Friday, July 06, 2012

The trouble with "broadening reach"

Humans are social creatures. Like anyone, gifted kids enjoy being around their real peers -- people who understand them and can have conversations on the same level. In big enough districts, a good way to offer this is to create magnet gifted programs that pull kids from lots of schools to receive instruction targeted at a higher level. Gifted kids get challenged and, as a side benefit, they often learn there's more to their personalities than just being "the smart one."

I have never understood why so many people are so opposed to such programs, but they are -- and a recent article from on Frederick County, Maryland showed one way school districts have found to disband such programs while trying to claim they're still serving gifted kids' needs.

The argument? Claim you're broadening the reach of your gifted teachers. Rather than send kids to a magnet program, keep them in their home school. Then send around your gifted teachers to do enrichment programs for an hour or two at a time at each school. That way, more students can participate.

But why, exactly, do more students need to participate? If there are gifted kids who aren't being served by the magnet program, make more seats in the magnet program. If the kids and their parents don't want to go to the magnet school, a grade skip or subject matter acceleration can work for individual cases. I suspect that the desire to broaden reach is really that school districts don't like creating special programs for "the 1%" (to borrow a phrase from a different subject). By sending gifted kids back to their home schools, their test scores get included in those schools' results. Gifted education becomes a small and more easily cut part of the day. And as teachers struggle to meet everyone else's needs, the needs of gifted kids will be forgotten.

School officials may argue differently. According to the article, "School board President Angie Fish said on June 28 she understands how parents ... can be concerned. But she also was confident school staff will ensure advanced learners receive the services they need, regardless of the other challenges of their schools."

Sure. Except that it usually doesn't happen.


Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between broadening reach and giving GT kids who need fulltime GT programming the shaft. I think it's an admirable goal to give more GT services to kids who don't make the cut for the magnet, but dismantling the magnet program and shuffling the kids to home schools is a real disservice to the fulltime GT kids. If you made the qualifying cut for the magnet, that means that you will benefit from GT services all day/every day, not just for a pullout once or twice a week.

A better solution is to keep the magnets, but start doing cluster grouping for the kids in the nonmagnet schools and differentiating for them. Start providing critical thinking schools for all kids. But there is no way that anyone with a kid who has thrived in FT GT programming will agree that their kids will have their needs met in a regular classroom.

Karen D. said...

They shift gifted kids back to their homeschools so that the homeschool's standardized test scores are raised. It is not at all about giving a better education to the students. It is about test scores and money for the school district.

Anonymous said...

The founding fathers in the United States wanted everyone to be treated equally. Truly 'gifted' children come fully equipped with their gifts. Parents should relax; a true geniius will express themselves in their chosen way. It is not the school; it is the person.

Cynthia said...

The founding fathers wanted everyone to be treated equally? Really? Women couldn't vote or own property. Washington, Jefferson, Monroe...the list goes on...owned slaves. Indentured servitude, treatment of Native, the founding fathers most certainly did not want everyone to be treated equally.

Truly gifted children do NOT come fully equipped to navigate into adulthood with the ability to express their gifts. They need help when the school curriculum doesn't meet their needs. Please go to your local library and read about educating gifted children, hyperexcitabilities of the gifted, the social-emotional needs of the gifted, twice exceptional children...or Google the terms. You'll get a lot of information.

Anonymous said...

I work in a relatively small elementary school with 2-3 classes per grade. We are considered a school for advanced studies. While I understand the need to have a program designed to serve the needs of gifted students (and I went through a similar program myself, so I am not completely without personal experience on this topic) I also understand the impact that such a program has on the overall culture of the school. I have taught gifted students, and I have taught the "other" classes. There is in fact a "class" system that has evolved, and parents whose children do not "make it" into the Gifted classes become distraught. If a child is not on the specific tract that the parent believes is the GIFTED tract, they believe themselves to be failures. Likewise, I have students who have told me that they believe they are in the "dumb" class because they did not "make it" into the "accelerated" group.

I have great difficulty with the way this culture has developed. In a small school, where in my case I am one of only 2 1/2 5th grade classes, the students suffer. Many people advocate for the needs of the gifted students, and I understand that their needs are different. But I do not believe that their needs are the only needs that should prevail. No one is suggesting that the GATE students should stop learning while they wait for the "slower" learners. But the "slower" learners should not be put in the position of being clustered in such a way as they have a lack of motivation to push themselves to the highest standards.

It is a dilemma, for sure, but I have advocated that students should be clustered and that their should be flexible groupings that can differentiate based on needs rather than labels.

teridr said...

@anonymous 7:54, I have a real problem with the idea that it is the job of the gifted students to enrich the non-gifted students and to keep them motivated. I am a teacher as well, so I know that a couple of very bright students sometimes provide the leavening in a class, and that they make my job easier in some ways. I also know though, that those students probably aren't adding much to their current skill level if they know the answers when they walk into my class.

My daughter was in a pull-out gifted program for 5 years, and during that time she gained very little from the program -- she made a quilt, and she wrote a couple of reports. She was bored, as were her fellow classmates. Her teachers told her flat-out that they wouldn't let her go ahead in math because they needed her scores at grade level to help the school.

Then she moved to a magnet-style gifted school (we had to move to a new district to find one) -- and her progress has been astounding. She has advanced several grade levels in some subjects, with firm grounding in the material, and her science team won a major national contest for a project that they designed and prototyped as part of the magnet curriculum.

Meanwhile, back at her old school, her 7th grade gifted peers are meeting alone one period a day in the back of someone else's classroom because the gifted person is on leave and no-one was hired to replace her. They are not offered any enrichment in individual courses, or any alternative assignments.

It is the job of the schools to meet students' educational needs (and it's the job of the public to pay enough to make that happen, though that's another discussion) -- our gifted students are not flunkies whose secret job it is to make our classes more interesting, or to do some of the teaching for us, or to raise our test scores. That doesn't meet *their* educational needs.

Nicole said...

I'll start this comment with the mention that I am the parent of two highly to profoundly gifted children who have participated in a number of GT programs including subject acceleration and one of whom has skipped grades. That said, I do see where the last anonymous comment is coming from.

I see the same thing: GT programs serving as a status symbol with the kids who participate in them feeling superior and those who don't feeling like lesser human beings. I've seen GT identified kids brag, write essays for class in which they list among their accomplishments that they were placed in GT, etc.

There is a cultural problem here with the way GT is defined and explained to our children. I do believe that some of this is due to the very broadening that this post mentions, though, because GT isn't about innate differences in learning and functioning, it is instead defined as high achievement in many locations.

The new NAGC approach that broadens "gifted" to include such a huge percentage of the population and puts the focus squarely on production just exacerbates this in my opinion.

We have no GT magnets where I live, but if we did I suspect that they'd function much the way our GT programs do and turn into what NYC has: people prepping their kids with practice tests for admission. If GT magnets were filled with kids whose IQs were truly in the top 1-2% of the general population, not due to test prep, but because that's where they fell out based on how the tests are meant to be done: cold, then I'd love to see such programs.

Like others have mentioned, though, other options for enrichment need to exist within the more traditional schools for other kids who aren't quite at that point but who need something more than the basic curriculum.

lgm said...

Anon's problem happens here frequently in a large school district, b/c of lack of seats in honors and AP or just plain lack of advanced college prep classes. I understand the political problem ... but as a community we're doing an injustice to deny students instruction at their level of need just b/c the politicians want some of them to be the 'role model' in the diverse or included classroom. Or worse, because they want certain children from certain subgroups to not get ahead. I'd like to see a nationwide online learning opportunity for AP and honors clases, open to all interested students at no cost to the family. No one should have to drop out and home school, or pay JHU or the like big bucks just to obtain instruction at the needed level.

Gretchen H. said...

I am responding to a comment above. One of the commenters said that gifted programming shouldn't be offered because it would make the other kids feel bad. I think this a poor basis on which to make a decision. I think ALL kids should be given the opportunity to learn and each be challenged. If gifted kids need some special programming (just like kids who need other sorts of help), then they should get it. If the other kids feel bad, that is a problem of the way it is presented and the culture of the school/parents and not the fault of the gifted kid. It is an attitude/perception problem. If the "other kids" aren't getting what they need, that is a different issue, but just because they want to be in a class/group which they are not isn't. To deny a child an education because someone else doesn't like it doesn't seem like a goob basis on which to make educational decisions.

leahk0615 said...

To the anonymous poster who posted at 7:37 AM:

Our forefathers stated that we should have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Gifted people love learning and challenging themselves, so to me that means they have the right to an appropriate education which will allow them just that.


I've noticed that those who brag about being gifted and use it as a status symbol often are not really gifted. In fact, they are unable to handle the challenge of truly advanced curricula and end up crumbling. Definite problem with how schools assess who is gifted or not and it needs to be fixed. I agree with those (like Laura) who state we need a cutoff point, like the top 3-5 per cent or something like that.

Anonymous said...

I am the mother of a profoundly gifted 12 yr old daughter and we are currently caught in a horrendous dilemma due to a recent reload to FL - the school & school district refuse to acknowledge and act upon the planned acceleration of my daughter.

She was forced to spend her one month of enrollment with only one class, math, being approved for enrollment in the. 7th grade Honors Math. The school ignored her detailed NJ IEP, her Nj school records and a 30 pg Curriculum Vitae prepared by us that essentially followed the FL LAW reg. Gifted educ. And acceleration with all of our daughter's objective data, I.e. WISC -IV score, etc.

The C.V. included an independent Psych report reflecting her WISC -IV at 153; participation in the Montclair Univ. Gifted and Talented program for the past 3 yrs; participating in 1) John JHopkins CTY progeny, 2) Stanford Univ. EPGY program last summer with the invitation to attend the residence program this summer, 3) Already invited to attend the SIG Princeton Univ. Residence Program for the summer of 2013.

Meanwhile, her last month of school was wasted with her being placed in with the general population and the so "called gifted" in this Middle School. - where the vocabulary words were so simplistic that my daughter knew them when she was SIX.

Gifted children, especially profoundly gifted children, need to have acceleration where appropriate, also continued differentiated education to match their skill levels. Also grouping of similar skill sets as well.

Instead. What has happened to gifted education since it was first federally mandated in 1970's is that it been so watered down to allow moreinto the programs that most are not really as effective as the once were.

Now everyone is so worried about hurting little Johnny or Sally's feelings when. "They don "t make the cut, that, there seems to be a general willingingness "to dumb down" the true gifted program for the sake of not hurting little Johnny or Sally,"s ego and instead of just letting them deal with where they ACTUALLY fall in the educational curve.

Instead, students like my daughter face an uphill battle to get the proper education that they are entitled to - not just whatever the school or its particular administration think that can "get away with".

Anonymous said...

If a GT program is used as a way to segregate the children with "pushy parents" from the children whose parents are not as active, then it is indeed a status symbol and should be dismantled.
If you have a true GT program that meets the needs of the GT population, the nonGT won't want to be in it. Parents will complain that it is too hard--as they have here--and then the process of "broadening" begins. The work gets easier, more kids can do it, more parents want their kids there, and if it's too hard, they make it even easier.

My kids did GT in elem--the teacher presented a packet of activities and the kids did them. The teacher never looked at their work in all 5 years of the program. Therefore, any kid could be successful.

Unknown said...

I taught in a GT pull-out program for several years and have dealt with all of these issues. The first clue that something was wrong? - when the district director called me into her office and chewed me out for assigning "grades" to students' work. I was not to give "grades" - my goodness, the parents won't understand why Sally didn't make 100 in gifted! Really? My beliefs and training told me otherwise - truly gifted children need to have some form of feedback on their performance - to know where they stand in their efforts to reach their very individual goals. This attitude, perpetuated by those in charge, was one I battled every year. At least once a year I had to drop everything and explain to some of those "gifted" (but just barely) students that their presence in my classroom did not make them better or any more important than any one else in the school. It simply meant that they had different learning needs.

I am back in the regular classroom - differentiating instruction and offering independent projects to those who demonstrate mastery of skills early on. I am much happier (even though I now have so many papers to grade) and the students have told me that they enjoy having someone provide a true assessment of their work - one that leads them to a higher level and doesn't just praise them for their existence. In fact the best compliment I have ever had was from a gifted student who told me that she enjoyed taking my final exam - (an essay test unlike those offered in any of her other classes) because having to explain her thoughts made her feel like she was smarter than she realized.