Friday, February 26, 2010

St. Louis -- and what's wrong with gifted education

Yes, this is the second post of the day, but I wanted to get this one up before the weekend (and the early school dismissal on account of snow).

Out in St. Louis, the city school system is looking to open a second gifted elementary school, according to this article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On one hand, this is great. I'm always glad to see schools trying to meet gifted kids' needs. On the other hand, the tone of this article points to two big problems with gifted education as it currently exists.

First, the article notes that there are hundreds of students on the waiting list for the gifted program. This means that gifted education isn't being treated as an intervention for kids who need it. It is a special program for those lucky enough to get in.

Second, the school system is explicitly using the existence of a gifted program as a way to keep middle-class families in the city schools. Again, this makes gifted education about special treatment--a situation that is ripe for resentment. All children deserve a good education; some children just need to move at a different pace than others.

As we've talked about many times on this blog, gifted education should be about matching students with an education appropriate to their needs. It should not be considered "better" than what other kids get. While I'm glad St. Louis is taking gifted education seriously, this seems to be the underlying assumption, at least according to the people quoted in this article.


Harriet said...

I think you're absolutely right, and this ultimately poses difficulties with support for even the programs that are working. Our program has been cut for next year (thank you, Illinois, for you unflagging failure to prioritize education) and our fight for restoration is meeting a lot of resistance from people who think it's just a bunch of kids asking for special treatment. We have a big PR problem.

Kumar Singam said...

In Montgomery County, Maryland, where gifted has been equated to "above-grade," ~40% are son identified. The average belies a range that exceeds 60%and at the lower end is more than 5%. The school system abhors grade-skipping (see reference to such in this column and a recent grade-skipping incident reported in the media). The solution, I have proposed, is to upgrade the curriculum to a "gifted" curriculum philosophy AND make grade/subject skipping an option available to those qualifying by virtue of motivation and demonstrated ability. Certainly, a new paradigm--but research shows it can work. The brightest are not left behind. See more at .

The GT label controversy gets addressed with a Parent Letter that delineates educational interventions for each students.

I would appreciate comments/ideas from you and your readers. Thanks.

Cindy said...

In a time when gifted education programs are being slashed in one district and school after another all across the country, the St. Louis school system is doubling their funding and, in turn, educational opportunities for gifted children ... and you say it represents "what's wrong with gifted education." For my part, I think gifted education is a critical intervention for kids, and if advocates in this district have to push for services using a "tone" you don't like, then so be it. I suggest you step into the real-world trenches and realize that the commitment in the St. Louis school is a ray of hope in an otherwise bleak horizon.

You can't match "students with an education appropriate to their needs" when no program exists at all. St. Louis is trying to build a quality program for gifted kids, and you're going to shoot down the effort because you don't like the "tone" of an article?

We are a field wholly comfortable with shooting ourselves in the foot, and your blog post only proves that point.

"What's is wrong with gifted education" ... indeed.

Anonymous said...

I understand Cindy's point that you can't offer gifted education to kids who need it if no program exists. On the other hand, the article shows that some middle class parents are assuming their children are "gifted" by virtue of being well-off (and white?). "We'll consider sending our children to public school if they can go to a special school, away from those other kids." That's not what gifted education is.

Joel said...

Anonymous: The article didn't have any such quote. In fact, according to the article, "Most parents do not yet know of the plan." At no point did anyone in the article draw your conclusion.

Laura: (1) Having hundreds of students on a waiting list does not mean that "gifted education isn't being treated as an intervention for kids who need it" ... it means that the district is only now starting to allocate the resources to serve gifted kids. I say "hooray" that they are investing in a remedy.

(2) Using high-quality advanced academic services to attract gifted kids to a school district doesn't make "gifted education about special treatment--a situation that is ripe for resentment" In fact, the article specifically points out that teachers are excited about it, and the attendance at a recent school open house was "triple that of years past."

This article is an upbeat look at one urban district that is doubling it's gifted education program. This is something to celebrate, not denigrate.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Joel, the article does not have a direct quote insinuating what Anonymous states; however, the fact is implied. Look at the following quotes below taken from the article:

“The city school district is planning to convert Mallinckrodt elementary school into its second program for gifted students this fall, hoping to cash in on the popularity — and the wait list — of its other gifted classes.”

With phrases like “cashing in on the popularity” the gifted program is being presented as a scarce resource or a commodity, rather than the intervention that it should be.

“The school could even attract families from the county, through the district desegregation program.”

Assuming the city of St. Louis is an urban school district which is dominated by students of color which students would the program be trying to attract through its ”desegregation program”? Certainly not more students of color.

Finally, the article makes no mention of how the students are picked to go to the gifted schools. If the school starts at pre-school are they administering IQ testing at age 4, as the schools showcased article in the New York Magazine? Are they retested after that point? Is this selection process solely through self selection? Are children being testing whose parents may not be as politically astute enough to understand what it means to be gifted and how entering such a program can change a child’s life? Are all children being considered and tested, even the ones who the teachers believe have no future? If the answers to the questions, except for the first two are no, then yes, this is a program which will be ripe for resentment. If the identification of gifted is an identification for an intervention just as the identification of LD is then lets look at the entire student body when trying to identify individuals and treat it as such.

Joel said...

Anonymous: I understand your comments about "insinuation," but the article never explicitly said the things you claim were insinuated ... I didn't read those insinuations in the text of the article.

Just because a gifted program is popular doesn't mean it isn't also an intervention. For example, many districts are now using International Baccalaureate as a component of gifted programming (an intervention). IB is also quite popular. Intervention and popular are not mutually exclusive terms in that case, and it shouldn't be the case here.

As to your other points, (1) you can assume the St. Louis district is urban; and (2) you can assume that the district grapples with a sizable population of kids from a low socio-economic status. The district is trying to attract kids from the suburbs as a way of changing the SES mix in the St. Louis schools as one of many reasons for supporting the program. It would be nice if all of our reasons for building programs in schools were one-dimensional, but they are not. School districts have lots of reasons for making decisions. I don't see why that justifies saying the St. Louis program represents "what's wrong with gifted education." I think Cindy's points, while strident, addressed this point. If the program offers quality services for gifted kids ... then that is the critical issue.

You raise many questions at the end of your post, but, unfortunately, the original article addressed none of the questions you raise. I think it is unfair for the blog author to label the St. Louis schools commitment to doubling it's gifted program as "what's wrong with gifted education" before any of us get more specifics about the program.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think that anyone would argue that gifted intervention is quite popular. If it was not popular there would not be many, many blogs dedicated to it. There would not be entire sections in book stores dedicated to it. It is so popular that it is a multimillion dollar industry from teach your child to read, to test prep, to home schooling material, to school tuition, to specially designed toys and on and on. What I am arguing is that the popularity of it obscures that it is in its essence to be an intervention. The popularity of it leads to a skewing of the allocation of resources to those who are most wealthy and politically savvy and if you don’t see that as something wrong then we can just agree to disagree.

As to the point of attracting white middle class families from the suburbs, that is fine, but let’s not lie to ourselves and everyone else and pretend that that is not what they are doing.

Anonymous said...

After additional research based on the comments sections of the article the current gifted school is located in South St. Louis and the new school is *also* to be located in South St. Louis, which has a predominate white demographic. The “lottery” selection process for a magnet school, which these gifted schools are considered, that a child must get through once he has met whatever standards SLPL has in place to be denoted as gifted gives preference in the following order:

1. Continuing student
2. Student siblings
3. Neighborhood school “within walking distance” of school
4. Non-African American city and county residence and African American city residence

Now, that speaks very clearly to me white middle class gifted school.

Robert said...

A gifted program is NOT:

-A desegregation plan
-a college-prep program
-an economic development program
-a way to entice "desired populations" to your city
-a magnet program

A gifted program is the opposite end of the special needs spectrum from programs for mentally retarded kids. What this means is that it is for children who can not get their developmental needs met in a regular classroom. In this case they can't get their developmental needs met because they are developing faster than their classmates.

What they are calling "gifted" in St. Louis is more appropriately referred to (and the very same types of schools in Cincinnati *are* referred to) as college prep or honors program. Giftedness is something you are born with. Honors and College Prep are programs that if you work hard enough you can earn your way into.

Statistically, there are are probably not "hundreds" of gifted children in Greater St. Louis, because giftedness and mental retardation are usually considered to be the extreme 10% in either direction. Also, since giftedness is a special need, it shouldn't be treated as something you have to wait for if it something you require for optimal development. Also, giftedness is proportionate, that means the same percentage of black children as white children are gifted, so any gifted program should roughly match the demographics of the area it draws its student population from.

It sounds like the school district wants to open a magnet school, which it should do if it wants to achieve the goals it is trying to reach, but giftedness has nothing to do with magnet programs.

This school will be a political football because there will be too few poor people, too few black people, and too many white people who are either average or slightly above average but who have helicopter parents with a sense of entitlement.

Joel said...

Wow. Your post certainly "speaks very clearly."

Anonymous said...

Joel, if it is not too much trouble, I would be really and truly grateful if you would elaborate on your post please, as it did not speak very clearly to me.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to the party...

However it is interesting to note that the St. Louis Public School District has lost its accreditation and is currently being administered by the State of Missouri.

My understanding is that students are expected to have an IQ of 120 or higher for the current gifted magnet elementary school. From friends who send children there, there do not appear to be significant accommodations/differentiations made for students at an even higher level of giftedness.

Frances Holmes said...

Very enlightening. I agree, 100%.