The High Ability - Gifted Conundrum

Recently, I read one of those posts that makes you think ~ this person has hit all the right notes. Tom Bennett, in his article, “How BestAre the Gifted Lifted? Above Average But Below the Radar: The Problem ofG&T Kids” is spot on in his analysis of the state of gifted education in … well, just about everywhere.

If there ever was an argument for the existence of ‘gifted’ children, I believe it would be that they exist everywhere … globally, all socioeconomic strata, all races … and behave in much the same way. The Bennett article has a decidedly ‘British’ bent, but what he says and speculates could apply in all cultures and countries.

His own experience as a Gifted and Talented Coordinator provided Bennett with a respectable basis to assess the situation of high ability students in England. I will not repeat his post here, but I will try to explain it from an American perspective; simply because of the many shared attributes between English and U.S. approaches to education.

It is interesting to note that the referenced post was in response to a report this week from Ofsted, “The Most Able Students: Are They Doingas Well as They Should in Our Non-selective Secondary Schools?” It’s important to understand first exactly what Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, is and does. From their website :

“We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial. We inspect and regulate services which care for children and young people, and those providing education and skills for learners of all ages.
 Every week, we carry out hundreds of inspections and regulatory visits throughout England, and publish the results on our website. We work with providers which are not yet good to promote their improvement, monitoring their progress and sharing with them the best practice we find.”

This report has created quite a stir and rightly so. Many of the conclusions have an impact on the education of England’s gifted and talented. Additional information may be found on Tim Dracup’s Blog, Gifted Phoenix, in his post, “Driving Gifted Education Forward.” 

As in the U.S., many gifted students are looked upon as not needing additional services simply because they have achieved expected norms. They will succeed on their own and do not deserve the expenditure of already limited resources by schools. The anti-intellectualism mindset is prevalent on both sides of the pond.

Too often, the life-cycle of a gifted student goes something like this ~ Stage 1: Elementary School - 7 years of unchallenging work leaving the student to breeze through school; stifling potential creativity; an incubator for a ‘why try’ attitude. Stage 2: Middle School – more of the same; but now with under-achievement becoming a way of life. Stage 3: High School – high stakes testing works its magic to further encourage the system to all but ignore the highly-able student and center its resources in areas perceived as much more deserving. Sad, isn’t it? The same pattern repeating itself here, there and everywhere.

So … what is the answer to this conundrum? And even more importantly, if acknowledged … will the ‘system’ ever change? After 15 years, I've become rather cynical. Here is what Tom Bennett proposed in his well-articulated post ~ Identification, Provision and Monitoring. Sound familiar? Would it work? Of course it would. It’s simple and straightforward.

Identification: This is not rocket science; or is it? Our identification process is fraught with misdiagnosis, misidentification and mislabeling resulting in misplacement of some of our brightest minds. But done right, it can work.

Provision: As already mentioned, public opinion sways academic decisions in the direction away from supporting intellectually gifted students. An informed electorate could make all the difference here.

Monitoring: Limited resources make it a sure bet that this will not happen in most public schools in America. But 'the times …they are a changin' and history is on the side of coming up with a better system.

Is there hope that things will change? Can this cynic become an optimist? Of course, there is hope! You know why? There is hope because of people like you; the reader. Parents of gifted children who seek to understand and advocate for their children.

In actuality, things are already changing with the advent of homeschooling gifted children, residential academies for high-ability students, the quiet return of flexible ability-grouping in many schools, the realization of the importance of recognizing the social-emotional needs of gifted children and the recent development of a call to seek out gifted students from all socio-economic levels and ethnic groups.

A conundrum is a confusing or difficult problem. When advocating for a gifted child, a parent goes through many stages. At first it can seem confusing for parents who did not expect to have a gifted child or who are not familiar with how the education system works. There is a whole new language to learn. Interacting with schools and teachers may be overwhelming at times. It’s important to remember that you are not alone and resources are plentiful to assist you in guiding your child to become successful!

Special thanks to the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour for including Gifted Parenting Support. We hope you enjoy the many great posts from this year’s tour.


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