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Why is Gifted Education Necessary?

July 10, 2011

Renzulli Quote

Keeping a child who can do sixth-grade work in a second-grade classroom is not saving that student’s childhood but is instead robbing that child of the desire to learn. – Ellen Winner, Gifted Children: Myths and Realities

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. – William Butler Yeats

According to the National Association for Gifted Children and other experts, about 5 to 7 percent of children are gifted.  In the Rochester Community Schools, this would be up to 1,000 students.  But even with this large number of students, gifted children and the need for gifted education is little understood and often overlooked.  Gifted education is essentially non-existent in our elementary schools, limited in our middle schools, and present as honors and AP classes in our high schools.

Today I want examine why advanced and gifted education is necessary in our schools to make students college-ready, career-ready, and life-ready.

Two of the most important qualities our school system can help instill are a love for learning and the ability to overcome adversity. That requires an appropriate level of instruction, academics that stimulate the intellect, and a pace appropriate to the learner. How would typical students fare if they were placed a year or two behind their grade level? They might ace all the exams, but they would be bored, not learn, not develop study skills, and wouldn’t fit in. According to The Marland Report on gifted children in 1972, “because the majority of gifted children’s school adjustment problems occur between kindergarten and fourth grade, about half of gifted children became ‘mental dropouts’ at around 10 years of age.”

Our children are sent to school to learn.  To learn, the material must be new.  Most people only learn how to swim once.  You wouldn’t put someone who knows how to swim in a beginners class no matter his age.  And once you’ve learned the front crawl, you want to move on to other strokes like the butterfly.  Spending time swimming laps while your classmates are still figuring out side breathing is time spent not learning.  The classroom is no different.  Some children are ahead of classmates their age in academics.  Re-learning the material makes no sense for them.  Some children learn much quicker than others.  Giving them additional worksheets (swimming laps) will not teach them more.  We need to focus on what material is academically aligned, not age aligned.

More importantly, our children are sent to school to learn how to learn.  To do this, the material must be appropriately aligned and paced to the child.  When much of the material is review or the pace is too slow, the students do not learn as much as they should or could.  They do not acquire necessary skills in how to study, how to learn, and how to work hard to achieve a goal.  Not having those skills will harm them in their careers and lives more than any lack of knowledge.  A person who never has a challenge is a person who never really succeeds.

Often there are concerns about how gifted education will affect a student socially.  Will a child accelerated a grade or put in an advanced cluster group be out of place in the classroom?  In the vast majority of cases, placing a child with his intellectual peers helps him fit in socially by not sticking out so much.  Being with other advanced peers allows a gifted child to understand his uniqueness better.  Students appropriately placed into gifted programs are much less disruptive in the classroom as their minds remain occupied.  In addition, overcoming obstacles and earning success improves self esteem more than easy accomplishments.

Gifted education helps keep advanced learners engaged in school.  In 1991, the dropout rate for gifted students was estimated at 18-25 percent, far exceeding the U.S. dropout rate of 12.1 percent at that time.  Two major factors were lacking or inappropriate gifted education and poor social adjustment.  Both are improved by gifted education.  Not having gifted education is leaving gifted children behind.

Gifted education is needed to provide academically aligned education for advanced students, to teach gifted students skills needed in their careers and lives, to meet their social and emotional needs, and to keep them engaged in school so they don’t drop out.  It is important that this group of students not be overlooked in the schools simply because they can “get by” without much assistance.

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE.  Together we can make a difference for gifted students!

The Importance of Gifted Education Series
I. Why I Am Passionate About Gifted Education
II. Why Is Gifted Education Necessary?
III.  Is Gifted Education Equal Education?
IV. Is Gifted Education Expensive?

V. How Does Gifted Education Help Everyone?

VI. What Are Characteristics of a Gifted Child?

VII. Why Grades Don’t Matter to Me
VIII. The Procrustean Bed of Education
IX. The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations
X. I Want My Kids to Fail

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