24 August 2007

Quick And Easy Gifted Education?

From Time Magazine, via NewMexiKen:

[Her mother] doesn't want her daughter's IQ published, but it is comfortably above 145, placing the [Annalisee Brasil, age 14] in the top 0.1% of the population. . . .But until last year, Annalisee's parents . . . couldn't find a school willing to take their daughter unless she enrolled with her age-mates. None of the schools in Longview--and even as far away as the Dallas area--were willing to let Annalisee skip more than two grades. She needed to skip at least three--she was doing sixth-grade work at age 7. Many school systems are wary of grade skipping even though research shows that it usually works well both academically and socially for gifted students--and that holding them back can lead to isolation and underachievement. . . . [I]t would have been fairly simple (and virtually cost-free) to let her skip grades, but the lack of awareness about the benefits of grade skipping is emblematic of a larger problem: our education system has little idea how to cultivate its most promising students. . . . since at least the mid-1980s, schools have often forced gifted students to stay in age-assigned grades--even though a 160-IQ kid trying to learn at the pace of average, 100-IQ kids is akin to an average girl trying to learn at the pace of a retarded girl with an IQ of 40.

The story features a charter school in Reno, Nevada:

They are kids from age 11 to 16 who are taking classes at least three years beyond their grade level (and in some cases much more; two of the school's prodigies have virtually exhausted the undergraduate math curriculum at the University of Nevada, Reno, whose campus hosts the academy). . . . At the academy, the battered concept of IQ--complicated in recent years by the idea of multiple intelligences, including artistic and emotional acuity--is accepted there without the encumbrances of politics. The school is a rejection of the thoroughly American notion that if most just try hard enough, we could all be talented. Many school administrators oppose ability grouping on the theory that it can perpetuate social inequalities, but at the Davidson Academy, even the 45 élite students are grouped by ability into easier and harder English, math and science classes.

My take?

1. IQ is real, and whatever its source and basis, is a powerful predictor of academic progress fairly early, probably by mid-elementary school, under normal conditions.

2. A child's abilities and inclinations have much more to do with their academic success, at least, for the middle 95% of kids in the middle 85% of schools. Very bad school conditions drag kids down. Phenomenally good school conditions can have a positive effect. Kids at the very bottom and at the very top of academic ability are poorly served by most schools. But, within these fairly relaxed conditions, a kid's individual academic progress will not be very impacted by school quality.

3. Allowing kids to skip ahead in grades is frequently the best reasonably practicable option in a public school system for high IQ kids. The number of kids who are three or more grade levels beyond their age is very small -- in a big school district like Denver's, you are talking about 5 kids at any given age -- so individually pairing those ahead of grade level kids with experienced teachers capable of maintaining social harmony in their classrooms in the face of a kid who is somehow different in some respects isn't hard within the normal student assignment process. For kids who are ahead a grade or two, the number of kids impacted is much greater, but, the social risks that have discouraged moving kids ahead of their grade level are also much diminished. This doesn't have to be taken to the extreme of having every kid in a classroom exactly tailored to that child's grade level, but it isn't so much to ask (and costs essentially nothing) to have every kid in a classroom no more than a couple of years behind their grade level.

4. Schools are right to spend more money on kids who are behind grade level, but do a poor job of that as well. While putting kids a grade or two ahead is pretty easy, putting kids several grades behind is potentially more problematic.

1 comment:

Dave Barnes said...


You wrote: "Schools are right to spend more money on kids who are behind grade level,".

I disagree.

More should be spent on the gifted as they will contribute much more to society.

Who will come up with the innovative ideas? The super dumb or the super smart?