Monday, June 17, 2013

Should you let your child decide whether to join a gifted program?

The Fort Wayne News Sentinel ran a parenting advice column the other day from John Rosemond. Some parents wrote in saying that their 9-year-old daughter had recently qualified for a gifted program. She'd always liked school, but became quite upset when informed that she'd qualified. None of her friends were in the program, so she didn't want to be either. The school counselor didn't think the parents should let the daughter make the decision, but the parents wanted to know what Rosemond thought.

His answer revealed some of the deepest flaws of many gifted programs. As he wrote: "In most cases, and especially at the elementary level, the programs in question are examples of what are known as 'pull-out' programs. The children in GT programs attend regular classes and are then pulled out of class three to five times a week for enrichments of various sorts. I am unable to find any compelling research to the effect that these programs result in long-term intellectual or academic advantage. Their ultimate benefit, therefore, is questionable."

So if the child thought being singled out for special treatment wouldn't sit well with her friends, Rosemond said the parents should let her make this decision. You can still live a good life if you skip a gifted program, which he backed up with the evidence of his own daughter, who had a similar take on her pull-out program.

I've been pondering this answer. While in general I like the idea of children taking ownership for their education, there's a lot wrong with this scenario.

First, good gifted programs should be self-contained classes or even schools, not pull-outs. Second, they shouldn't appear to be special treatment for the smart kids who are somehow different from their friends. Gifted programs should be an educational intervention for students who need it. While one can imagine parents letting a child decide whether or not to use accommodations to address her dyslexia, one hopes they'd have a strong opinion on that matter.

I'm also a little wary that we're talking about a daughter here. Girls face pressure fairly young not to be seen as smart -- that being smart somehow works against you in terms of what's considered attractive. That she sees being put in a gifted program as upsetting may be rational...or it may be her absorbing a million awful media messages. Parents are supposed to counteract those messages, not indulge them.

Also, the point of school is to learn, not just to hang out with your friends. Our cultural narrative doesn't really see that -- witness the big deal made about sports teams and proms and other such things people fret about when acceleration comes up. But it's true nonetheless.

Personally, I'm not sure that pull-outs are worth much -- just as Rosemond says. But there's so much going on with this issue that needs to be discussed.

Would you let your child decide whether to be in the gifted program or not?


Molly said...

There are a lot of questions that I would want answered before allowing a child to have that decsion. Is it a pull-out program or a self-contained class? What is the quality of instruction in the regular classroom? How likely is it that the child will receive adequately challenging instruction outside of the gifted program? Is the child moderately gifted or profoundly gifted? Does saying no to the program at this time close the door for participation in future years?

When I was in junior high, my district started a new gifted program that pulled students from their home schools to a magnet school for a 9 week period.
In 8th grade, I was scheduled to participate during the first 9 weeks of the year. I attend for one week and then my parents allowed me to quit. While the program my have met my academic needs, it completely ignored social needs and in fact ensured that the gifted students would return to their home schools after 9 weeks as social outcasts. It is tough enough for a gifted student to fit in, but arriving at middle school 9 weeks after everyone else made it even more difficult. The fact that we were bused from the magnet program back to our home schools at the end of the day meant that we were consistently late for sports practices and games. Clearly, the people who designed the program had given no thought to the fact that gifted students have needs beyond academics. I never regretted dropping out of the program.

nicoleandmaggie said...

We forced my sister to switch to a parochial school for high school for academic reasons. If given a choice, she wouldn't have gone. But she did, and she made new lifetime friends, and her old friends from middle school all got suspended for drinking on a school trip at one point. (She also had to work hard to get As for the first time in her life.)

There are a lot of factors at play. And maybe a useless pull-out program isn't worth fighting over, whereas a new school environment would be.

Anonymous said...

Not enough information is given as to why this child was not tested until 9 years old. Was she having problems in class and her teachers saw that she might be bored, therefore needing a challenge? Or was she working hard and always doing her best in class? What is the quality of the program and what would she be missing? Is there another way to stimulate her mind without the program? While I wouldn't allow my child to be the sole decision maker in whether or not to attend gifted, I would talk with her about the reasons why she did not want to attend. Her feelings matter alot and it would not be an easy decision.

Dori Kleber said...

I read the same column and I was seething over it. I really don't like sending a young girl the message that you should hold back your talents and abilities so that you don't look different from everyone else. After all, fitting in with your friends is the most important thing in life.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the child's developmental stage and your analysis of their current state of maturity. My child asks to continue with the known teachers because its comfortable, but if that teacher is not a good match for the child's ultimate goals (based on their advanced natural talents and interests), then that teacher cannot fulfill that student's needs. I would not place my child intentionally with a teacher who specializes in reading, when my child is an innate reader and does not need a reading specialist. I see a shortage in teachers who are trained and excel in math and science, so we are much more interested in pursuing schools who can offer those teachers to our family. Our child has an advanced natural talent for science. We would not place our child with an introverted teacher who only works with children and animals. My child is an extrovert and it is obvious to us that their work setting will involve a large group of highly intelligent adults. We try to match the child's goals to what is available to us each year. I think parents who have gifted children have to pay close attention and if the parents are not able, then I do believe a gifted child can figure it out once they hit a certain maturity level which differs by child. Great question! I hope everyone weighs in on this one.

Anonymous said...

I love anecdotal information as much as the next guy, but I don't think it's responsible for someone with a wide-reaching column to give advice based solely on his own experience and with no data to back it up. I think he should have at the very least said, "although I don't have enough information about your particular child or your particular program..." Without any disclaimers, I think his general advice could be harmful to parents who are new to GT. E.g., they could decide to not investigate the GT programs available to them and miss out on something good, like a FT GT program with intellectual peers.

As to whether or not I would let my child choose whether or not to be in a GT program, I have to say "it depends." Our 9yo son currently is in an accelerated program for HG kids. He has told us that he doesn't want to go to a school for smart kids for middle school, even though he is thriving in the GT program now. We will investigate further, but so far what we've gotten from him is that he would like things to be easy. That is not what we as parents want for him. We would like him to be appropriately challenged so that he doesn't coast through and then shut down when he hits challenges in college. But we will look at the school options available, see if we can find the root of DS's concerns, and make an informed decision.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in reading the literature on the effects of pull-outs vs. self-contained classrooms. Has there really been rigorous research on this?

Anonymous said...

I relate to the 9:25AM comment. Laura, you could get the message out to principals, teachers and parents. Just because the child can, does not mean the child will. Different schools handle that issue differently. We find it a catch 22 because there are differing opinions within one school and amongst all the parties involved. (See parents putting there hands on their foreheads and saying, "Ugh!") For example, we had decided this year to see if our child could fit in all year long in regular classes. The child had to make modifications (don't draw too much, don't talk too much, dress like everyone else, share interests with everyone else). We are okay with that because we are very social, so we have to fit in. The teachers let the students choose their own reading selections. That's nice. Let them be as happy as possible with their nightime reading. Find out the reading selections were not as difficult as they should have been. Ugh! Our child was reading science college textbooks at age five years. I thought the point this year was to see if the gifted child could acclimate. Ugh! To the comment at 4:16PM I have not found the study yet, but Laura probably knows. I think you have to leave your name to get a comment back from the moderator. I am Anonymous because the town I am in does not like us to talk openly and publicly about the different human IQs. Ugh!

Gail Post said...

Great, thought-provoking article. In our school district, some parents refused to permit their children to be in the gifted "program" out of protest because it was so ineffective.

Every child and school system is different, and therefore, may require a different response. However, in addition to the great points you make in the article, being "identified" as gifted may open up some opportunities for students depending on what state you live in, and gives parents some authority when advocating for their child.

Thanks for the interesting article.

Gail Post/

Anonymous said...

I was dismayed at the assumption that, because someone can't find studies to prove that pull-out programs are effective, we can assume they are worthless. I teach in a pull-out program that is very limited, yet I receive good feedback from both students and their parents as to the benefits of our program.

As for the child not being tested until age 9, it may be that she was tested earlier and did not qualify until age 9.

I believe the parents should have their daughter try the gifted program before letting her decide, unless they don't feel strongly that she needs the challenge. It is possible to qualify for some gifted programs without actually being gifted. I suspect that may be true in this case: If she is not clamoring for more challenge, she may not need the program.

Nother Barb said...

My high school junior turned down an opportunity in high school to take a prestigious, invitation-only seminar English course. He didn't tell us he'd been invited to enroll in it, and had we known we most certainly would have encouraged it. The whole nature of the course is just so "him", and designed for students who think outside the box. Funny, because when he was in 8th grade he'd said "I wish I was in GT LA, they read the best books!" I told him "you can read those books, too, we even have some of them." and he dove in. Once he was allowed to type his papers, his talents shone and he went on to honors English at the high school, and took more than the required number of credits. But why he didn't want to take this seminar course is still beyond me.

When our younger son was in grade 7, with several happy years of GT behind him, he asked "Do I HAVE to be in GT? All my friends are on other teams!" I pointed out that he didn't HAVE to be in GT LA, but if he went to regular math he'd be doing work he'd done 2 years before, and was bored with then. He also realized that his "All" was an exaggeration. He has a terrific mixed bag of friends; their common bond is music. (He did stay in GT LA; he may have regretted that a little when the new 8th grade teacher was remarkably demanding, even for GT. Honors English will be a breeze after that!)

ThinkingMom said...

My son was selected to a full time gifted program in 3rd grade. He was still bored and had to contend with unexpected discipline issues in class(some gifted children can think a little too highly of themselves). We eventually pulled him out to homeschool him. The gifted program is only accelerated by one year in vocabulary and math, and only from 3rd-5th grade. Really not that big of a deal since he's already learning way beyond that level at home. He also missed his old friends at first but managed to make new friends quickly.

If your child is happy and content in a regular classroom, and is adamant about not going, then I'd leave her be. But if she's bored, you should give her a chance to try it out for a year. Tell her she has the option to quit after a year if she still doesn't like it at the end of the year. A lot depends on her personality. If she's relatively outgoing and makes friends easily, she'll make new friends quickly among kids who share her gifted traits and interests. She might just find the academic challenge worthwhile.

OTOH, if your child is profoundly gifted and is already reading and doing math at 7th or 8th grade level or beyond in 3rd grade, don't bother with the gifted class, she'll still be bored, unless it's one where there's lots of independent learning. I would just let her stay where she is since school is just a socialization experience for her anyway. The easier workload in a regular classroom will allow her to be supplemented more at home. The heavier workload in a gifted class will make her tired and not want to be supplemented at home whatsoever. My son felt that the gifted class actually made him regress academically for that reason. Good luck.

Sarah Weaver said...

My husband and I were both students in "pull-out" programs as you call them. They may not have stimulated our brains as much as they could, but it kept them busy, and out of trouble. Now my son has been identified as exceptional, and they want him to transfer to a full-time gifted school. I hate the idea, but know it would probably be best for him. As for whether he gets a choice, definitely! pulling a kid away from the familiar, friends, his's not something I'm going to force on him. I will ask him to try it out for a year, and if he hates it we can return to his public school, but yes, he gets input