Saturday, October 11, 2014

Re: Washington Post Article by Jay Mathews about Gifted Education

Washington Post's Article by Jay Mathews about Gifted Education

The article is a critique of the book Dumbing Down by Jim Delisle.  I am in the middle of reading the book, so I cannot speak to the ending of the book as Mr. Mathews does, but I would like to turn one of his main arguments on its head.

He asks about the kids who do not qualify for gifted education service, missing cut-offs by a few points, or not having enough of the qualifications for a specific program.  This is not a problem that is unique to gifted education.  This is a perennial problem with special education services across the board.  What happens to the child who is struggling to learn to read, but doesn't quite qualify for literacy intervention?  What happens to the children who almost qualify for other special education interventions?  Do we stop offering special education because there is a cut-off for services?  In most cases, this last question would be answered with a vehement "No".  We do not stop offering special education classes just because some students don't quite qualify.  Most people recognize that as an absurdity.  Classroom teachers would be urged to "differentiate" for these students.  There would be a whole group of specialists who could be consulted to assist the regular teacher.  Materials, for example, high interest - low difficulty books, would be provided in the school for use with students needing extra supports. 

Regular classroom teachers, in my experience, can handle ability ranges of up to two grade levels above or below the nominal grade level of the classroom (depending on the ages of the students).  Textbooks are generally written with more material in them than what is actually needed to master the concepts.

So what happens to the students who do not get accepted into the gifted program?  What happens to the students who do not qualify for special education services?  Teachers continue to monitor them and to provide support.  The students who do not quite qualify for gifted services often do reasonably well.  These are the students that teachers often enjoy - good learners, sometimes leaders.  Those who do not fit those descriptions are watched for other needs.

We do not eliminate the selectivity of the special education programs just because some kids don't quite qualify.  We continue to monitor the needs of those who don't quite qualify and see if they, in the future, might need such interventions.

I will concede a point by Mr. Mathews, however.  We need more definitive study of the effects of gifted programs, including gifted interventions of all types.  The studies, however, shouldn't just be confined to those who barely qualified for gifted programs and those who barely did not.  They should also include studies of the effects on students in places that have gifted programs and compare them to places that do not - if we could just find enough places with good gifted programs. 

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