The Best School Strategy for Bright Kids?
By Marty Nemko
Since the '60s, ever more school resources have been reallocated from high-ability/achieving kids to the lowest achievers. Especially in California, most school districts have eviscerated gifted programs and pushed teachers to prioritize "the most vulnerable among us." This, of course, is exacerbated by the Democrat-initiated, Republican-embraced No Child Left Behind, which offers carrots and sticks for helping low-achieving kids but none for helping above-average kids to live up to their potential.
A final nail in gifted kids' education coffin is that the average IQ of teachers, especially in the elementary school, has declined. In previous generations, many of the best and brightest women saw teaching as the highest-level pursuit to which they could reasonably aspire. But today, with women representing, for example, fully half of medical school and law school students, our current cohort of teachers is less capable of teaching gifted kids. And they're less motivated to: Being of modest intelligence themselves, they're likely to think, "Aww, the gifted kids will do fine on their own. My heart is with the low achievers. I'll focus on them."
So, a clear-eyed approach to helping bright kids to live up to their potential accepts that most teachers (except perhaps in school districts with lots of high-IQ kids, for example, Piedmont, Hillsborough, or Tiburon/Belvedere) will do little to help them. That explains why the research literature finds that the most potent strategy for helping gifted kids to live up to their potential is grade skipping: for gifted kids to skipbetween one and six grades, depending on the student. That requires far less teacher ability or effort than, for example, providing more cognitively complex instruction for the gifted student(s) in their increasingly heterogeneous classes.
Parents' main worry about grade skipping is social maturity. Even if your high-ability child isn't socially adept, in many cases, it's wiser to have him or her skip a grade(s) than to endure the ongoing boredom and lack of learning that comes from being in a too low-achieving class. Too, grade skipping reduces the chances of a gifted child being ridiculed by classmates as a snob or showoff.
You can mitigate the social risk of grade-skipping by:
- Trying to get another gifted child accelerated into your child's new class.
- Having your child sit next to a kind, socially adept student(s) who can teach your child the higher grade's social and academic norms.
- Ensuring that the receiving teacher will welcome your child and be willing to keep an eye on your child to ensure s/he's being welcomed into the class and to give your child needed feedback, social and academic.
To maximize your chances of getting permission to have your child skip a grade, present to the principal a portfolio including:
- Samples of your child's in- and out-of-school work that suggest the ability to handle the work in a higher grade.
- Samples of work assigned in his current class that demonstrate how beneath his ability or achievement level that work is.
- Standardized test score results.
- Research supporting grade skipping, including those studies that address the social maturity and knowledge-gap issues. An easy way to assemble the research is to print pages from the excellent book Genius Denied.Because principals tend to be busy, highlight the key sentences.
- If your child writes well, include a letter from your child explaining why it's important s/he be allowed to skip a grade(s).
- Have your child verbally join you in making the case for skipping a grade(s).
Dr. Nemko has been a classroom teacher, taught in U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Education, has supervised student teachers, and is in his 23rd year as an education and career counselor to high-IQ adults, children, and their parents. Among his six books are How to Get Your Child a Private School Education in a Public School and How to Get an Ivy League Education at a State University. 500+ of his published writings plus the archive from his KALW-FM radio show are free on www.martynemko.com.
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