The High Flyer

Tim Marzullo

I remember a meeting when Backyard Brains was just beginning in early 2009, when we were receiving guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. We were just finishing up graduate school and learning the actual mechanics of forming a startup company, something very new to us—the basic things: how to incorporate, how to find customers, how to scale a prototype into a product, and how to raise funding with government technology grants or venture capital. We were two recent PhDs with a couple prototypes, some cockroaches, a bit of presentation chutzpah, but not much else than that.

During a meeting on ideas to formalize the business and begin sales, an engineering advisor said, “I love the cockroach, but you guys need a better logo. Engineers are not creative, so hire a design student to help you with it.”

Working with designers to develop a logo is useful and certainly uncontroversial advice, but the comment that “engineers are not creative” hit me like a punch, and I remember little else that occurred in that meeting.

Engineers are not creative? And this was an engineer saying this?! Any time I look at any machine that does its function...

Scott J. Peters

Any educator or parent who has interacted with the field of gifted and talented education has probably come across the “bright vs. gifted” or “bright child vs. gifted learner” checklist. It seems to have first appeared in a 1989 article by Janice Szabos in Challenge Magazine, but was likely around in similar forms long before that. This checklist seems to be one of the most ubiquitous publications related to gifted education. It is included in formal district gifted education plans and even posted to state department of education websites with the implicit endorsement of it and its key distinction as best practice.

The overall suggestion seems to be that as a teacher or even as an educational system, educationally useful information comes from knowing if one of your students is “just bright” as opposed to being “truly” gifted. In other words, if two children are otherwise identical in their level of achievement, aptitude, creativity, and so on, they should still be treated differently if one is “truly” gifted and one is “just” bright. A few years ago, a senior scholar in the field of gifted education, was handed the form as a rationale for why his kindergartener (who...

A recent New York Times analysis suggests that a generation of policies meant to bring racial proportionality to our selective colleges has failed. “Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago,” declared the authors.

In 2015, black and Hispanic students made up 15 and 22 percent of the U.S. college age population, respectively, but just 8 and 14 percent of the enrollments at top universities. Those gaps are wider today than in 1980—and, in the case of Hispanic students, the gap has tripled over that time.

Yet these higher-education problems are a consequence and symptom of a systemic ailment that is typically caught as soon as students of color enter the classroom. Some, of course, have been immunized before they get there and some were hit well before kindergarten. For many, however, the K–12 system is where trouble begins. “Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities,” writes the Times, citing data from the Office for Civil Rights.

These school-level deficiencies...

Kevin D. Besnoy

In 2015, two agencies (Mathematica Policy Institute and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes) published separate findings about the impact of online charter schools on students’ academic growth. The purpose of both reports was twofold: first, to inform local education agencies and policy makers about the growth of the online charter school movement, and second, to engage the general public in an in-depth discussion about the role that online schools should have in K–12 education. In short, both publications report disappointing academic growth for students enrolled in online schools. While they did not address the growth of gifted students enrolled in those schools, their findings must be further researched through robust empirical studies.

Most gifted students enrolled in public schools who are taking online classes are not classified as full-time virtual students, meaning that they are attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school and taking two or less online classes. This hybrid approach is a viable option for gifted programs unable to hire teachers with specialized expertise, too few gifted students identified in the school to justify a teacher for advanced classes, or programs looking to offer a curriculum that meets gifted students’ needs. Whatever the reason for leveraging online classes...

M. René Islas

As the ink dries on the recently enacted gifted education law, Public Law 17–82, Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in empowering local school administrators and teachers in how to best serve our gifted and talented students.

The field of education knows what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students, how to appropriately use acceleration strategies and how to best prepare teachers to work with this population. Best practice guidelines called for in the law will offer direction and clarity to districts on gifted education practices; guidance many practitioners lack today.

To move this forward, we encourage state officials to follow three important steps.

First, they should remove policy barriers to learning and establish a sound statewide policy on acceleration. Research demonstrates that acceleration strategiessuch as advancing students an entire grade or in certain subjectsare one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children, regardless of background, receive quality gifted and talented programing.

Acceleration strategies allow students to access advanced content, skills, or understanding before their expected age or grade level. Rather than load students up with more content they have already mastered, acceleration helps truly challenge these...

Michelle Pearson

It’s almost the end of the summer and I realize that the professional development I have been in has been pretty fantastic, and pretty awful. I spent a good amount of time discussing about how we teachers can perfect our craft reaching at-risk students—a great goal. The difficulty is that defining an at-risk student can be hard.

We talked a lot about “those in poverty, those with gender issues, those with disabilities, and diverse students who struggle to have a voice and be accepted.” This makes sense. Yet not once this summer did I hear gifted and talented students mentioned as being at risk. Not once.

On some level, I get it. It took me nineteen years to fully understand that I had a gifted student in my own house who was at risk. But at 1:30 a.m., my son admitted he wanted to drop out of school.

After picking myself up off the floor, I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what my husband and I could have done differently. After all, I teach gifted and talented kids. I differentiate my instruction. I work to meet their...

Russell T. Warne

More than sixty years ago, Lewis Terman said, “It seems that the schools are more opposed to acceleration now than they were thirty years ago. The lockstep seems to have become more and more the fashion, notwithstanding the fact that practically everyone who has investigated the subject is against it.” Terman’s words reflect today’s disconnect between research on and practice of academic acceleration.

Gifted education experts have been advocates of academic acceleration for decades. It is a strategy that works. Early pioneers in the field promoted grade-skipping and early college entrance. Contemporary scholars study a variety of academic acceleration, ranging from widespread interventions like Advanced Placement classes to less common procedures such as allowing a child to advance through a year of curriculum in just one semester.

Many studies have shown benefits during childhood for accelerated individuals, but few studies have examined outcomes of acceleration in adulthood. Two recent studies compared adult income for accelerated and similar non-accelerated individuals. The first study used the Terman dataset, a famous study that collected data on over 1,500 gifted children over the course of seven decades. The second study used more modern data from five U.S. federal government studies, ranging from...

Fordham’s recent report What Teens Want: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement found that almost all high school students want to do well in school, but that many are motivated differently. More specifically, the nationally representative survey identifies six “engagement profiles,” each constituting 15–19 percent of America’s high school population: Subject Lovers, Emotionals, Hand Raisers, Social Butterflies, Teacher Responders, and Deep Thinkers.

As the report explains, these profiles showcase a student’s dominant, or primary, mode of engagement (not her only mode, of course; students are obviously motivated to learn through multiple channels). Thus no single school-type will optimally engage all six pupils types—nor will one instructional model, strategy, curriculum, or pedagogy. Many traditional, one-size-fits-all public schools, for example, don’t have the resources or expertise to provide tailored classrooms. Therefore a better approach is providing students and families with a wide range of school types or models, so parents and children can find the one that best fits their needs. Or perhaps even a total re-imagination of the public high school, wherein we create curated classrooms and content based in part on how a student is best motivated to learn and excel.

Consider the authors’ characterization of...

Tyne Watts

I attended my first summer camp at six years old. After that experience, I looked forward to attending every year. At summer camp, I was exposed to new things with friendly staff in a positive environment. During one year of summer camp, the academic enrichment was so great that I was able to test out of the traditional second grade math program when school started. My school created a special math program for me and a few other students who attended the same summer camp with me. Two years later, I found myself being identified as a gifted student and math is one of my favorite subjects. Even though all camps don’t offer academic enrichment, they do expose kids to lots of new concepts and ideas that are valuable. I think all kids deserve stimulating opportunities like that during the summer.

Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order in 2016 mandating that all Maryland public schools start after Labor Day. The executive order cites the August heat and state economic deprivation as reasons for the mandate. Starting school later may help Maryland’s workforce and economy thrive, but it also creates additional stress for working parents who can’t stay...

Jeff Danielian

As often happens when I find myself working outside on my deck, in the dry warm heat of the summer, with thunderous fireworks flashing, I become nostalgic and reminiscent in my writing. With the classroom door closed for a bit and my mind free to think about education, I thought I would share my own story.

I am often asked, as I am sure many of you are, “How did you become a teacher?” My response is never quite the same, and depending on how much time I have to discuss my winding road to the classroom, the story revolves around a simple phrase uttered over and over by a past mentor, a geology professor who still resides in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It is a simple one, and I have it scribbled on a sheet of paper on the wall in my classroom: Education is not about information.

One lesson stands out for me. I will never forget looking down at an aerial view of the Grand Canyon through a pair of stereoscopic glasses. It is one of those moments that, upon reflection, strengthened my belief in the power of education.

Our professor gave a brief introduction to...

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