I was an educator of gifted and talented children for more than half of my 40 years of teaching. Due to my experiences I understand that a high percentage of our gifted students are not challenged by our schools, they are often ignored and suffer through their education not because of what we do but because of what we do not do. They are damaged by our educational sins of omission. It is true that most intelligent kids make it through and go on to college and turn into valuable adults. However many do not, some drop out, some commit suicide others believe that an A on a report card is indicative of their true standing and ability. When in truth, the one thing that smart kids learn from our school system may be that they never have to work hard for what they get (that A) and it haunts them for their rest of their lives as their early experiences are never forgotten in their subconscious and they can’t understand why they are not as successful as those around them with lesser intelligence.
My old school district has recently selected a new superintendent. The main criteria for his selection from what I have read were three.
1. Raising graduation rates
2. Raising standardized test scores for those who fall below the federally mandated minimums
3 Reducing the drop-out rate
It should be noted that nowhere in the selection process, with one exception, did I hear anyone talk about students who normally scored above the 40th percentile on standardized tests. Our new superintendent was selected in effect based on the criteria of, “what can you do to improve our poorer students who graduate less frequently, often drop out and score poorly on standardized tests. I am not arguing that we should not help these students but I am arguing that if all of our focus is on those who either cannot or will not learn then those who can and will learn will suffer the consequences of being minimalized by the system. What if anything are we doing for those kids who are in the upper 10% and in reality have the best chance of doing something truly positive on a global scale? In many cases the answer is “nothing,” in more the answer is “little” and for almost all the answer is “not enough.”
Smart kids most often do graduate, but from what; a life of boredom, too easy work, social gatherings to discuss issues (classes) and an over emphasis on athletics? None of which insure further educational growth or success in our highly competitive world. There is nothing sadder or more damaging to a student than that which happens to a student who gets all A’s in high school goes to a highly competitive college and discovers that unlike high school they now have to do more than just show up, along with the terrible realization that they never learned how to do “more.”
Smart kids usually do well on standardized tests but what would happen if those 90th percentile (upper 10%) students were given appropriate attention to their growth, like the attention currently being given to those in the 20th percentile. I believe the results would be wondrous! And even more importantly is anyone paying attention to what is happening to that upper group’s scores. When was the last time you heard a school administrator say or saw a headline that said, “Fewer students in our school district scored in the 90th percentile in math last semester? New programming and crisis management will be implemented and monthly in-service training will be added to provide teachers with the tools needed to stem this troubling decline in ability.
Intelligent kids do drop out of school, but the reality is that the issues addressed in most dropout prevention programs are not the issues that cause bright students to drop out. For many intelligent kids who drop out, school becomes like listening to a rendition of chopsticks over and over and over again or a Monty Python “I love Traffic lights,” marathon. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6vega_monty-python-i-like-traffic-lights_music#.UUB_Xkko7WM
The pace is so slow, the curriculum so repetitive and so mundane that they learned it the first time the teacher said it or often already knew much of what is being taught in high school in 5th grade. Intelligent kids are like sponges, they have absorbed information and wait breathlessly for someone to wring that information out of them so they can get back to work and absorb some new information. Instead these students are trapped by our obsession with the “needy” lower students, many often staying immersed in that shallow educational bucket, never getting the chance to be challenged run through the wringer and test themselves in some new rougher waters. Our system often never allows them to get a chance to fully realize their potential as a virtual user and receptacle for Knowledge.
If we continue to choose our school leaders based on what they can do with the lowest possible common denominator in our schools pretty soon every student will be reduced to a nice small quantifiable fraction of what they should be, a fraction that will probably be easily divisible by two and that will be too bad