Are gifted students missing out on quality education?

Is your child one of the gifted students are missing out on quality education? Chintan is a “bookish” middle school student. Unfortunately, it is not cool to be “bookish” at his school. He is teased for studying eighth-grade math while still in the seventh grade. Still, even the eighth-grade math is too easy and boring for Chintan. He needs to be challenged to his full potential and surrounded by intellectual peers.  Sadly without help to grow both emotionally and mentally, Chintan will never live up to his potential (Davidson and Davidson 128-129).

Signed into law on January 8, 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was intended to raise the standards of special education. NCLB was created to give underachieving students better educational opportunities, thus closing the achievement gap between the gifted and struggling learners. The United States Department of Education organizes NCLB into four main points.

First, the Act declares stronger accountability for annual school progress results. Secondly, NCLB allows states to have flexibility with federal education funds. Third, NCLB assures the use of proven education methods. In fact, federal funding is set aside specifically for programs that work to improve student learning.  Finally, NCLB declares more choices for parents. In low-performing schools, parents may transfer their child to a better performing school within their district at the expense of the original school.

Despite its good intentions for struggling learners, the No Child Left Behind Act has wreaked havoc on gifted education. The National Association of Gifted Children defines gifted students as those “who give evidence of high achievement capability…and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities” (“Definition”).

However, before the official version of NCLB was finalized, a purposes clause concerning gifted students was eliminated. In the eliminated clause, NCLB committed to “…providing children an enriched and accelerated education program, including the use of school-wide programs or additional services that increase the amount and quality of instructional time…” (Rebell and Wolff 76).

Because this clause was left out of the Act, public schools are not held responsible for the education of gifted students. Take, for example, the minimal funding provided for gifted education. In 2003, just one year after the Act was passed, Illinois eliminated $16 million from its gifted education programs. In the same year, Michigan cut statewide gifted education funding from $5 million to a mere $500,000 (Cloud).

Then, by 2004, only 29 states funded gifted education programs (Davidson 34), and eight states did not allocate any funds at all for gifted education (“Gifted Education”). In the years since NCLB, schools nationwide have spent over $8 billion on special education programs, whereas spending on the gifted is too insignificant to be calculated (Cloud).

NCLB also fails gifted students by insulting their intelligence, forcing them to sit through repetitive material. Gifted students, who master nearly half of the curriculum before the start of the school year (Unger) spend over 80% of the day waiting for new material to be taught (Clarke). Because teachers have re-wired the core curriculum to favor the struggling students, gifted students practice arbitrary exercises. But even the exercises are too basic, leaving gifted students even more bored and ignored than before (Gallagher 121-123).

As a result of their boredom, gifted students often struggle with underachievement. Teachers currently view underachievement as earning C and D grades or failing tests. But even students receiving perfect grades are underachieving if they do not have to work for them. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, more than half of all gifted students meet this definition of underachievement (“Gifted Education”).

In addition to stunting intellectual growth, NCLB has been blamed for damaging gifted students’ emotional health. Gifted kids who are unchallenged never gain the self-confidence that comes from taking risks. They become intelligent perfectionists who are petrified at the mere thought of failure (Davidson). Since children spend most of their days in classrooms, it is vital for schools to implement services for gifted students immediately as over 80% of them receive no type of specialized instruction (Rivera B1). As Columbia education professor Abraham Tannenbaum confirms, “Giftedness requires a social context that enables it” (Cloud).

Acceleration comes in many forms and is a cost-effective way to challenge gifted students. One form of acceleration is early entrance. Early entrance allows young gifted children to start kindergarten before age five, placing them in classrooms with kids closer to their intellectual age (Ruf). It is appropriate for children who have exhausted all preschool can offer. Gifted children enrolled in early entrance are, on average, six months ahead in their achievement compared to their classmates (Rogers 112-114). Early entrance students, however, are as socially well-adjusted as their older classmates.

Single-subject acceleration allows gifted students to move at a rapid pace through curriculum content well beyond grade level in a specific subject area, such as math or science. Gifted students are pulled out of their normal classrooms for advancement in their specific subject, but remain with their grade for every other one. Single-subject acceleration is recommended for students who desire to learn, are self-directed and independent, and show strong interest in a specific academic area (Rogers 121-125). And, because they benefit from getting educated at the right intellectual level, gifted students feel significantly less awkward (Ruf).

Although single-subject acceleration is an improvement from the normal classroom, it is not considered sufficient differentiation for gifted students because the needs of gifted students occur every day in nearly every academic area. One or two hours per week is not enough (Rogers 259).

The most efficient solution for educating gifted students is full-grade acceleration, or grade-skipping. Grade-skipping allows gifted students to cut a full year or two from the usual K-12 education and usually happens during the child’s elementary education, like skipping from kindergarten to the second grade. This exposes the child to one peer group instead of two (Rogers 167-173).

Grade-skipping is considered for students who are self-directed, enjoy pursuing academics outside of school, and prefer to work at an accelerated pace, but not to work alone. Still, most schools are terrified of grade-skipping, making it the most debated form of academic acceleration (Cloud).

Our education system has little knowledge about cultivating the intelligence of gifted students. As a result, nearly 5% of gifted students drop out of school—the same rate as struggling students (Cloud). To reduce this drop out rate, grade-skipping is suggested. Still, no matter the time of the grade skip, the brilliant loner with no one to talk to is far from what researchers have found (Rogers 170; Colangelo, Assouline, and Gross 1: 19, 23).

Because of the No Child Left Behind Act, American education now focuses exclusively on failing students, leaving intelligent students bored and ignored. Because educators refuse to implement cost-effective methods for teaching young brilliant minds, gifted students like eleven-year-old Jason Kalbec are literally losing their minds.  “We need the challenges. We can’t just be left behind,” Kalbec begs, summing up the nation’s pathetic disregard of its most intelligent children.