It’s easy to assume that for extremely bright young pupils, life in the classroom is a snap. But when conventional school curricula fail to stimulate their hungry young brains, leaving them bored and stymied, these kids may get lost in the system. Some end up with C averages and slip into truancy, and many may never blossom to their full potential. It’s a big loss for lots of reasons, including the fact that these precocious kids represent a unique pool of talent for generating new ideas and innovations. And because of inadequate policies, we may be losing opportunities to nurture the Henry Fords and Marie Curies of the future.

Intellectually talented kids “don’t get the attention of policymakers,” said psychology professor David Lubinski of Vanderbilt University. “But if you’re trying to solve problems in the world like climate change and terrorism and STEM innovation, and transportation and managing our healthcare, you want intellectually precocious youth who have had their intellectual needs met.”

Lubinski calls gifted kids — the U.S. has an estimated 3 million academically gifted K-12 students — a “precious human-capital resource.” He and colleague Camilla Benbow co-direct the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), a decades-long project tracking more than 5,000 gifted individuals, mostly identified through talent search programs that put them through SAT testing at age 12 or 13. Founded in 1971 at Johns Hopkins University by talent-search pioneer Julian Stanley, SMPY has yielded a trove of insights into who gifted children are and what they need from schools.

Some recruits were rare “scary smart” kids ranking in the top 1 in 10,000 in math or verbal reasoning skills. In a report last year, Vanderbilt postdoctoral researcher Harrison Kell, Lubinski, and Benbow checked up on 320 of these profoundly gifted people at age 38. About 44 percent had earned an M.D., Ph.D., or law degree, in contrast to the 2 percent of the U.S. population that holds a doctoral degree. Many had high-powered careers, ranging from doctors and software engineers to artists and leaders of Fortune 500 companies.

“We were surprised at the magnitude of the accomplishments, even for the top 1 in 10,000,” Lubinski said.  “We had no idea that over 7 percent would have tenure at a major research university. We had no idea that so many would be well supported by grants or be CEOs of major organizations, partners in major law firms.”

Not all was smooth sailing, though. Profoundly gifted students were able to rapidly master new information, but schools often couldn’t accommodate their pace, the researchers noted; teachers often focused on helping the slow learners in the classroom instead. That’s a potential recipe for frustration and underachievement. Other analyses from SMPY suggest that intellectually talented kids don’t live up to their full promise unless challenged with more difficult course material.

For instance, gifted students who got a high “dose” of advanced and enriched learning activities in STEM areas (such as AP classes, taking college courses in high school, science fairs) were roughly twice as likely to earn a Ph.D. and tenure in a STEM field by their early 30s than those who got a low dose. Meanwhile, in another study published last year, Lubinski’s team tracked 1,020 young students  who were advanced in math and compared those who skipped a grade with those who had not. “In every comparison, in every cohort, a greater proportion of grade skippers earned doctoral degrees, STEM Ph.D.s, STEM publications, and patents” — and at an earlier age, the researchers write.

Gifted students who miss out on accelerated learning opportunities still do well above average, but don’t accomplish as much later in life, Lubinski said. That’s a “huge waste of talent,” he said.


SMPY holds important lessons not just for the exceptionally bright, but for all students: Kids learn optimally from “a curriculum that moves at their pace and is at the appropriate depth for their rate of learning,” Lubinski said. “If it goes too fast, they’re going to be frustrated. If it goes too slow, they’re going to be bored…. One size does not fit all.” Individual students vary widely in how fast they learn, even among the top 1 percent of intellectual talent, he said.

Public school systems generally haven’t embraced accelerated learning strategies. Grade skipping is not always ideal partly because of concerns that a budding young genius may not be socially or emotionally ready for an older classroom. Some worry about the lasting harm if a child gets picked on a lot or has trouble making friends. However, in a survey of SMPY participants at age 33, they reported having no regrets about skipping grades in high school or engaging in other activities to speed up their education, Lubinski said. Grade-skipping is good for certain bright kids who are gifted across all academic subjects and mature enough to handle it, he said; but if a child is super-smart at math and average in other areas, other options for acceleration are more ideal.

Accelerated learning opportunities have been “a real salvation” for some gifted students who were so bored in school, they had nothing to look forward to, said Joyce VanTassel-Baska, education professor emerita at the College of William and Mary. For example, fast-paced residential summer programs for bright kids are often places where “for the first time they found friends, for the first time they had a challenge in terms of their academic diet,” she said.

But government support for gifted education programs has been scarce in the U.S. Education funding understandably goes to kids with learning disabilities, and while special ed programs deserve every penny they get, VanTassel-Baska said, in many places “gifted students are being cheated out of an appropriate education.” By failing to identify and support these very high-potential students, “we are shooting ourselves in the foot.” Other countries, such as in East Asia, have a clear vision for providing programs for gifted children as part of their national mission, she said.

As Lubinski pointed out, in today’s competitive global economy, “we have to develop our exceptional human capital.” Even though SMPY shows it’s possible to find the young math and verbal whizzes who are most likely to achieve great works, he noted, the U.S. does poorly at identifying kids with a knack for visualizing objects in the mind’s eye — a skill important for inventors, architects, dentists, and orthopedic surgeons. Such “spatially talented” children gravitate to metal shop or home economics classes, but they aren’t getting the robotics or advanced lab courses they need to take off. As a result, Lubinski said, “We are missing modern-day Thomas Edisons and Henry Fords.”

By Not Challenging Gifted Kids, What Do We Risk Losing? 25 April,2014Ingfei Chen

  • Odette Holweg

    True… But only academically gifted… There is so much more to lose than just the academic potential! All gifts need to be nurtured – just ask Sir Ken.

  • Lauren K. B. Matlach

    A great piece! Thanks for posting!

  • Caroline Holko

    This is a wonderful article – but can we please stop using the expression “scary smart?” Our gifted kids are othered enough in the school system, and this phrase does nothing to further opportunities for the gifted.

    • Anonymous

      I agree with you. “Scary smart” is a putoff from the moment someone hears or reads it. Was Einstein scary? Hardly. He had one of the most brilliant senses of humor known to mankind!

  • SophiePA

    People confuse smart kids, or kids that love learning with “gifted” kids. In my experience working with many gifted kids, they have never been gifted across the board. There has always been a big deficit in one or more other areas of intelligence. For these kids, skipping grades should be a last resort.

    • David

      One of my sons is PG in pretty much every academic area. Our district doesn’t skip kids, and if they did it wouldn’t work too well for him. He is emotionally immature for his age (not gifted there!) so for now we’re making do with grade level stuff and things like summer camps.

      One of his teachers hates him. Literally hates him. Reminds me of me, my fifth and sixth grade teachers actually hated me. Then I got skipped and teachers never hated me again.

      With outside (esp. onine) learning opportunities available now, it should be possible to allow kids to do each subject at their best level. This will work well in math. In some like social studies it’s hard to know what one’s level is. One is just supposed to sit thru a certain sequence of instruction, do the seat time. This brings into question whether social studies is a legitimate subject at all, in my thinking.

      • TheGhostOfMarx

        Your comments regarding social studies is not true at all. While it is true that mastery of content requires exposure (the same is true of math, to some degree, although I agree intellectual intuition can’t help you understand the political dynamics of the free silver movement in 1890s USA if you’ve never been exposed to it).

        However, it is very easy to track the rate at which a student is capable of learning content from the social sciences, which generally correlates highly with a student’s verbal intelligence. As in mathematics, a curriculum that gives students time for self-study and sets the pace of evaluation to the student’s learning rate could be implemented for precocious students in the social sciences.

        I was one of those “PG” students, and while I never had access to accelerated training in STEM until the last year or two of high school, my talent was identified and tapped by dedicated educators in history, language arts, economics, etc. I would say that training — in critical thinking, rhetoric, and the perspective afforded by a reasonable understanding of the last several centuries of human affairs — has had a much larger impact on my educational and career outcomes than anything I learned in STEM fields.

        For the record, I am pursuing my PhD in regenerative medicine with a focus on computational biology at a top 5 program. Small minds undervalue the humanities and social sciences at their own peril.

        • David

          Congrats on your admission and presumed good progress in a doctoral program in computational bio. (Why not bio, or mathematics? Those pure degrees are always stronger.) I’ve had my PhD from an Ivy for years now.

          You can’t accurately assess something more powerful than your own instrument. I think you never reached a very deep level in math to understand what that training can do. But for computational bio (everyone’s doing Big Data these days) you should be fine, and it’s great that you had training in rigorous thinking in school. It will help you framing your studies and arguing their relevance, which is about 60% of the battle in academia.

          Yes BS is important. But high level BS, requiring much rhetorical skill, is required. Only slightly kidding …

          • TheGhostOfMarx

            I don’t think you have the slightest understanding of what I do, and certainly no basis for asserting the level of mathematics I have (or have not) been trained in…

            Certainly, I’m no theoretical mathematician, but then a thorough grounding in discrete maths (combinatorics, etc), linear algebra, probability theory, and the basics of analysis (e.g. differential equations) are more than adequate tools for the scientist.

            It’s also evident you aren’t familiar with the life sciences, where there are no “pure degrees”. There is no real functional difference between the biochemist/the structural biologist, the developmental biologist, the neuroscientist, the geneticist, or even the computational theorist. In any program of note, a PhD student might wear all of those hats in a given month. That you would struggle to appreciate the existence of interdisciplinary science ought to be evident from your prior comments, I suppose.

            “Big data” — a buzzword, to be sure, but it’s clear from your derision that you’re one of those folks threatened by the new paradigm. That’s fine. I see how it’d be hard for someone without a liberal education to keep up. Only slightly kidding…

    • Simon

      True that smart is not gifted, but not true (albeit common misconception) that there is some cosmic balancing scale such that there must be a corresponding deficit in one area, to offset giftedness in another. Very sorry if your experience with gifted kids has never placed you in contact with ones who are gifted across all measures (though not necessarily in equal measures). There is no cosmic balancing scale that ensures that talent may only be doled out in certain quantities, such that a greater amount in one area, necessitates a smaller amount in another, to make it fair to everyone else. DNE.

      • Jigsaw

        I think you miss the point. It’s not that there’s some “cosmic balancing scale” at work but rather that the holistic viewpoint is as equally problematic in the proposed paradigms in lieu of taking each constituent aspect into consideration.

    • GymMom66

      I have known many gifted children, including my two daughters. My older one refused a grade skip, for social reasons, and we respected her wishes. She chose to use the extra time to do a semester abroad during high school, which was a great experience.

      My younger daughter skipped a grade, did wonderfully both academically (valedictorian of her class of about 800 kids) and at extracurricular activities (competitive gymnastics, then dance after an injury ended her gymnastics career), and socially (none of her friends, in high school or college, minded the fact that she was younger than they were).

      The choice to skip a grade, or several, or just try to provide a challenge without skipping, has to be done on a case by case basis. But I have often seen skipping work, academically and socially.

  • kyleenga

    My daughter is PG, has been grade skipped and it has literally saved her from a doomed education. She has an innate mathematical ability and love of science, but also excels in language arts as well.
    Our educational system is failing our gifted children. Without researching and providing Extra-curricuricular programs (Gifted) she would have been bored, always feeling different, and not having consistent challenges year to year.

    Her grade skip has been a tremendous success. Even now, she is a 9th grader, many of her friends are in 10th and 11th grade, so to dispel the belief that accelerated students won’t fit in – YES they do! They tend to gravitate to “older more mature” classmates when in a mixed setting based on mutual preferences. Parents, educators and policymakers need to step back and actually watch what happens when a Gifted child is truly engaged in a mixed age environment. (Let go o your pre conceived notions and you may see some amazing, wonderful things happening!)

    As for funding, why we do not provide for better Gifted education is a mystery. These students fall at the far end of the learning spectrum, just the opposite end of those with learning challenges. Their futures are critical to the US’ future in innovation in medicine, business, policy, research, and all fields. Yet, we provide little to no funding for educational programs for this group. Another counterintuitive approach to America’s future.

    • DFCain

      Good for her, although my 9-year-old son, who taught himself to read at three and has read at a post-high-school level for two years, is still an immature, and quite normal, child.

      His school’s answer was to grade skip him from first to second grade, as if that would help–one grade level? How about six or seven? We struggle with his teachers each year as they try to engage him with things that he does not yet know, and then when he learns it the next five minutes, they resort to having him do it again or teach the other students. Predictably, they call and report his behavior and disorganization–who needs external organization when he can recall the entire periodic table?

      As educator parents, we know that school is about much more than academics, and those are the skills he needs most, but his gift should be accommodated within his school day, amongst his emotional peers.

      • Theresa Marie

        I spent a year fighting for my daughter to be skipped a grade as she sat bored and talking in class. One of the arguments for her not to skip was that she was socially immature. Duh, most gifted students are! I told them that’s fine. We can address the social immaturity, but that doesn’t mean we forget about her intellectual education. One does not come at the expense of the other!

      • pdxmom

        Homeschooling is sometimes the only option.

        • Babs

          Although I fear I cannot meet the needs of what my kids need at high school level.

  • mvrentchler

    I experience this every day at either of my two Title 1 schools. The emphasis/money is on the lower/lowest performing students and the potentially- and qualified- “gifted and talented” receive no enrichment of any sort since there’s no money left for them. Most of the standard enrichment like a full range of educational courses including visual and performing arts, science, health, physical education, field trips to museums and musical venues, chorus, band, glee club, chamber orchestra, and vocational shops have been eradicated for all. Sometimes, however, the most hyperactive, and high-expectations teachers are tracked to teach a classroom of the highest performers of a school. These teachers are not necessarily AVID trained or certified as those type of teachers have been moved into secondary school positions during the great recession. These highest performing students would be considered “normal” students in a non Title 1 school. But this is as good as it gets. The best course of action for truly GATE is flight away from Title 1 schools which are typically inner city and low socioeconomic areas. Parents should take note: if your child is tested GATE, get them out so they can thrive and be challenged with real GATE kids like themselves, or at least what is “normal” in a non Title 1 school.

    • lizlem

      This is where I am with my 5th grader, who has spent all of her formal Ed at a Title I City school. She has been identified G&T and despite receiving iffy-at-best gifted services at her school since 2nd grade, wasn’t assessed as a match/prepared for another district’s full time gifted-only environment for middle school, where many kids and friends of ours have been accelerated since kindergarten. It’s tough, extremely competitive and intense – many burn out by high school. So while I’m torn about the deficits of her K-5 background…at the same time, she’s truly had a marvelous experience of community and diversity that lacks in those programs. She is bright and has perspective, and enjoyed a nurturing environment where her gifts were appreciated and shared if not always well-fed… Even if her most obsessive intellectual and creative pursuits are self-motivated and home bound…I worried if I well-rounded her giftedness away and ruined her future! But if the biggest consequence of not accelerating her immediately is that her adolescent achievement-anxiety is lowered and she waits a bit longer to get a PhD…(not unlike her mom and dad)…I think I am okay with her being “just an honors student”

      • David

        I am sure your daughters gifts were not extinguished. In fact a lot of G&T programs are for very mildly gifted kids and they involve more of the same sort of work, or more project work. In STEM fields the schools are still limited by the ability of the teachers to deliver a high powered curriculum. For example you really have to understand math to teach it to kids who are “getting it”, and those who really understand math rarely teach school at all let alone K-5.

        Since you say you and your husband have PhDs yourselves, you can provide better gifted enrichment at home than she would get at most any school.

  • grinell

    Great article. I concur with Odette, below. Many folks view “academic achievement” as the end goal of schooling, and while it’s certainly important, it’s equally certain that there is much more to helping our kids become who we hope they become than making sure their academic needs are met. David Orr wrote a wonderful piece called “The Dangers of Education” comparing the career paths of two “gifted” students – Aldo Leopold and Albert Speer. While these two men were similarly academically ‘gifted,’ they took notably different career paths: Leopold spent his time developing modern environmental ethics and became a leader in the environmental movement. Speer put his brilliance to work mechanizing the Nazi army. Orr’s point is that perhaps if Speer had teachers and other adults around him who had spent more time helping him develop in ways other than academic, he would have chosen a different career path.

    One more thing – I think it’s a grave mistake to position the question of what school should focus on as an either/or situation, in which we accept the false premise that we have to abandon teaching about moral, ethical, environmental, social, and cultural issues in order to focus on “academic” ones. In fact, as many have pointed out, doing all of them well enables good teachers to do each of them individually that much better.

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  • Kiwi

    I’m reminded that Thomas Edison did most of his learning outside of school. Our current education system drives many gifted kids, just like Edison, into homeschooling or ‘street schooling’ where they do their learning in the world outside school – more authentic, personally relevant and at their own pace.

  • guest

    “Grade-skipping is good for certain bright kids who are gifted across all academic subjects and mature enough to handle it”

    From personal experience, I would actually argue against grade skipping MOST of the time (unless that is something that the child really really understands and wants to do – which can’t really be properly estimated at young ages). Taking them from one class and putting them in another, no matter what the age, can have a lasting effect on social-emotional well-being for a variety of reasons.

    • Quest Guest

      Guest – I suggest that you look beyond your “personal experience” and actually look at the real outcomes that arise MOST of the time. Over the last 60years there are countless studies that dispel what you have written not just as incorrect but as actually MYTH! This myth continues to be pervasive even amongst professionals.

      The IOWA Acceleration Scale is a useful too for assessing whether the child is suited to acceleration or not. And then it has to be done properly. We have the scientific method for a reason – it’s so that we don’t have to rely on just one person’s positive, or one other person’s opposing negative experience.

    • Pat

      There is a lot of opposition to grade-skipping based on that argument. But results don’t lie. Yes, grade-skipping would probably be bad for kids in the normal spectrum, but when a kid’s friends-by-choice are all 3-5 years older than that kid, being stuck in an environment with only other age-mates is alienating, boring, and depressing. They tend to either isolate, or play a role to fit in, but still feel the lack of true camaraderie on the inside. Putting them with their psychosocial and intellectual peers instead of assuming that age dictates that, is beneficial, not harmful.

    • Theresa Marie

      Stop perpetuating this MYTH and read some actual studies. Also, statistically speaking, social immaturity and intellectually gifted tend to come hand in hand. Holding a child back from their potential doesn’t change their social maturity. smh

    • Sandy

      Grade skipping works only to a certain point. If Joey, a bright first grader, is skipped midyear to second to accommodate his abilities, what happens when he learns that material faster than his peers? Do we skip him again? Skip him every year– half in third, half in fourth, then fifth and sixth, on and on until he graduates? What happens when he gets to subjects where skipping is not appropriate? If he can learn algebra twice as fast as his classmates, you can’t just skip him into geometry halfway through.
      There needs to be a way of allowing brighter students to work at an accellerated pace without relying on skips. Virtual school as an option can go so far, but if you have a child whose learning style isn’t compatible with hours alone on a computer…well, then what?

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  • solexy

    NEWSFLASH…schools aren’t making the decisions people. GOVT. is. None of the working teachers favor standardized testing or Common Core. This is the downfall of public education, and EXACTLY what these ignorant politicians want. Then they can make money off of education by privatizing and segregating. Makes it “easier” for them. Not to mention the hundreds of millions (if not billions) being paid out to their cronies for writing the standardized test. If you want children to get what they deserve, a quality education, start supporting your local teachers and empower educators to have a voice again. STOP MAKING TEACHERS THE ONLY ONE’S RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS MESS.

    • Theresa Marie

      Schools do make the decisions. It is up to the Principal if a kid is skipped a grade of not. I know because I spent a year trying to have my daughter skipped after she scored a 165 on the IQ test. The decision was the principal’s. I ended up pulling her out of the school and sending her to private because I wasn’t willing to spend another year fighting for appropriate education, since we would be facing it again in a few years, since gifted kids tend to learn at exponential speed.

    • The government wants nothing to do with the day-to-day decisions a school makes. I do agree that teachers aren’t the only ones responsible for educating children. When I was a kid, my parents really pushed the importance of education, and made sure my studies were complete before I got to do anything else. I think the majority of “academic” parenting these days is mediocre at best (maybe this is due to lack of parenting, perhaps divorce rates, or maybe there are just too many distractions for kids and parents). Of course, there are charter and private schools parents could send their children to, though I’m sure those opportunities are not available to everyone (probably less than 10%).

      I think we should stop spending money on wars, and spend more money on our children’s education. If only we lived in a democracy where we could vote down war and vote up education.


      • pdxmom

        Democracies are scary. No one cares about the gifted kids since they will pass the tests.

        • Eddie S Jackson

          It’s not so much the democracies…as it is who is running them.

  • Thom Markham

    And who is ‘gifted?’ Those students identified in 2nd grade through an IQ test, and then given support and encouragement for the next 10 years for their outstanding intellect? The research into neuroplasticity and the growth mindset, plus the abysmal failure of IQ testing to predict anything other than SAT scores, should alert us to the fact that ‘gifted’ is an outdated term. The goal is to challenge every single student at the appropriate level through a personalized system that reveals the diverse gifts of each. Otherwise, we’re back to ‘sort and select.’

    • SophiePA

      No, Thom, those kids are not necessarily gifted. The higher IQ kids can be the smarter or more developed kids. In my opinion, you can not always quantify giftedness. It involves the ability for deeper thinking, higher reasoning and motivation, greater creativity and the ability to combine all of those.

    • meliorist

      You’re wrong on all points. First. IQ tests predict a lot more than just SAT scores. They predict job performance, for instance. They even predict how likely a person is to suffer a fatal accident. Second, while encouragement and a “growth mindset” do produce better performance in school, this is not sufficient to close the gap between the gifted and the rest. Third, the idea that teachers focus their support and encouragement on the gifted kids is wrong. Because of policies such as “No Child Left Behind”, they actually focus more of their efforts on the kids who are struggling. Bright kids are often left to fend for themselves, since they are guaranteed to get good grades, so they are of little concern to the teachers. Fourth, the gap between the most and least academically able children opens up long before they start school. Tests of reasoning, vocabulary, etc. at age three predict school performance years later. Fifth, the gap is bigger than most people think. The most able kids are already more than a year ahead when they start school, and the gap just steadily gets wider. Children learn at different speeds, so even if everyone receives ample encouragement, the gap grows wider over time, so that by high school, the quickest learners are several years ahead of the average, and the slowest learners are several years behind. Mere encouragement can’t fix that. Finally, there is ample evidence that IQ and academic performance are to a substantial degree genetic.

      This notion that children are equally brilliant, but in different, individual ways, is just wishful thinking. Its popularity is based solely on the thought that it would be nice if it were true. There is no evidence at all to support it. The idea that you can turn average children into geniuses just by giving them a “growth mindset” is nothing but a pipe-dream. If it were that easy, someone would have done it by now.

      • DARE wolf


      • Anonymous

        I can’t agree with you more.

      • Totally agree.


      • Tinotenda Chisanduro

        Agreed! To add on to what you have said, children need to be groomed within their spotted talents so as to make them geniuses in our areas they would have gained expertise. So encouragement should not only be focused on academics only.


    • Some children are just gifted (as some adults are just more intelligent)…it’s genetics, and/or some “gift” from the universe. I could paint, play piano, sculpt, write 4 grades above my level, and read at a college level by 7 years old (with zero encouragement). A long list of other qualities would soon emerge, such as being drawn to engineering, mathematics, and computer science. That is who is gifted…and you know what? I wasn’t alone. Because of the gifted program (back in the 80s), I had an academic and creative outlet which were experienced among other kids like me. It was great, and I will never forget it.

      I also believe IQ can be useful (though not always). For me, the gifted program worked; the IQ testing was successful; and I transitioned into adulthood like a locomotive, rather than some marginal performer who didn’t understand his place in the world. I think the most important aspect of the gifted program was that it taught me it was okay to be smart, and not to downplay my intelligence just to placate others.

      One of the greatest failures of our education system [including higher education] is that we pretend every student is the same; they are not.


  • John Hall

    Creative achievements and breakthrough discoveries of gifted students later in their careers are not solely dependent on academic acceleration and an accumulation of AP courses. Accelerated learning shows a love of learning; but curiosity, tenacity, and self-discipline are also necessary for full expression of giftnedness.

    • David

      Certainly true. These are the make-or-break attributes of those who do well professionally. Acceleration may have these three goals:
      (1) Accelerate learning and enable the student to learn as much as possible while the mind is most plastic.
      (2) Keep the kid engaged and out of trouble caused by boredom.
      (3) Teach the kid good habits of work by providing material that will engage good work habits and expose weaknesses. We must all overcome such weaknesses on the way to becoming competent professionals, and if the kid can get good habits early, it can only be beneficial.

  • Deborah Flory Maedke

    My gifted students are a lot of fun to teach. They say so many “out of the box” things … I am often laughing at their witty comments in class. 🙂

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  • ncmathsadist

    They learn a breezy contempt for the fact that learning real stuff is real work. This is a disaster, and it results in a lot of young people who wind up underachieving. No, gifted kids do not “take care of themselves,” as the tired shibboleth goes.

    • NurtureOverNature

      Jagged way of saying it, but I agree that that’s very much the crux of the affair.

  • DareWolf

    i have a high iq and i HATE school but my mom pushes me so thats the only reson i have good grades if it wasint for her i probuble whuld be geting f and im at the age ware i can drop out if i want to and onistly i want to and i whould but then i whouldent have a life to live so i stay…… SCHOOL IS A PRISON!!!

    • cjcalifornia

      Believe it or not, correct grammar and spelling would increase the credibility of your post.

      • It just shows the youth and immaturity of DareWolf. Usually, even if you have a high IQ, the younger you are, the less the rules matter. Hopefully, they will gain an appreciation for grammar, punctuation, and spelling in the near the future. DareWolf, stay in school; it is for your own benefit. School only seems like a prison; just wait until you hit real life.

  • PK421

    I remember school being nothing short of a prison. I remember graduate school, though. I had never been in a situation where I had to work hard. I had no idea how to study, practice (went to music school and had never been around such levels of talent before grad school), or manage time. It wasn’t until years later that someone said I was gifted. I found out from my mom that I was reading at a 9th grade level in 3rd grade. No w I found out I have an IQ of 145, yet most of my life I thought I was stupid, never fit in, and was quite depressed as a result. Gifted kids do need support.

    • Orator

      Similar situation for me, though the kicker was in a high school ap class requiring absurd precision. Gifted children aren’t taught how to study or prioritize because they rarely need to. They simply coast on their talent and it becomes a very ingrained habit.

      It’s sad that the school system doesn’t sort to aptitude. It’s just this inflexible assembly line. Nevermind the irony of something so heralded as a bastion of enlightenment being mired by so much politics and red tape.

  • I remember being in the gifted program as a kid. I really couldn’t appreciate its value until I became an adult. We need more [not less] elevated learning and creativity outlets for those children who require the extra challenge. eddiejackson.net

  • mrmars72

    At times I wonder if we don’t overdue the gifted kid thing. Certainly we don’t want kids to be bored and turned off to the point where they don’t do well in school, but from what I’ve seen, bright kids will do ok regardless. Putting up with a little under challenged boredom doesn’t seem to be that harmful. Everybody wants their kid to be declared “gifted” today and I’ve seen evidence of school officials complicity in this if parents bitch loudly enough. If everyone is gifted it ceases to have any significance, not to mention that for some kids the designation probably becomes a burden because of increased expectations. One thing gifted and non-gifted kids have in common is that they are ALL kids. As long as your child is being reasonably challenged (subjective I know) in a quality program. I wouldn’t obsess too much over whether they are considered gifted or not..

  • Sandy

    There seems to be some fuzzy statistical thinking being done (paragraphs 3-5) by Vanderbilt’s Lubinski.
    They’ve followed kids identified as highly mathematically gifted by scores from programs such as Duke TIP. And then they look at some of those kids years later and note that their representation amongst those with MDs, PhDs, and other advanced degrees is significantly higher than the rest of the population.
    Duke TIP kids are bright, and please don’t think I’m taking away from that. But Duke TIP kids also skew heavily toward the affluent: first because affluent kids are more often identified as gifted to begin with, and then because within gifted programs, affluent kids are more likely to apply to Duke TIP. Kids whose families can’t afford to utilize the program simply don’t apply. So you have a population that is both quite bright, and for the most part has the means to finance their ambitions.
    Children of affluent families also tend to be overrepresented amongst students who achieve MDs, PhDs, etc. So one would hope that Lubinski et cie are controlling for that variable in their study. They don’t mention doing so– which means either sloppy interviewing skills, or sloppy statistics. One would hope, it being Vanderbilt, that it’s not the latter.

    Completely aside from that, however, I would concur that schools often don’t accommodate the pace of their brightest students. It’s become fashionable in some districts to simply shunt all bright high schoolers into IB programs, whether IB is an appropriate placement or not. Those students who for whatever reason don’t choose the magnets are left by the gifted ed offices to fend for themselves at neighborhood schools which may have minimal services: no SAT prep classes, limited APs, guidance offices which are too overrun with the demands of standardised testing to bother with college counseling. It’s an unconscionable opportunity cost for kids who should be experiencing a wealth of opportunities based on their abilities.

    As for Ms. VanTassel-Baska…ah, once again, the pitting of exceptional vs. exceptional. How dare those SpEd kids take away from the More Worthy Gifted Ones. Oy. Just once, I would love to see an acknowledgement that money spent on education is too little and too ill-prioritised for everyone, rather than throwing the dyslexic child, the deaf child, the child with muscular dystrophy under the bus. Because no matter what you’ve heard, no matter what is set forth in IDEA or the ADA, school systems are lawyering up, refusing services, and daring parents with limited resources to sue if they want Johnny to have a free and appropriate education. And because (assuming for the sake of argument that the average Special Ed parent can afford a six figure attorney’s bill) attorneys who are qualified in exceptional education are few and far between…the schools have no incentive to provide much of anything. Very much like Gifted Ed, in fact.

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  • Laura Moore

    Precisely formed thought: “Profoundly gifted students were able to rapidly master new information, but schools often couldn’t accommodate their pace, the researchers noted; teachers often focused on helping the slow learners in the classroom instead. That’s a potential recipe for frustration and underachievement”.

  • GiftedEd

    A new report on acceleration, A Nation Empowered, was recently released by the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa. http://www.nationempowered.org

  • Babs

    The biggest question is when will something be done about it? AP classes do not do anything to enrich the minds and meet the needs. And these kids need to taken and run with much before “advanced” classes are offered.

  • Tern

    Both the social danger and danger of pressure exist whether or not you grade skip. Both are atrocities to children and they make the entire model of compulsory school a dangerous long child abuse that risks children’s nerves and even their lives. http://www.authoritarianschooling.co.uk Particularly, of course, kids of more thoughtful and less rough character.
    Kids often can pass exams around the GCSE (I’m in Britain) level several years early, and have done in radical libertarian schools too. But if the choice does not come from them but from an arrogant wishfully optimistic teacher, that asks for disaster. Accelerated learning has an avoidably worse reputation and worse outcomes, than it would have in freedom schooling, because in the normal oppressive model of school it is always accompanied by greedy teacher ambition which can become an abusive pressure trap. Talk of challenging the kids is exactly what leads to that. To this
    And until the web existed the details of such outcomes were totally covered up. Without either side in politics wanting school to be conceptually critiqued, the detail of child cruelty that could end in suicides and was a danger to all kids was not published or covered by the main media.

  • “Education funding understandably goes to kids with learning disabilities, and while special ed programs deserve every penny they get, VanTassel-Baska said, in many places “gifted students are being cheated out of an appropriate education.” By failing to identify and support these very high-potential students, “we are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

    I don’t like the undertone of this statement. What are we saying? Are we really saying we should take funds away from kids that have potential but need help to give it to kids that demonstrate higher initial potential? Why does it have to be either or?

  • Betsy Murphy

    It’s ironic that the federal government mandates that public schools make huge investments in those students least likely to succeed and minimal investments in those who have the highest abilities. If your child is in special education the schools will give you pretty much anything you ask for, even if your child has a 50 IQ and is likely to live in a group home the rest of his or her life. If your child has a much higher potential, you’re on you own. No wonder this country is so far behind in national rankings of educational success.

  • The system has been ignoring gifted children in its public schools for years, because I was one. Besides the SRA boxes, which I went through faster than they wanted until there weren’t any more, there was no incentive to excel if you didn’t bring it with you from home. Fortunately, I had that kind of support from home but so many children don’t.

  • Atlas Educational

    It’s EXTREMELY frustrating to see that Vanderbilt is busy doing study after study on the ineffective gifted support in our schools and yet, they can’t influence the TN public schools? The “gifted programs” in TN are abhorrent.

  • collegeprofessor

    I have a small but significant quibble with this article. Twice Henry Ford is held up in the article as a model for gifted children to emulate. It is intellectually lazy of this writer to hold Ford up in this way. He was a notorious and vicious anti-Semite who counted Hitler as a friend. Please do not suggest that our talented children aspire to be like him.

  • Insightful. However, I’d like to point out that enrolling a child in a special school doesn’t imply keeping them away from challenges. In fact, the step by step process of special needs schools actually help children learn more effectively, which can further help them in future ‘challenges’.

  • J. Compton

    Our child was not one that would change the world, however she graduated 12th grade with all grades with straight A’s in academics as well as deportment, 2nd in her graduating class. Out of her sole marriage she has two intelligent children, son and daughter. Her son can identify almost all dinausaurs and has discussed being a paleontologist. He can read probably on a 3rd grade level. Their daughter is comparable with a female’s focus.
    Our daughter received a minimal level of extra mental stimulation. The attitude of administration was “they will make it”. I call it watering the weeds. You can lead a student to water, but you can’t make them think. If they are stupid, unmotivated, etc. spending more money, assets, etc on these students will not make them intelligent.
    Jim Compton


Ingfei Chen

Ingfei Chen is a freelance writer in Northern California whose work has appeared in Scientific American, the New York Times and Smithsonian.

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