Thursday, July 23, 2015

Who's in and who's out

The Davidson Institute sends me a list of headlines related to gifted education each week. I’ve been keeping this blog for almost 10 years, so I see a lot of headlines. And over the years, I’ve noticed something about these articles. So much of the literature on gifted education is about who’s in and who’s out.

Perhaps it’s about the demographic make-up of who’s in and who’s out. Perhaps it’s about a cut-off on a test. Perhaps it’s about a district that has a gifted program, but doesn’t have enough seats for all who qualify so selection is done by lottery (kind of a bizarre approach in general -- how about adding more seats??) Maybe a district is re-evaluating how it chooses children for gifted programs. That may be a worthy endeavor, especially if the new approach is to screen all children, rather than just those whose parents ask. Still, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that in the popular imagination, gifted education is all about selection.

Once you’re in, it’s smooth sailing.

But of course, that’s not the case at all. Children can be accepted into a gifted program, and then have absolutely nothing change whatsoever except for a few minutes weekly of a half-hearted “pull out.” (Or an even more half-hearted claim that the curriculum is being enriched for everyone). Even a self-contained gifted class could be taught badly, or not taught at a level that is helpful for the top end of the curve within the class (or the bottom end, I suppose). Acceleration is generally a great idea, but in a worst case scenario, the work isn’t actually more challenging, or the child’s area of greatest need for acceleration still isn’t met.

I really wish there was more focus on what actually happens once someone is identified as gifted. What does a good, accelerated curriculum look like? How do gifted kids learn differently? When work is truly challenging, children struggle -- and that’s a good thing. It’s a wonderful confidence boost to throw yourself into something difficult and find you are making progress.

When the conversation is all about who’s in and who’s out, then giftedness is just a label -- a gold star of worthiness that other people naturally resent. And so article after article talks about districts modifying their programs to keep some people from being in and some people from being out, because while that’s fine for varsity baseball, it isn’t for academics. It’s as if all the coverage on the baseball season was on team selection, rather than how the team plays.


Rebecca Hodges said...

This was true in the last city we lived in. To have the title was an honor and to not have it was a disappointment for the parents. The pull out program in my dds school did not meet her needs--it wasn't challenging enough for her and the topics covered she wasn't interested in. We decided after a year and a half to pull her from the program.

nicoleandmaggie said...

... I just realized that I don't even know if DC1's new school has a gifted and talented program. Googling, it is very difficult to tell... it had one back in 2012 according to various internet results, but it isn't clear what it consisted of. I suppose we should have asked! Though from the 2012 handbook, it looks like he'd have to wait a year anyway because we have the wrong standardized tests(!) The district webpage is very vague, saying basically they identify gifted kids and then they might do anything from a list that lists every potential possibility quoted from the state policy. I'm guessing they're not doing much.

We probably should have asked when we registered, but they are letting him keep his two grade skip. So maybe their preferred method is acceleration.

Gerald Aungst said...

What if instead of worrying about what's done for the select few once those students "get in", we instead focus on finding out, for each and every child, what exactly they need in order to make the most of their learning opportunities, and then do that? Why do we first try to figure out if kids are good enough to be labeled gifted before thinking about doing something meaningful in their school experience? It's not about the program. It's about the learner.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with gifted education. In fact, I'm a strong advocate for it, and have worked closely with both my state gifted association and NAGC. I was a gifted support teacher for ten years, and currently supervise the gifted program in my district. What I have a problem with is the idea that there is any meaningful way to sort kids first and then apply standardized programs to the sorted groups. The whole point of gifted ed is individualization, is it not?