too, are not perfect, yet they still get along OK (e.g. Dad plays basketball with his kids even though he admits he's lousy at it. It's the time together that counts.)

Second, as your kids get older, you need to explain to them the dynamics of perfectionism that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. If not, it may affect their academic decisions, choosing to do projects and take classes that are relatively easy to get through without effort.

Third, when you child's work is assessed by others (i.e. a report card), instead of looking at the grades, do this before you even open the envelope: ask your child what s/he is most proud of and why on the enclosed report. It might be a lower grade in a tough subject, not the "Easy A" that you were about to applaud. If essence, you want to ask your child, "What did you LEARN?" instead of "What did you EARN?"

GE: What's the biggest potential pitfall in transitioning from "gifted kid" to productive, happy adult?

DELISLE: I doubt that there is one best route to get from gifted kid to happy, productive adult, given the individual idiosyncrasies that make each of us tick. One key, though, is a piece of advice I gave to our son after a goal he had held for several years--to attend the University of Colorado--got washed away. It wasn't that Matt didn't get into CU, he did. But after being there for less than one semester, he realized that the Brigadoon he imagined it to be actually turned out to be his own personal purgatory. My advice to him then, and still today as the adult he is, is this: "Write your dreams in pencil" (Actually, that's a chapter title in my book, "Parenting Gifted Kids"). If you write your dreams and goals in indelible ink, literally or metaphorically, then you will always see the remnants of this "failure", even as you set new ambitions. A pencil eraser, though, rubs away completely this residual dream, making clean room for others to take its
place.

In a related way, parents must be cautious to make sure that their child's hopes and dreams are not narrowed by their own adult perceptions of success. When our son informed us that his college major was going to be creative writing, our knee-jerk response might have been: "How are you ever going to earn a living at that! Pick something practical!" Instead, we swallowed hard and asked, "Matt, how can we help you do that?" He DID graduate with a creative writing degree (one of five majors he entertained in four years), and even though he is making his career in another creative field (special effects) he can still write a story or letter that'll make you weep. Matt succeeded on his terms, not ours. That's a key; a big one.

GE: You taught middle school for years -- what reform would you like to see implemented broadly for the middle grades?

DELISLE: Even though my primary job for 25 years was as a professor of education at Kent State University, I also taught middle school on a part-time basis for 17 of those years. Why? Credibility for one, as I wanted my college students to realize I was as close to a classroom as one week's distance--not 20 years. The second reason I taught gifted 7th-8th graders for so long is that they simply helped keep things in perspective for me, for they cared little about my credentials or my writing awards; instead, they judged me from two different criteria: was I boring, and did I assign a lot of homework. I'm now reaping the benefits of those years in middle school--attending weddings and writing letters for graduate school admission to kids I taught when they were young. So cool.

To me, the biggest reform we need for gifted students in the middle school is attitudinal. Teachers and administrators need to understand that these kids crave being around others like themselves--kids who think as broadly, feel as deeply, and smash the middle school stereotype as a bunch of hormones on parade into a million pieces. Thus, we have to give up on the wrong-headed notion that kids of all abilities should occupy the same classrooms all day. This inclusive idea has done so much harm, in my opinion, to kids at both the high and the low ends of the learning curve. Since all three of my academic degrees are in special education (mental retardation, emotional disturbances, and gifted education), I think I can speak with some authority on the absurdity of the "one classroom fits all" ideas proposed by many middle school educators.

Too, middle school kids--all of them--need to see the connections between and among content areas, something seldom done when kids spend 45 minutes in math and then move on to 45 more in social studies, where neither they nor their teachers try to form links between these seemingly disparate areas. Connections are vital to middle school kids, both socially and academically. A well-run middle school takes this into account and acts upon it with interdisciplinary instruction and homework.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Teachers, teachers, teachers" (and national standards)

"Teachers, teachers, teachers" -- that's NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein and Rev. Al Sharpton's three word solution to closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.

These odd bedfellows have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that's given the misleading title of "Charter Schools Can Close the Education Gap." Charter schools are one solution they propose, but the more important ones are the creation of a set of national standards for schools to test against, and re-allocating current federal education spending toward recruiting and retaining the best teachers to troubled schools (and rewarding them on merit). As they point out "there is no reward for excellence in inner-city schools when an outstanding science teacher earns the same salary as a mediocre phys-ed instructor."

(Interestingly, in some schools in NYC, this is not the case. A private program called "Math for America" pays math majors a bonus above their scale salary for teaching in needy schools. But it is mostly true).

Klein and Sharpton point to the growing body of evidence that teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement, and that the current things we reward -- tenure beyond a few years and advanced degrees -- have nothing to do with anything.

It's a fascinating piece. We've talked about teacher quality before on this blog, so I'd like to talk about their other federal idea: the national set of standards. In the era of No Child Left Behind, states are required to test children regularly, but they have been responsible for creating their own tests. Net result: most states create extremely easy tests, in order to show most of their kids passing. This solves the immediate problem of nixing embarrassing headlines but, of course, does nothing to create citizens prepared for productive employment.

I'm curious what Gifted Exchange readers think of the idea of national standards. I think there's a lot to like about it -- as long as the standards are rigorous -- for a couple reasons. A key one is that it could, in theory, make acceleration easier.

Here's why. National standards would require a national test. There's no reason -- in this green era -- that this would have to be a paper and pencil sort of thing. Economies of scale would almost demand that it not be. If the test was developed as a computer process, that would allow all the grade levels to be in there, and the test to move along with the child, moving forward until the kid is stumped. This would provide an accurate picture of where individual children stand. There would, of course, be a set level for what constitutes proficient in, say, a fourth grader. But if a nine-year-old scored far beyond that, up to what a 12-year-old should know, then this information could be put to productive use.

There is, of course, the question of who would set the standards, but there could certainly be a panel of educators, parents, scientists, mathematicians, literature experts and so forth who could come up with this, with input from colleges and employers. What do you think? This is a topic I'd like to write about more, so please let me know if you see problems with it.

On another note, we're going to be starting a Q&A series on Gifted Exchange with people representing all facets of gifted education. If you know a teacher, principal, school board member, etc. who would make a good subject and who'd be willing to talk with me, please email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com. We could also throw in a parent or two if you think you have an interesting angle. And let me know if there are any "big names" you'd like to hear from, and I'll try to track them down!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Students say "yay for science"

I am quoted extensively in a recent Scientific American website post about the annual Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, a survey which asks high school kids about their opinions on science.

The good news? Science is getting quite a re-branding these days. No longer about nerdy guys isolated in their towers, a high percentage of kids (30%) said they were interested in science because they were interested in helping the environment, and 26% said they wanted to improve society. If science is now seen as the eco-hero, do-gooder career, that's a pretty cool recruiting concept. In particular, it's a good recruiting concept for girls. One of the fascinating things about science fields is that if you put the prefix "bio" in front of any particular subject, you raise the proportion of degrees earned by women by a lot. So, for instance, bio-statistics attracts more women than statistics, even though both are very math intensive careers. The perception, though, is that biology-based work is more helpful to and grounded in people and improving the world in general. Hard, bio-less sciences don't have that perception (though, frankly, they should! The world needs a lot of mathematicians solving its problems).

So that's the good news. Unfortunately, as I told the Scientific American blogger, the idea that 80% of kids think their schools have prepared them for careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields is "downright delusional." Only a small percentage of high school kids leave school with the skills and preparation necessary to succeed in 4-year colleges, full-stop, let alone in the demanding STEM fields. I guess this result -- that kids are very excited about science, and feel prepared, even though they're not -- is pretty par for the course in American schools. We have high self-esteem, even if there's little to back it up!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Does the "Gifted" label matter?

I hope everyone had a great holiday break. Gifted Exchange is back and ready for another semester of gifted education news and discussion!

Today's topic: does the gifted label matter?

In Montgomery County, Maryland, parents and school officials are debating that question. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the schools are "erasing" the gifted label that, "sorts second-grade students, like Dr. Seuss's Sneetches, into those who are gifted (the Star-Bellied sort) and those who are not." (You can already tell the reporter has a bit of a chip on his shoulder with that one). Two members of the school board wrote in shortly thereafter and said this was not exactly the case -- the whole matter was still up for discussion. But it's an interesting question either way. Do gifted kids gain anything by being labeled gifted?

On one side, there is the argument that the gifted label doesn't matter. What matters is that kids' needs are met. One of the most effective means of meeting students' needs -- acceleration -- doesn't require any sort of label. You just send a kid to a different grade if he seems to have mastered the material in his current one. Likewise, people become less excited about the gifted label in high school, because such schools are more likely tracked (with honors classes, AP classes and the like) than elementary school. No need to label, you just sign up for the more challenging classes. The Washington Post discusses some districts where there are accelerated programs, but kids are not necessarily labeled as such.

In Montgomery County, a full 40% of students qualify (under the district's definition) for the gifted label. On some level, this starts to seem a bit absurd. Avoiding labels gets rid of the awkwardness of exactly who is gifted or not (is a kid who just needs a little bit of enrichment gifted? Maybe. Is someone who needs 3 full years of acceleration? Probably).

On the other hand, as parents have pointed out, once you've stopped labeling something, it's easy to pretend it doesn't exist. We don't live in a world where kids of differing levels all wind up being challenged to the extent of their abilities. When districts do label kids, then that at least creates pressure to do something for those with the label.

What do you think? Is it important to have a label? Or do you know of districts that meet kids' needs well without it?