Thursday, September 27, 2007

Do genius children need special programs?

Last month Joanne Jacobs posted about a Time's article: Are We Failing Our Geniuses?

The article reveals how the public schools do a poor job for helping those with exceptionable ability. For example the drop out rate for gifted children is about 5%, which is the same for nongifted children.

The attitude in public schools is that gifted children can fend for themselves. Many in society think that because gifted children are so smart they don't need help. Another example of this problem is where the money goes. The Time's article reports:

"American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally retarded. Spending on the gifted isn't even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. But it can't make sense to spend 10 times as much to try to bring low-achieving students to mere proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential."

One of the conclusions of the article is gifted children should be allowed to skip grades and moved quicker through school.

Jan Davidson, Bob Davidson, and Laura Vanderkam in Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds write extensively about this problem. Cheri Pierson Yecke in The War against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools shows where public schools are often hostile to gifted and talented children.

This month Joanne Jacobs found about another possible solution in What geniuses need. Richard Rusczyk on the Britannica Blog responds to the Time's article in Failing Our Geniuses:

"Aside from continuing to portray the gifted as oddities, the author appeares to think that such students don’t need special attention, using the peculiar argument that if Einstein didn’t get it, no genius should. The author even argues that being forced to overcome an uncaring education system is actually good for the kids; it builds character, etc. Could you imagine the author writing the same about poor students, or women in mathematics, or learning-disabled students?
"The conclusion, of course, is that gifted students therefore don’t need special schools; they just need to be able to accelerate. This shows a clear misunderstanding of the problem. Our top students nowadays usually are accelerated in school. And they’re still bored and underserved."

Richard's solution is not more of the same, but new programs designed for gifted children:

"The problem our students face in their regular schools is that the standard curriculum is not designed for high-performing students, just as PE classes are not designed for our best athletes. The classes are too slow and too easy. And skipping grades or going to community college doesn’t address the core issue either. It puts these students in yet another class that isn’t designed for them, only now the other students in the class are many years older, which creates its own social problems. A better solution is to create a specialized curriculum for honors-level students, just as there’s specialized training for the basketball team and the band. I don’t mean honors classes – these are usually taught from the same books and with the same material as the regular classes. I mean books and classes developed specifically for our future mathematicians, engineers, and scientists."

If you have a gifted child in a public school you may have an extra reason to homeschool them. You can give them so much more than public schools. Your child doesn't have to spend 12 years in classes being bored. They can master the basic material much quicker, and then go on to more challenging and interesting subjects. As children grow beyond your ability to teach them, there are online courses and junior colleges. And there are always libraries.

Parents should not wait until the schools to change, which may never happen, to make sure their children have a great education.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education


Alyssa Rock said...

I think this is true from my experience. (I just realized that my previous sentence could be read as a self-declaration that I'm genius---not intended, btw.)

I've volunteered Destination Imagination, which is essentially a Gifted and Talented program. I've been with the program for 17 years now and it's amazing how little support we get from schools---even when we have clear metrics showing our success rates.

Btw, your kids should do Destination Imagination. It's much cooler than Lego Robotics. :P

I enjoy your blog!

Hanley Family said...

A lo of teachers deal with gifted children by giving them more of the same. They come up in conversation in the staff room as much as any other kid because they can be difficult to deal with.

They finish their work before you are hardly beginning to assist those who need extra assistance. A lot of teachers I worked with felt torn...they did not like handing these kids worksheets to fill time when the subject material was mastered and they felt like they weren't really teaching them anything. That can be as frustrating for a teacher as it is boring for a child.

Catch Her in the Wry said...

I homeschooled my 2 highly gifted children until high school. They actually skipped two grades when they entered public high school. We live in a rural area and there was no other way to handle their schooling.

Homeschooling worked well. We did 4 hours of concentrated study per day. The pace was fast since they absorbed the material quickly. They had no problem adjusting to older kids at the high school and in fact, were some what bored with the pace of the classrooms.

Giving gifted children more busy-work is not the answer. Gifted children need to be stimulated or they will become bored and withdrawn or they will become trouble-makers to amuse themselves.

Henry Cate said...

Alyssa, thanks for the suggestion on Destination Imagination. It does look interesting.

And thanks for the kind words.

Dana, I think this is part of the problem with the Factory Model public schools use to deal with children. It may be OK when all the children are similar, but gifted children can be gifted in different ways.

Prairie Gourmet, I agree, more busy work is destructive to the growth of a gifted child. Our daughters are smart, I don't know if they are in the top 2%. I'm pretty sure they are in the top 5%. Our plan currently is to start having our daughters take college courses online as they hit fourteen or fifteen. One of the nice things about homeschooling is there are so many options.

Anonymous said...

The way gifted and highly gifted children are segregated can create pressures on its own -- the highly gifted program I was in in elementary school had (and still has) less than 500 slots for the entire district. That might not be so terrible, except that it's LAUSD, with nearly 800,000 enrolled students. As a result, any time we acted up or complained, there was some adult nearby ready to remind us that there were 10 kids just waiting in line for our spot if we didn't want to be there. We did get a fair amount of support, though -- more, I think, than the gifted kids in the same school. We definitely got plenty of field trips, and I'll always remember the time we created a fictional civilization, buried the artifacts, and then dug up another class' artifacts and analyzed them. ^_^

My mom gave up on public schools altogether once we moved out of LAUSD. It was easier to do trips to museums and have me read junior college textbooks at home, than deal with a new school district that wanted to skip me a couple of grade levels. The only reason she kept me in public schools that long was because of the LAUSD program -- before I went there, I was being sent to older grades for half the day or getting ridiculously ahead on my assignments. Even in the highly gifted program, they'd send 2nd graders across the building to do "reading group" time with 6th graders.

loonyhiker said...

I am a member of the Council for Exceptional Children which advocates for children with exceptionaliities including gifted children. We have protested loudly about taking Javits money out of the federal budget and obviously the legislature heard us! We need to take care of our gifted children because someday they may be making laws that affect all of us!

Jess said...

I thought I could avoid some of these problems by enrolling my highly gifted child in a private (ie very expensive) school. This was not the case. We were told that her needs could be met in her second grade classroom (she was tested reading at 8-9th grade) but her teacher gave her Nate the Great to read (she just finished Romeo and Juliet at home). I am very frustrated (paying extra money for a reading tutor) and am not sure what to do. Oh and by the way the school was great with her twin sister in helping with her auditory learning disability. This problem is frustrating!

wingv said...

Hi. I'm completely new to this site and have found everyone's comments helpful. My son has a genius IQ but fails...(really,all F's except one D- this trimester) in public schools. He's 13 and in the 7th grade. He earns high scores on his tests, and doesn't turn 90% of his work in. He is well behaved at school...just doesn't do the work.
He's in the 99th % in Verbal reasoning but the 5th % in speed processing. He understands the things being taught, and he tests well on the subject matter. But he doesn't do the busy takes him forever compared to his classmates. For every one assignment he finishes he's given another 5 because of his speed problems. Plus it he says he knows the material, so why do the "busy work"? Our Talented gifted program is meager at best. I've thought of homeschooling, but my son doesn't like to follow my directions. So I don't think our relationship would survive it.
My query is two-fold. 1) anyone else out there with the same problem of genius IQ and slow speed? And 2) How do you home school a child who likes to learn but appears quite oppositional or defiant to directives?

Henry Cate said...

A couple thought for you to mull over:

1) I think "busy work" is probably a form of torture for him. I can understand your son not wanting to do more and more problems just because the teacher can't challenge him.

2) If he likes to learn then try running with that. Who cares if he is defiant to directives? At 13 go with his strengths and interests. Over time he'll mature and find better ways to work with others.

3) You might try reading The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education by Grace Llewellyn. I haven't read it, but several people recommend it.

4) You might also want to remember there is a difference between getting a certificate and getting an education. If your son is a race horse and can learn faster that other kids his wage, I would work to help him get a better education.

5) If you are seriously considering homeschooling check out The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. My wife and I have each read this book, a couple times. It helps show the potential of a read education.

6) You might have a heart to heart talk with your son. You could say that you are considering homeschooling, but that he would have to committ to doing some of the work. My suggestion is you only have work to demonstrate that he understands the material. Once it is clear he understands the material I see little benefit in making him do assignments just to do assignments. If he is up for it, then give it a try. He could miss the rest of this school year and not suffer.

Does this help?

Good luck.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I have obtained a copy of A Well-Trained Mind and look forward to reading it this weekend. After reading 18 reviews on Llewellyn's book, I've decided not to purchase it because my son has a high degree of ADD (not ADHD) and requires structure. He thrives on schedules...they are an environmental prosthetic for him; he falls apart when disorganized.
I wanted to ask you (and others who will be reading this post) about the need for a home schooled child to be self-motivated. My son doesn't like to work. He will study IF he wants to...and most of the time doesn't want to. Since you are experienced with homeschooling, I value your opinion. Would you suggest homeschooling?

Janine Cate said...

>My son doesn't like to work. He will study IF he wants to...and most of the time doesn't want to. Since you are experienced with homeschooling, I value your opinion. Would you suggest homeschooling?

Most kids don't want to work. While we let our children follow their own interests, there are also some subjects we simple insist that they do.

For example, my 6th and 8th graders must complete their assingments in math, history, science, etc. to earn the privilege of going to the library on Saturday. Since my kids would rather read than do anything else, that incentive works for them. I check on their progress during the week, so they dont' loose track.

On the other hand, my second grader does very little structured schoolwork that she doesn't initiate herself. The older she gets, the more requirements I add.

The trick is to find out what the child values. To gain that desired thing (books, computer time, etc.), they are willing to do things that they do not initially find intrisically rewarding. I say initially, because as time goes on, children often come to enjoy tasks that they once found unpleasant.

Anonymous said...

Pete said.....

We fell into home schooling, and would never change now. Our son is quite bright, and loves to focus.

In two hours of home schooling, we can provide perhaps 12 hours of regular school education; and with passion and vigor. Much more importantly, we focus on applications and areas of study that are quite advanced, and we expect (and receive) very quick understanding as a normal course of events. This latter is the key to the unbelievable success of home schooling.

We started the alphabet and light reading at age 4, and found ourselves reading novels 6 months later at age 5.

We completed Gr 1 - Gr 4 math in 4 months, and are currently in our second time through Gr 5-6.

We discovered, in math, that many textbooks focus on busywork and conversion relationships, while minimizing what I believe is the real math of deriving flows and relationships on the fly.

We spend no more than 4 hours per day. We have expert tutors come in for several sessions per week - highly engaging and passionate scholars resonate with our son.

At age 6, he is doing significant self-exploration, independent study. Lego has a great Creator group, which lets one develop Lego structures as an art/engineering dream.

We have found the rigor of developing independent writing (2 pages on a topic, organized) has given depth and breadth to his mental flows - writing is extremely important. The analysis and organization of writing has provided important new channels for solving word problems.

Sometimes we attend a regular school with limited enrollment, through a special arrangement (we suspect this would be available to many). This is such a nice experience, and serves to accentuate both the positives and negatives.

It's only been 150 years since the "box" approach to education was introduced to North America. We still have time to get back to the future.


Henry Cate said...

Geoff, I'll add a couple comments to my wife's response: For me one of the key aspects of homeschooling is not a particular curriculum, or how many hours a parent spends with a child, or how involved a child is in deciding what they learn. There is a huge variety of types and styles of homeschooling.

What sets homeschooling apart from public education is the parents, and hopefully the students, take responsibility for education.

If you son is somewhat responsible, not a perfect kid, but average or above average in making and keeping commitments, then you tell him something like: "I think you would learn more and enjoy life more if we homeschooled. Are you willing to give it a try and and will you do the work?" You might give him some time to think about it. Maybe have him build a list of pluses and minuses.

From what you've described it is hard to see how you could do worse that what is already happening with how the public school treats your son. I'm sure you'd make mistakes, and there might be times when your son would be ready to bail, but I think that overall it could be tons better.

Let us know if you have any other questions.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Regarding wingv's comment--

I have a child who had virtually the same problems with school, only his problems reached crisis level in the second grade. We were concerned about homeschooling him because he had become defiant--when he wasn't sobbing.

Homeschool has remedied most of his problems--he is cheerful, completes work with minimal grumbling, and progresses through his studies at a miraculous rate. By keeping the work challenging while giving him plenty of time to complete writing and math assignments, we have kept him happy and interested--most of the time.

Henry Cate said...

"Homeschool has remedied most of his problems..."

That is wonderful.

Thank you for sharing the good news.