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?

Monday, June 03, 2013

Gifted centers vs. in-school enrichment

A good gifted program does many things, but here are two key parts: First, children are challenged to the extent of their abilities. Second, they're surrounded by intellectual peers who help their learning along.

To try to achieve that, Pinellas County in Florida has been busing students at elementary schools with no gifted services to gifted centers one day a week. This allows the district to concentrate such students. The problem, though, according to this article from the Tampa Bay Times, is that busing eats up quite a bit of instructional time.

So under a new program, all elementary schools will now offer gifted programming, part or full time. The district is investing close to $1 million in these new services (though saving some cash on transportation costs).

I've been pondering these alternate set-ups, and have a few thoughts.

First, I'm happy to see any district spending more money on gifted education -- certainly not the usual course of events these days.

I also think that one day a week at a gifted center doesn't really constitute an ideal set-up. While that one day will certainly serve a social function of bringing gifted kids together (no small thing, really), doing something special one day a week isn't really about challenging kids if they're in their regular classes the rest of the time. In this sense, full-time (or even part-time if it's more than 3-4 hours/week) instruction in a home school would be better.

But on the other hand, why the interest in having home schools? In an ideal world, perhaps Pinellas County's 11 gifted centers could have become full GT schools. Kids could be bused straight there in the morning 5 days a week, rather than their home schools. That would solve the problem of missing instructional time.

The fear is always that a school will hire a gifted coordinator, but then somehow only wind up with a small number of students in the gifted class. When resources become tight, people will wonder why a teacher is teaching 10 kids instead of 27. The program will be disbanded, and the gifted coordinator sent around to offer "in class enrichment" or pull-outs to those 10 kids, plus 10 kids at 3 other schools. And we'll be back down under the 3 hours kids were getting at the gifted centers. Minus the chance to learn in an environment with their intellectual peers.

What would you see as an ideal set-up if a district was trying to create a good gifted program?