The High Flyer

As I travel the country, working with educators and policymakers on improving services for gifted students, I’m usually struck by two themes, one encouraging and the other worrisome. On the positive side, people are starting to understand that advanced achievement matters and have become passionate about addressing excellence gaps—the yawning divides in advanced achievement between various racial and socioeconomic groups. But on the negative side, I’m routinely disappointed by how often that enthusiasm fades when we start talking about solutions. The conversation goes something like this:

Ability grouping? “Not in our district, people don’t believe in it.” Universal screening? “Too expensive.” Use of local norms? “Politically tricky. Pass.” Teacher and administrator training? “Preparation programs will never do it, and we don’t have the bandwidth at the district level.” And the kicker, which is so common that I’ve become numb to it: “This is an important topic, but my urban/rural district doesn’t have any bright kids” (a comment I’ve heard from principals, superintendents, and even a state school chief).

So although we have research-based strategies that shrink excellence gaps and raise overall levels of excellence, we rarely see a district tackle this problem.

This phenomenon has grown so frustrating for me...

 
 
Courtney McKinney

When I moved from California to Texas at age four, I was reading full books and writing at a first-grade level. After being iced out of one upscale community that wasn’t keen on having a single black mother as a neighbor, my mom moved us into a different district, specifically for its public schools. But when she went to enroll me in kindergarten, she was told that under no circumstances would I be allowed to enter kindergarten as a four-year-old, no matter what grade level I tested into.

School staff recommended I attend preschool for a year to wait it out. My mom did not accept that recommendation. Instead, she sent me to a nearby private school where I was welcomed into kindergarten with open arms. I excelled, and instead of falling behind a year, I stayed in private school through fourth grade. Then I transferred to public school, where I took part in programs for gifted students. When I graduated from high school at seventeen and went on to the Ivy League, it looked like the public education system had served me well, but the real reason I made it was the commitment of my mother.

Earlier this year,...

 
 
Kevin D. Besnoy

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Teaching for High Potential. Research from Mathematica and CREDO have shown disappointing results for online schools, though the studies do not address how well or poorly they serve gifted students.

Over the past twenty years, the world of online learning has exploded with roughly 5 million of the country’s 54 million K–12 students having taken at least one online or virtual class during the 2015–2016 school year. While there are some advantages to virtual schools, we must seek answers to important questions about the type of education our gifted and talented students are receiving in these settings. Given that nearly all of the learning takes place online, what types of digital-personal interactions do our students experience? How do we evaluate a virtual learning environment to determine if it is right for gifted children or programs?

What is Virtual Education?

Effective K–12 online learning environments are comprised of a variety of places, pedagogies, and policies. Unfortunately, educators do not agree as to how best to define each of these elements, and politicians cannot find consensus as to how best to evaluate the return on investment of taxpayers’...

 
 

By next week, sixteen states and the District of Columbia will have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. These publicly available documents describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, school improvement, and accountability. Unfortunately, just as states mostly squandered ESSA's school improvement flexibility, most of these first seventeen plans don’t do enough to hold schools accountable for meeting the educational needs of high achievers—especially those growing up in poverty.

ESSA affords states a critical opportunity to right many wrongs of No Child Left Behind. A strong accountability system signals to schools that the progress of all students is important, but NCLB failed at this by creating incentives for schools to focus their energy almost exclusively on helping low-performing students get over a modest proficiency bar, while neglecting those who were likely to pass state reading and math tests regardless of what happens in the classroom. This may be why the United States has seen significant achievement growth and improved graduation rates for its lowest performers over the last twenty years but lesser gains for its top students.

The...

 
 

Back in November, I praised the Obama Administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act accountability regulations for permitting states to use performance indices in lieu of simple, problematic proficiency rates. Such applause is, of course, water under the bridge after congressional Republicans and President Trump repealed those rules and, instead of replacing them, will rely on promises, “Dear Colleague” letters, and other means that fall short of formal regulation.

Yet new praise is in order for Secretary DeVos et al.’s recently released “State Plan Peer Review Criteria,” which explains the process through which state ESSA plans will gain approval or rejection. It, like the regulations that came and went before it, expressly permits accountability systems that measure student achievement at multiple levels—not just “proficient”—using a performance index.

This is an important—even essential—innovation. Despite the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, which ESSA replaced a year ago, it erred by encouraging states to focus almost exclusively on helping low-performing students achieve proficiency and graduate from high school. Consequently, many schools ignored pupils who would easily pass state reading and math tests and earn diplomas regardless of what happened in the classroom—a particularly pernicious problem for high-achieving poor and minority...

 
 

When (and how) should gifted education teachers apply general teaching principles vs. specialized instruction in their gifted education classrooms? In what circumstances are gifted learners like all others in classrooms around the world and when are they uniquely different? These questions plague the field with many implications regarding access, equity, and educational values. A new publication, Top twenty principles from psychology for pre-K–12 creative, talented, and gifted Students’ teaching and learning, published by the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education at the American Psychological Association in collaboration with scholars in our field, aims to help educators answer these questions.

Organized around a set of twenty research-based principles of learning, the synthesis introduces readers to each principle, how it is relevant to teachers, and provides a list of actions that teachers can take to incorporate these principles into their gifted education classroom to promote learning and development.

This document expands on a version that was originally developed for the broader education community by specifically targeting the K–12 education experiences of gifted and talented students. Research syntheses such as this one help practitioners make sure that they are applying effective practices in their classrooms.

Organized around five themes, the...

 
 
M. René Islas and Marc Webb

In school systems across our nation, high achievers are often invisible. The movie Gifted peers into the complicated process of educating, you guessed it, gifted children. The film is a hopeful reminder that we must not only see these children, but must understand, teach, and challenge young gifted minds for their sake and not ours.

Gifted tells the story of the struggles gifted children and their caregivers encounter when they lack access to gifted programs in their neighborhoods.

Mary Adler, the protagonist in Gifted, is a first-grader who vents her frustration when she has to sit through content she already knows. When her teacher asks, “What is three plus three,” Mary’s response is pure boredom, “Everyone knows that… What kind of school is this!?!” While Mary is fictitious, research shows that gifted children know nearly 50 percent of early elementary school material on the first day of class, meaning there are many children like Mary in our nation’s classrooms.

Fortunately, Mary’s teacher quickly understands that she is extraordinarily gifted and thrives on challenge and stimulation. Mary was fortunate to be in a classroom with a teacher who recognized her gifts and helped push for appropriate services.

Gifted children have...

 
 
Josh Dwyer and Carolyn E. Welch, J.D.

A recent High Flyer post made a strong case for how acceleration can benefit high-ability students and help administrators and teachers more effectively address the individual needs of their unique learners. It echoes findings in dozens of previous studies that show that acceleration works.

Despite mountains of evidence demonstrating its benefits, most decisions about acceleration policies are made locally. According to a recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, forty-one states either do not have acceleration policies or permit school districts to decide whether to institute them.

Using Illinois as a case-study, the Illinois Association for Gifted Children and the Untapped Potential Project recently published a report that sought to determine whether districts step up to the plate in terms of establishing acceleration policies to support their high achievers in the absence of a state requirement. Unfortunately, the report’s findings are disappointing. Among Illinois school districts, large percentages lack policies that permit students to do the following:

  • Enter kindergarten early: 56 percent
  • Enter first grade early: 55 percent
  • Take classes above grade-level: 46 percent
  • Skip a grade: 90 percent
  • Graduate early: 41 percent

These troubling statistics are compounded by the fact that 33 percent of Illinois students...

 
 

Each gifted child is unique. Some gifted children—only a few, actually—match the stereotype of the quiet genius who works independently and earns straight As. Some gifted children—many, in fact—are inquisitive, witty, strong-willed and super active. Yet, others are prolific readers, writers, mathematicians and/or scientists. Many gifted children are passionate humanitarians with a fierce desire to right the wrongs in the world, while others are creative musicians, dancers and artists.

The one thing gifted children all seem to have in common is the intense need for novel, enriching and challenging educational experiences that meet their individual academic and social-emotional needs.

Thankfully, our nine-year-old twin daughters are now receiving gifted educational services in the Miami-Dade public school system; however, we remain concerned about the many unidentified gifted children around the nation who are being deprived of these necessary services. Just like some visually impaired children need Braille, gifted children need novel, enriching and challenging educational experiences to be well-balanced and successful students.

Gifted children also need support for their unique characteristics as much as other Exceptional Student Education children do. They specifically need opportunities to practice their social-emotional skills, as gifted children are often the “odd” ones in the group. Bored, under-served...

 
 
Saiying Steenbergen-Hu, Matthew Makel, and Paula Olszewski-Kubilius

Education is not an easy profession. According to the “MetLife Survey of the American Teacher,” teachers and school administrators view managing resources and addressing individual student needs as the biggest challenges in their jobs. For example, 43 percent teachers reported in the 2008 survey that they could not effectively teach because their students’ learning abilities had become so varied. In the 2009 survey, 86 percent of principals and 77 percent of teachers reported that addressing the individual needs of diverse learners could have a major impact on improving student achievement.

What can educators do?

The above problems do not exist because we do not know how to help students with different learning needs learn. Concerned teachers and school leaders can find guidance from a recent study we published in the Review of Educational Research, “What One Hundred Years of Research Says About the Effects of Ability Grouping and Acceleration on K-12 Students’ Academic Achievement: Findings of Two Second-Order Meta-Analysis.” Our review of published research results found that most forms of ability grouping and academic acceleration succeed in addressing the needs of advanced learners without harming (and even helping) learning in other students.

Effective ability grouping involves...

 
 

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