All Children Are Challenged in the Regular Classroom ???

Well, not really.    You may not hear those words exactly, but you might hear things like: “Our school’s philosophy is one of full inclusion where all children’s strengths are celebrated.” OR “Our teachers differentiate their instruction to provide an individualized education for all our students.” OR “We feel that accelerating your child beyond their current grade level would prove detrimental to their social well-being. Your child will benefit from interacting with all their peers.”

Here’s what you need to understand. Much of this language comes straight from Special Education. Gifted Education falls under the Special Education umbrella in many states and also in undergraduate college courses for pre-service teachers. (In federal policy, gifted education is not part of special education.)

The idea of ‘full inclusion’ is a philosophy. It is not the law. Differentiation is a wonderful idea; however, it rarely occurs in the regular classroom for gifted students. Acceleration is one research-based idea which has been well-documented as one of the best possible methods for meeting the academic needs of gifted children.

Full inclusion is based on the principle of ‘least-restrictive environment’ for physically/mentally disabled students. LRE was the result of court cases brought by parents (something to consider*). For most students, the regular classroom is the least-restrictive environment for their education. It is not, however, the case for students identified as intellectually gifted in most instances. It often becomes the ‘most-restrictive environment’.

Differentiation is one of those policies that looks great on paper, but the reality is that very few classroom teachers receive adequate professional development to do differentiation for gifted students and even fewer believe they need to provide it for these students. If differentiation of instruction was actually occurring, gifted students would not be the only group of students who consistently fail to show annual growth.

Consider the pressures facing most teachers today with a roster of 25 students in a class and 4 to 6 classes a day. Do.the.math. Who has the time to differentiate every lesson every day for a minimum of three different levels over the course of 180 days?

I’m not saying that it can’t be done; especially if you’re in a school district with adequate funding for technology and professional staff development. I’m saying it’s most likely not being done in a majority of schools.

Disagree? Ask your school’s principal to let you sit in on classes for a day at your child’s school. Better yet … ask the principal to accompany you. If you feel that your child’s ‘needs’ are being met, then you’re all set!

If not, then you need to advocate for your child’s right to an appropriate education. And you need to be a smart advocate. Educate yourself on local school policies. If necessary, find a professional advocate (check with your state’s gifted association here or here; or Wright’s Law online) to guide you.

Idoesn't have to be a fight. Most disagreements are the result of inadequate funding or misguided attitudes. If funding is the issue … this is where acceleration comes into play. It is perhaps the most cost-effective measure a school can use to provide an appropriate education for gifted students. Talk to your child first, regardless of how old they are, to understand their feelings about moving ahead in school. If this is something they are comfortable with, get a copy of A Nation Deceived. Give it to the principal. Give it to the superintendent. Heck, give a copy to every member of the school board if necessary. Read it first yourself and be ready to explain it to the ‘decision makers’. Educators love to tell you that they will only accept ‘research-based’ solutions. Well … here you go!

Misguided attitudes are an entirely separate issue. Anti-intellectualism on the part of ‘educators’ is a sad state of affairs particularly in the U.S. It is a fight you may not want to engage in; even if you think you’re up to it. Mindsets based in ignorance are rarely changed by reason.

The situation becomes more complicated depending on ‘distance from the mean’ for students who are exceptionally-abled. Elementary and secondary teachers may only encounter these students a few times in their entire career. It is oftentimes hard to comprehend that with which you have little experience.

A recent study (Swicord, Chancey, Davis, 2013) states:

            “Exceptionally capable students exhibit characteristics that challenge the
             efficacy of the traditional American educational system. Those that
             demonstrate advanced ability in one or more academic areas may be
             poorly served by age-based placement, and asynchronous development
             of abilities may pose difficulties for strictly acceleration-based services.”

In this instance, it was recommended that these students need access to a wide range of services which may be provided by distance-learning programs easily accessed via the Internet, some form of acceleration (whole-grade, subject-only), and specially designed curriculum.

A relatively new approach for gifted education, at least in the U.S., is one of blended accommodation ~ a continuum of services (to borrow language from special education). Students may attend a public school part of the day and then either homeschool, cyber-school or attend college classes as part of a dual-enrollment program the remainder of the day.

Not available where you live? Learn more about what is available in other parts of the country (world) ~ you know, Google-it ~ and share this information with your district’s administration. Most administrators either don’t have the time or don’t care enough to do it themselves.

Remember what I said earlier (?) … much of the movement toward modern Special Education was parent-driven*. It is the right of every child to have an education which produces growth from where they are at present to where their potential will take them! You are their best hope!


  1. Great points. Differentiation rarely benefits gifted children, and is a tremendous burden on teachers. Parents who advocate for ability grouping are often labeled as "elitist" and the urgency of their concerns are dismissed. Sometimes forming parent advocacy groups can help to challenge existing policies and promote change. But there is much work to do.

    Gail Post/

    1. Thank you for your comments. I think 'elitism' is a concern in many school districts and I plan to address this issue in an upcoming post. I'm a strong advocate for Universal Screening for gifted programs which could counter these arguments. As many of my readers know, I also believe in the importance of Parent groups and their role in positive outcomes for gifted programs.

  2. Differentiation can work if it is designed to meet the learning needs of gifted students. Sadly, unless teachers have been trained in gifted pedagogy, they do not know what these learning needs are i.e. content, product, process and learning environment modifications to name just a few.

    1. I do agree that differentiation is a 'tool' when inclusion is the only option. However, I think acceleration and individualization are more effective ways of approaching gifted education. I prefer teachers who are trained in gifted education to be teaching gifted students.

  3. So much I want to say here that I don't even know where to begin...

    I almost want to start by saying that regardless of the fact that America's public school system 'works' for the middle of the bell's not the best way. I'm not sure I can tell you the best way, I just know that what we have isn't it. And that's ASIDE from the gifted kids.

    One of the biggest issues with gifted kids is their asynchrony - how do you find a balance between their social/emotional age and their intellectual age (which might be more than one there too...math vs reading might not all be the same level). And if you can't, which one should be sacrificed? Ideally neither, but how many public schools can really cater to that much disparity?

    From every conversation I have had without our local school board, it seems like they are 'willing to work with highly gifted kids', but all within a very rigid framework that won't really work for gifted children in the first place! And advocating for your child is exhausting. We are very close to deciding to homeschool our son - because then we don't have to play into the rules of industrialized education - from everything I've read, it seems like the conclusion a lot of parents end up drawing, whether they wanted to or not.

    I want whats best for my son - putting him in a kindergarten class where he already knows all the material...what's the point? Honestly, I believe that schools should treat highly gifted kids the same way they treat children with special needs - because THEY HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS. The challenges are many, and the chance of a negative outcome from being unchallenged in school is too great. I won't risk my child's success OR happiness. Every child deserves both.

    1. You are exactly right. I always tell parents that they must do what they believe is right for their child. If you can work it out, I am a strong proponent of homeschooling. It doesn't get much more personalized than that!


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