Time: Failing Our Geniuses

An interesting article on Time today: Failing Our Geniuses about how the most talented students are being sidelined by current education policy. Some choice bits:

Since well before the Bush Administration began using the impossibly sunny term “no child left behind,” those who write education policy in the U.S. have worried most about kids at the bottom, stragglers of impoverished means or IQs. But surprisingly, gifted students drop out at the same rates as nongifted kids–about 5% of both populations leave school early. Later in life, according to the scholarly Handbook of Gifted Education, up to one-fifth of dropouts test in the gifted range.

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.

We take for granted that those with IQs at least three standard deviations below the mean (those who score 55 or lower on IQ tests) require “special” education. But students with IQs that are at least three standard deviations above the mean (145 or higher) often have just as much trouble interacting with average kids and learning at an average pace. Shouldn’t we do something special for them as well?

In a no-child-left-behind conception of public education, lifting everyone up to a minimum level is more important than allowing students to excel to their limit. It has become more important for schools to identify deficiencies than to cultivate gifts. Odd though it seems for a law written and enacted during a Republican Administration, the social impulse behind No Child Left Behind is radically egalitarian. It has forced schools to deeply subsidize the education of the least gifted, and gifted programs have suffered. The year after the President signed the law in 2002, Illinois cut $16 million from gifted education; Michigan cut funding from $5 million to $500,000. Federal spending declined from $11.3 million in 2002 to $7.6 million this year.

7 thoughts on “Time: Failing Our Geniuses

  1. Heck yeah, the education system does NOT handle smart people well.

    I hate being slowed down to the slowest person in the class, or even the average person in the class.

    I wish there were some better way.

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  2. This process of making sure everyone is at a certain minimum standard, whilst crushing the spirits of more “gifted” (oh how I hate that word) kids is only surprising if you’re not familiar with why the system is the way it is. John Taylor Gatto is my favourite source of education history; his book “The Underground History of American Education” (http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/) is a ripper, and the short essay “Against School” (http://www.spinninglobe.net/againstschool.htm) is a nice summary of the same ideas.

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  3. Trouble is, acceleration doesn’t work well either. You have to skip a whole year at a time, so you miss all the material that was presented during that year. If you are super-bright then you might be able to handle that, but there are a lot of kids in the middle where that doesn’t work. And you keep having to do it because no matter where you are, your class-mates can’t keep up. You start by being 1 year ahead in the second or third year of school, but by the time you get to the sixth or seventh year you are being held back by your class-mates again because a 1-year acceleration isn’t so much by then, so you have to skip a second year.

    The other big problem is that many gifted children are not evenly gifted, so they may well be leaping ahead in one subject while having to do remedial work in another. Moving them up a year is merely going to compound their problems.

    One particular problem area is social and emotional development. Some bright kids can handle it. Many others just can’t relate to their classmates on equal terms.

    And then you run into institutions which, for one reason or another, have age restrictions. Teachers these days are vetted to work with children. University lecturers are not, so leaping from High School to University at 14 may be legally impossible because the University would have to get all its staff vetted first, and probably can’t get insurance cover either.

    Not that I have a good answer (other than “spend lots and lots of money on them”). Basically, being an exception really sucks.

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