The Onion is satire. I have always loved the Onion, but I am biased because I am from Wisconsin. So, when the article “Gifted Passionate Student Really Stretching Limits of School’s Resources” from the Onion came up in my feed, I chuckled but also cringed. I laughed because it is the onion and could only imagine what they would write but I cringed because we have a child who exceeded what schools could offer. So yes, the article is a joke and funny to a point. But at a deeper level, it brings out the glaring reality that there really are some gifted kids who exceed what schools can do and need more. In fact, according to some new research, there is as many as 25% of students at any grade level that have already mastered what they are working on (“Getting Restless at the Head of the Class” by Anya Kamenetz). Our son was definitely part of that 25%.
In the article “How to Raise a Genius: Lessons from a 45 Year Study of Supersmart Children,” Tom Clynes discusses acceleration with the gifted. This is a perfect summary: “Many educators and parents continue to believe that acceleration is bad for children—that it will hurt them socially, push them out of childhood or create knowledge gaps. But education researchers generally agree that acceleration benefits the vast majority of gifted children socially and emotionally, as well as academically and professionally. … Among students with high ability, those who were given a richer density of advanced pre-collegiate educational opportunities in STEM went on to publish more academic papers, earn more patents and pursue higher-level careers than their equally smart peers who didn’t have these opportunities.” Sadly, many districts still have archaic policies regarding acceleration. In fact, our zoned district limits students to 1 grade level above their current assigned grade, no single subject acceleration, and only grade skipping for those who know how to jump through the hoops to get it.
Here are the highlights of our personal story of exceeding the resources of schools:
- While our son was in preschool (age 3 and 4) we were warned by his teachers that he would be bored in kindergarten because he had already mastered what would be covered.
- We sought private testing when he was 4 and was told our son was highly gifted. We learned his achievement scores were in the profoundly gifted range. The examiner advised us to meet with school staff.
- I attempted to meet with the principal (she was fired 4 months later) of our zoned campus. I was denied and instead was given the guidance counselor over the phone (she retired 3 months later). She advised us to pursue skipping kindergarten and warned me that there were no gifted services other than occasional pull out due to lack of students at our zoned campus.
- I called the district gifted coordinator (she left the next school year) to discuss an administrative transfer to an elementary campus with more gifted students and appropriate gifted services. I was denied and told directly there is no such thing as administrative transfers. Instead, I was told to seek an interdistrict transfer like other parents (this policy has been changed and even more difficult to do) or grade skip. We did not get our first 2 choices but did get our 3rd choice. However, that campus was facing potential closure due to attendance numbers and budget issues. That principal indicated if the board shut down their campus we would have to reapply for another campus. In addition, I was told they don’t have gifted services beyond occasional pull out until 3rd grade. And, I was told there is no such thing as single subject acceleration and children were not allowed to work more than one grade level ahead. Again, I was told to pursue grade skipping or private school.
- We sought a local public charter school and won the lottery for kindergarten entrance. We met with the principal and had a plan. That principal was moved from that campus 1 month before school started. The new principal had no information from the previous principal. We started over with the new principal. He assured us that the school could work with us.
- The kindergarten teacher allowed our son to read his own books and higher level readers than his classmates. He was even allowed to take Accelerated Reader (AR) quizzes. He was taking quizzes on books in the 1st – 4th-grade range. However, our son complained daily about being forced to sit through phonics lessons he already knew and wanting to know when they would do something new in math.
- The kindergarten teacher and school accepted his work from Northwestern University’s Gifted Learning Links (GLL) for science. This was a program in which we applied for based on our son’s private testing and is specially designed for highly gifted kids.
- We started the Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) through Stanford University for Math. This was another program in which we applied. Our son finished K, 1st, and 2nd-grade math in 3 months. This information was shared with the school and accepted into his file.
- Gifted services were a weekly program after school and mixed grades. My son enjoyed the projects they did but felt it was a punishment to be held after school and forced to stay there even longer.
- We considered grade skipping but the school was shuffling teachers and was moving the 2nd-grade teacher we were wanting if we skipped grades down to 1st grade. So after conversations with the gifted coordinator, we opted against grade skipping in hopes of having a good teacher from a higher grade level would help our son. In addition, we knew the staff was being flexible.
- The first-grade teacher also accepted his work from GLL and EPGY. She also allowed him complete freedom in the books he read. He took his AR quizzes on 4th – 6th-grade books. She also gave him higher level math puzzle worksheets. She and the GT coordinator advocated for additional online resources. However, the 3rd through 5th-grade teachers would not let our son be listed on their rosters. Instead, the technology teacher opened classes for my son under his 1st-grade teacher’s name. He completed the 5th-grade online science program and the 3rd-grade math program before the end of 1st grade.
- Sadly, our son was not allowed to participate in spelling bees or science fairs held for the upper-grade levels. The 3rd-5th-grade teachers told me directly it would be unfair to their students if my son won as a first grader. We tried to get permission from the principal but we were told the teachers run these and make the decisions. Thus, denied.
- During the 1st grade school year, GT services were changed to pull-out during the week. The GT teacher sought our permission to group our son with the 3rd-5th-grade students during the 1st week of school. However, after 6 weeks, he was changed to 1:1 because parents complained that it was unfair for my son to be with older kids.
- The principal encouraged our son to participate in a digital story telling competition during both our son’s kindergarten and first-grade years. He won both years. This was run by DISTCO and thus did not involve teachers or parents from the campus.
- During 1st grade our son wrote notes to his teachers about “1 not equaling all” and continued to complain that school was boring. After 12 weeks, we had school staff encouraging us to consider homeschooling or multiple grade skips. We were told directly by the principal and the GT coordinator that a single grade skip was not going to be enough and that realistically there were only 1 to 2 year’s worth of material left on their campus for our son. The reading specialist and other teachers also told us to homeschool or grade skip knowing he will need another after that year.
- I called private schools to find alternatives. Some of them indicated they would not accept our son because he was too young for the grade level he would need. Some of them told us he would need to be with his age peers and that they do not do any single subject acceleration. One school told us all kids were gifted and there was no need for differentiation. Only 2 private schools indicated they had some flexibility for our son. Both indicated they could do single subject acceleration for math and reading but they could not do anything for science. They indicated it would be too dangerous to let a 7-year-old into middle school science labs and that their liability insurance would not allow it. Both cost about $18,000 a year.
It is quite clear from the highlights above that our son exceeded the school’s resources rather quickly. Before the end of the first semester of 1st grade, we made the decision we would be homeschooling. The staff began giving us resources from 4th through 6th grade that they could find. The GT coordinator gave us online resources. Thanks to our experience with GLL and EPGY we knew of lots of university gifted programs. In addition, we were connected with the Texas Parents of Profoundly Gifted and had support for this adventure. We used the 2nd half of 1st grade to plan and get ready. The charter school did what they could but it was not enough. Homeschooling was really our only answer.
Sadly the public school system of Texas is too rigid with its policies as well as has an extremely high staff turnover rate. The charter school had more flexibility than our zoned campus in terms of policies but it was not enough and it too had a high staff turnover rate. We are in our 4th year of homeschooling and our son is considered an 8th grader at the age of 10. He is working on material ranging from 8th grade to high school.
We know that we are not alone on this adventure of homeschooling a highly gifted student who exceeded what public schools could offer. However, if school districts had more flexibility in their acceleration policies and services for gifted many students would not be leaving. We also know that there are some gifted students who do not have the luxury of being homeschooled and instead remain stuck in a system that is not helping them succeed. It is important that parents, the community, and educators understand acceleration and the needs of gifted students so that all students succeed.
Here are some other articles regarding acceleration:
- “How Can So Many Students be Invisible? Large Percentage of American Students Perform Above Grade Level” by Makel, Matthews, Peters, Rambo-Hernandez & Plucker
- “How Gifted Children are Held Back” by Chris Weller
- “Your Smart Kid is Making It Harder for My Kid to Learn” by Teresa Welsh
- “Gifted Student is Being Held Back by Graduation Rules” by Jay Matthews
- “Homeschooling is the Smartest Way to Teach Kids in the 21st Century” by Chris Weller
- “Age-based Curriculum in United States Leaves Millions of Students Unchallenged” by Dave DeFusco
- “One Size May Fit Most, Certainly Not Gifted and Talented” by M. Rene Islas
- “Why Did We Fail Susie?” from Planet Smarty Pants
- “Study: Gifted Children Benefit from Bypassing School for University” by Amy McNeilage
- “The Advantages of Acceleration” by Lisa VanGemert
This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on “Acceleration.” I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page and elsewhere for their inspiration, support, and suggestions.
Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the other Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants, or cut and paste this URL into your browser: