Monday, May 6, 2013

A Few of My Thoughts on Education

I am dedicating this week to publishing my ideas on a specific area of public education.  I'd love to hear your opinions and debate the issue with you.
I never thought I would use my blog as a platform for a persuasive essay, but the time has come for me to address an issue that has bothered me for many years—for at least as long as I’ve had kids in school, and may even date back to when I was a student myself.

I can’t remember the last paper I wrote.  It must have been my senior thesis at BYU—a case study using my grandparents as an example of a typical family of the 1940s and 1950s.  Much has changed since I wrote that paper.  Statistics appear at your fingertips through Dr. Google.  Editing doesn’t require a retype on the typewriter (I’m really dating myself with that comment!), and if a computer were within reach, a printer most certainly would not be, let alone google docs to share your knowledge with the push of a button.

So much has changed.

Schools have also changed markedly since I was a student.  Back then, in the good old days, teachers managed classrooms of 20-35 students single-handedly, receiving no help from full-time aids or assistants. Students took one standardized test a year—maybe even every other year.  IEPs were some unknown person’s initials.  Today, education concentrates on money, testing, the Common Core, and oh yeah . . . money.  Sadly, adults are losing focus on what is important—the kids, especially neglecting a select group of kids.

One thing that hasn’t changed much in twenty-five years is the social acceptance allowing a complete discussion relating to the education of our gifted kids.

If a child is a gifted athlete, parents will cater to those abilities, finding the most competitive teams and leagues for their child.  The young athletes shine in that environment and continue to improve their skills (often with academics placed on a back burner), then scouts will see them during a stellar football game, court them with money and promises, and their professional trajectory is based on their gifts.

If a child is a gifted musician, parents pay for lessons and teachers and search for experts to hone their child’s skills.  Microphones and amps and become life, along with auditions, stages, and hours of lessons. 

I am grateful for school programs that help identify these gifts in our children—PE classes, music, art, and sports teams all play a role in developing well-rounded people.  I would hate to see public school funding for these programs cut, because not only do they bring beauty and joy to life, they also help schools pinpoint children whose gifts may fall through the cracks created by poverty or lack of parental support. I am forever grateful for the opportunities provided for my children through public schools.  These opportunities enrich and bless my children in ways that I cannot.

As much as I adore the elective activities included in our schools’ curricula, developing these extraneous skills shouldn’t be our schools’ primary focus. The main role of education should be academics—developing their minds and teaching our children to think. Lamentably, public education is failing the academically and intellectually gifted—those students school should be benefiting most.

Why is it that when we talk about a gifted child athlete, people fawn over them, or when admiring a gifted musician or artist, people stand in awe, but when we talk about academically and intellectually gifted children, jealousy rears its ugly head and the phrase “Every child is gifted,” enters the conversation? I am sick to death of hearing, “Every child is gifted.” I agree that every child is special and every child is individual and every child has attributes that are inherently theirs—abilities that separate and differentiate them from every other being that has ever lived on Earth.

But let’s be real.  Not every child is a gifted student.  There. I said it.  And I meant it.  Are the PC police going to find me now?

Let me establish some parameters for the discussion of “gifted” students.  A rough guideline used by educators is an IQ test:

High IQ:

    Mildly Gifted -- 115 to 129
    Moderately Gifted -- 130 to 144
    Highly Gifted -- 145 to 159
    Exceptionally Gifted -- 160 to 179
    Profoundly Gifted -- 180

While most schools don’t perform the traditional IQ test, other tests (such Otis-Lennon or Stanford-Binet) are used to establish and define a child’s level of giftedness.  Why is this important?  Carol Bainbridge writes:
"These ranges are based on a standard bell curve. Most people fall in the range between 85 and 115, with 100 the absolute norm. This range is considered normal. The farther away from the absolute norm of 100 a child is, the greater the need for special educational accommodations, regardless of whether the distance is on the left or right of 100."

This is the elephant in the room that I need to address—the need for special educational accommodations for our gifted kids.  It isn’t the topic of choice recently.  Those topics would include Common Core, standardized testing, technology in the classroom, improving America’s international standing in academics, and the ever-popular “What are we going to throw money at next?” or its flip side “What are we going to not fund in the future?”  Believe me, I have plenty opinions on each of these subjects, but first things first.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

There is a difference between academically and intellectually gifted.


  1. I'm SO glad someone else feels this way! I have a son (who's frankly most likely got Asperger's Syndrome, which makes him a little more focused and quite a bit more intelligent than the "norm" for his age), who's INCREDIBLY gifted. The boy taught himself to read BY age three, he worked on teaching himself multiplication between kindergarten and first grade, and we decided that in order to keep him engaged academically, he was going to need to be pushed, so he's now in a Portuguese immersion program to help him have something DIFFERENT to focus on and to put him on a more even keel with the other kids his age. Portuguese Immersion was the ONLY way we had to help our little first grader to not be immensely bored with school, other than to move him up a grade! (Which frankly wasn't an option, since his sister's in that grade and emotionally that's not fair to either one of them.) We NEED gifted programs in our school and we NEED to continue to identify those children and reward them for being gifted! It's sad when we start teaching to the lowest common denominator, rather than even the average. We're teaching gifted students that being "smart" doesn't matter, and in fact is something to try hard NOT to achieve because you'll always be "different." I'm SO grateful I had gifted classes as a child and was identified early so that I learned to LOVE learning! Why can't we teach our children now that that's okay?!?

  2. This has bugged me as long as it has bugged you! In elementary there was ELP - in Jr high it was harder classes with grumpy teachers (sans Mr. Bisanz) with pointless homework and busy work. By the time they get to high school students are no longer excited to learn.

    In this country we are falling behind in education and yet we fail, to not only recognize gifted children, we fail to nurture that love of learning and help them go as far as they would like to go. We make them wait for the slowest in the class to grasp a concept (which that student is equally as important) but demeans those who were chomping at the bit to go further. No longer can you divide a class on reading levels or distinguish students that may damage a child's self esteem...
    As you can see, I am hardly rational - I am very interested in what everyone else has to say.

  3. This post reminds me of when Mr. Bisanz would constantly remind us that we were special ed. kids too. Miss that man. I could rant on and on about my issues with public education, but I did have really incredible teachers all through high school. And while some people maybe felt neglected, my good friend John Ernzen was courted by schools just as much as any football star and received enough money to pay for at least 3 undergrad degrees at any of the most expensive and prestigious schools. So I feel like the recognition is there, but there are certain, structured avenues to get it.

  4. way to go jen. ahhhhh!!!! i have big beef with this topic. BIG.

  5. yep, you KNOW I am there on the same page with you on this subject. With 4 of our 5 kids in the gifted program, I feel that I should do more to advocate for their education, especially to cater to their giftedness. I am all ears and await your next thoughts on education :)

  6. I basically agree with you. I've had children who fall into the gifted category who were sorely ignored and under-challenged, and I've had the "average" child, who was ignored as well - no one wanted to go the extra mile for someone who didn't seem (at the time) to be college prep material. The only child I had who got star quality attention was my oldest. And he went to a private Catholic high school. Public schools are so often mediocre at best, and often times just terrible. The one thing I noticed, interestingly enough, was that as a single mom, my concerns were largely ignored. Two parent families got a lot more attention when they expressed their concerns. I don't know what that means. It's just something I noticed at the time in my kids' particular high school. Now that I've been out of it for awhile, I would love to find some way to help make our public schools better.

  7. I have read your blog for a long time without commenting, but wanted to join the debate as this is a very important topic for any mother. I also got my degree in secondary education which piques my interest even more.

    I completely agree with your stance. We no longer encourage "stand-out" academic performance. The educational community abhors making distinctions when it comes to individual performance. It could be that teachers themselves don't want to be held to high, individual standards. It is a different argument but if and ever our government sets up a standardized test that rewards teachers and students who display "stand-out" performance then the whole culture would change.

    Thanks! Love your blog by the way.

  8. I completely agree! I taught kindergarten in public schools (here in AZ) for 7 years, and this year I ventured to a charter school. We have programs for gifted students as well as struggling. It's refreshing to finally be able to have the freedom to extend and enrich, rather than be a walking DIBELS or AIMS score. :)

  9. I had one child who was gifted and our educational system failed him. Any extra he received came through what we could give him through extra reading, travel, challenges.
    I'll never, ever forget walking into his classroom one day to find a teacher dealing with two special needs students and an aid dealing with another, while the rest of the class chattered and moved about. There, in the middle of the room, with his head on his desk, was my son. Most of his teachers didn't understand the questions he asked, tho' we were lucky that he met a gifted teacher when he was 14.
    It is a crime that, more and more, our public education aims for the lowest common demoninator.

  10. I was just talking to a friend about this the other day. My son is not by any means gifted...but he is at the top of his class and that appears to be good enough. He gets to sit back and(do busy work) wait while many students are trying to catch up with the help of title 1 tutors, aides, etc. I just don't think he is being pushed or challenged. We have the No Child Left Behind Act....and so why can't we have something on the other end of the spectrum?

  11. I agree with it all jen!! they recently cut all enrichment funding at our schools and it took a parent lead group raising money and writing grants to get some mediocre programs put back in place!:( very discouraging.
    I think the teachers we are blessed with are trying to do the best that they can with the limited funds they have. so wish it was more!!!!

  12. This is an issue we have dealt with in our family for generations. When my siblings and I were young, the best the schools could do for our parents was to skip us a couple of grades. This was not a great solution, and I did not enjoy being two years younger than everyone else. What's more, I was still bored in school, so I would much rather have stayed at age level and had some enrichment.

    With my kids, the skipping had stopped, but they were in the "gifted program," which basically consisted of a few field trips every year.

    It's a little better for my grandson, who is in a special class with gifted students and gets some enrichment, but it's still not perfect...


  13. i think the thing that that is most alarming to me about this series you are doing is that in ALL of my 4 years of formal elementary education training i don't remember ever spending a day talking about any of this. we may have had a day or two of lecture on it, but it was NEVER focused on, and i feel like i had a more than above average training. in utah, they have endorsements you can get, and i remember the teacher across the hall from me had her gifted endorsement. i feel so ignorant to everything you are highlighting and a little ashamed that i wasn't educated on it before i went into the schools. it has been 6 years since i have been teaching, even though it doesn't feel like that long ago, so maybe there have been some adjustments since then, but i am just amazed at how little my degree touched on it.

  14. "In elementary there was ELP - in Jr high it was harder classes with grumpy teachers (sans Mr. Bisanz) with pointless homework and busy work. By the time they get to high school students are no longer excited to learn." I agree with Karen Cole on this-- I was in ELP in elementary school and had a blast! But as I progressed through jr. high and high school, I grew more apathetic. Towards the end of my high school career I wouldn't even do homework that I thought was pointless--resulting in some B's. My excitement was indeed minimal. As a recent high school graduate, I can testify that this pattern does happen. But I'm not sure if it's the system that's to blame, or my attitude and work ethic. Aren't the students the ones who ultimately decide the quality of their education?

  15. I agree! My children have gone to charter & public schools. ELP is insufficient. Once a week pullout is great but gifted children need challenging & enrichment daily. After much frustration we located a specialist that evaluated & recommended a self contained gifted program in Phoenix. The program is at a public school. Class size is capped at 25 students. We applied & were accepted into the program. I commuted my kids over 15 hours a week since the first year is probationary. Turns out the program is a great fit. Not perfect but better than anything else we've tried so far. We moved to Phoenix to reduce our commute when school starts again. Why don't all school districts offer such programs?! One problem is that even though there are 25 students in the self-contained gifted program, some are twice exceptional. I have volunteered in the classrooms and it's hard work to juggle these 25 kids all at different levels & needing different things. We know it's all about funding but it's ridiculous that some of the brightest children - the future of our country - are not receiving adequate resources! Whereas if they were on the opposite of the spectrum the teacher has 3 extra paid aides to assist in the classroom. As a parent group we met with the principal & the program director to request additonal support for the s/c gifted teacher but we were turned down. Parents even offered to pay for more support but we were told the teacher would receive more training in classroom management. There is only so much volunteers can do but maybe with trained gifted aides and volunteers together they can be more effective.