Educating the Gifted and Talented

“People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have.” -John Holt-

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

HB 1244 GT education mandate

My sincere appreciation goes to Representatives Peniston and Solano for their initiative to have schools serve every exceptional child! This bill is especially welcome in light of the study by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) which found that “in elementary classrooms across the United States, high-ability students received the same type of instruction and material at the same pace as their classmates, more than 80% of the time (Reis, 1994). These high IQ or gifted students often find themselves unchallenged, underachieving, and even exhibiting depression, anger, or other difficulties.”

Indeed, in Greeley-Evans schools, a 2002 survey with open ended questions returned by 962 identified GT students in grades 3-12, found that only 10% of students appeared generally challenged, meaning in most subjects. Very few students said they were challenged because of hard work, new content or critical thinking, things many wished for! Of the 300 elementary GT students almost 20% said they wanted “harder work”.

As a long-time GT advocate in Greeley-Evans school district Six I have seen how even failing gifted students do not receive timely and/or effective intervention strategies to succeed. Yearly as many as 25% do not graduate! To their school, district, or the Colorado Education Department, they merely become a statistic, but for the students this fact usually translates to loss of self esteem and academic self confidence.

A study by Camilla P. Benbow of John Hopkins Talent Search participants (quoted in Nancy Alvarado Stone's book "Gifted is not a dirty word") reveals that gifted students who do not experience any challenge of accelerated material, or class and grade skipping, get robbed of their self confidence and self esteem. The untapped potential of these students who often do not finish school is a huge loss to American society! Giftedness expert James Gallagher recognized this when he said:

"Gifted students are the difference of what we are and what we could be as a society"

Currently under No Child Left Behind gifted students’ educational needs are endangered even more as time and resources will be prioritized for the assistance of low performing students. Often, gifted students have already reached proficiency and instead of accelerating through school in order to go on to more challenging education in college they are “kept behind” at grade level where their intelligence is not nurtured and as a result may actually diminish.

Lewis Terman in his famous longitudinal study of 1528 gifted students noted: “While in elementary and in secondary school, those who were allowed to accelerate according to their intellectual potential were more successful. Those not permitted to accelerate developed poor work habits that sometimes wrecked college careers.”

Giftedness expert and advocate Leta Hollingworth, too, believed that gifted children are the “original thinkers” of their generation and therefor require instruction to help them develop attitudes and drives related to productive habits and leadership.
It is a concern that gifted students too, (until age seventeen) are mandated to be in school full-time, for 1056 hours without any free time left to socialize, or explore personal interests. Previously the requirement was 360 hours per semester for full-time student status, or even the possibility of part-time basis in certain circumstances.
Such confinement of intellect will make the emergence of eminence in this population even more difficult! In order for giftedness to come to full fruition it needs flexibility, not the rigid regimen of schooling!

Yet, some instructional practices (mandated under NCLB for low performing schools and/or districts to receive federal funds) have already resulted in all our Greeley-Evans elementary schools eliminating recess in order to "maximize instructional time". More disconcerting is that in kindergarten children do no longer get to play with toys, blocks or puzzles! In short, there is no quality education going on especially since these children's teachers also no longer have the time or freedom to meet their students' varied needs or build a personal and caring relationship with them. All are prerequisites to nurture and foster the intelligence of children, gifted or not!

In your consideration of this proposal then, I urge all of you to sympathize with these wonderful students who shine like bright stars when they eagerly start formal schooling but who slowly lose luster when their learning needs are not met. Please support HB 07 - 1244.

President Greeley EAGLES - Affiliate of the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented