My November 2018 blog laid out a number of indicators of gifted children being treated differently in America’s schools. When compared to special education students, for example, the referral and assessment processes – and services – are widely different. That information naturally generates other questions.
Question #1: Why does this happen?
A basic understanding of the idea of normal distribution helps illuminate the answer. Normal distribution is the term used to describe variation in all of nature. The weight of fifth grade boys will fall along a normal distribution, for example. A few boys will be very slim or very plump, and most boys will cluster around the middle. This idea also describes the length of tails of African elephants, the weight of newborns in any hospital and intelligence in seven year olds nation-wide. Businesses count on normal distribution. We have fewer restaurants and other services for the very rich and for the very poor. Most are for the vast majority in the middle. Normal distribution is represented in what we know as a bell curve. In education, ability and achievement levels for those at the far left end of the curve represent the learning disabled population. We find gifted children at the opposite end.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 contained a section known as Title One. It stated in part:
The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. This purpose can be accomplished by —
Sub-section (1) deals with assessment and accountability. Sub-section (2) deals with meeting educational needs of various low performing students. But look at Sub-section (3): Closing the achievement gap between high-and low-performing children…
While the purpose is about opportunity, Section (3) is about outcomes – it is about changing the normal distribution to flatten the curve and/or make the extreme ends closer together.
If I wanted to change the range of weight of fifth grade boys so the range wasn’t so wide, how could I do that? Well, I could feed the slender boys more, or I could feed the plump boys less. Or I could do both.
This is exactly what happens in our schools. We spend tremendous amounts on low performing students to help them achieve more. This is good, but we starve our gifted students so they will learn less. This is proven in a number of ways. We can look at federal, state, and local school expenditures and find this. Special education for learning disabled students is ample in terms of both expenditures and services. For gifted students, funding and services are scant, across the nation, states, and districts.
Question 2: Does it Matter?
We also have ample evidence that this is “working” – that we are in fact closing the gap between high and low performing students – and that it is our highest students who are losing ground. The evidence is available in both national and international studies – and has been for quite some time. The Fordham Report in 2008 titled, “High Achieving Students in the ERA of NCLB (No Child Left Behind)” showed low achieving students making larger academic gains than high achieving students using scores from the National Assessment of Student Progress.
The Programme for International Student Assessment(PISA) measures 15-year-old students’ performance in mathematics, science, and reading. It uses results of hundreds of thousands of students from sixty-four countries around the globe. The research shows the United States losing ground over time in comparable rankings. For example, the highest performingUS students were 35thin mathematics among the 64 countries tested (2012). In 2015, the US dropped to 39thplace in mathematics, again showing losses among high achievers. The data are similar in reading and science.
Unchallenged with grade level curricula and frustrated with starving to learn, some gifted children move to private or home schooling. At least fifteen percent of remaining children drop out before finishing high school. We don’t know the cost of this in terms of innovation or of the stature of our country. We don’t know the dollar cost. . We don’t have data on what it is costing the U.S in terms of innovation, business, technology, medicine, or any other field.
Question 3: Are we doing anything about it?
The wording of the Title One Act, first passed in 1965, has persisted in federal legislation, under NCLB (2001) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015). With the mandate to “close the achievement gap between high and low-performing children” there remains no designated federal funding to find or to serve our gifted children.