By Sausner, Rebecca
District Administration , Vol. 41, No. 9
With her eldest daughter about to enter her senior year of high school at age 14, Carolyn Kottmeyer has experienced just about every aspect of gifted education American schools have to offer. She's done acceleration--three times with her eldest, in fact. She's been through early entry; her second daughter entered first grade at age five. The girls have a combined eight summers at challenge camps for gifted kids, and her older daughter will graduate high school with five AP classes and two college courses. The family has moved, looking for a district more hospitable to their highly gifted children.
Kottmeyer is also a gifted education advocate who manages an Internet discussion board for parents of gifted kids that has several thousand members. So what does she think of gifted education in America these days?
"In every other aspect of the education system they teach to the kids, but in gifted they expect the student to sit still and do nothing while they teach other kids," she says. "It just doesn't make sense; and this new high-stakes test environment is not helping at all."
Kottmeyer says she believes the way she's navigated the public education system on behalf of her kids is "the least worst option," but adds that the situation for most gifted kids in public schools is getting worse. And she's not alone in her bleak assessment of the situation.
During the past year there's been a drumbeat of publicity decrying the state of gifted ed, particularly following the publication of a handful of books on the topic. First came Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds by Jan and Bob Davidson of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Then A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students by Nicholas Colangelo and his colleagues at the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. Adding to the chorus was Joseph Renzulli, director of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, who penned The Quiet Crises Clouding the Future of R&D for Education Week, and this July, Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind by Deborah Ruf.
These leading, and best-funded, thinkers in the field come from camps that aren't directly opposing, but regard each other warily. They seem to divide rather neatly into sides that believe either that grade acceleration of gifted students is the best approach, or that enrichment opportunities for all, with advanced enrichment for the gifted, are the way to go. National organizations seem to straddle the continuum between the two.
But debating these two models is purely academic when the reality is that in most American schools gifted kids aren't getting much acceleration or enrichment because there's no federal mandate regarding gifted education, state spending isn't focused on it, and most teachers were never trained in how to do it. Unless they have particularly savvy--or pushy, depending how you view it--parents, gifted kids often languish away in the regular ed system, perhaps treated to an hour or two of part-time, pull out gifted program a week.
The other elephant in the room when the topic of gifted education comes up is race. Minority children are under-represented in gifted programs just as they are over-represented in special education. And both sides of the debate on gifted education use this fact to buttress their cases: those who oppose programs that homogeneously group gifted kids say the selection practices are biased: those on the other side say strong gifted programs will give poor children a chance to receive the enrichment and advantages that middle-class parents have become so adept at providing.
Javits is no IDEA
Those who are most passionate about gifted education say true support of it in America requires a paradigm shift--recognizing that gifted students have special needs similar to those students who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. …