How Gifted Education Can Be Improved

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Defining and Understanding the Problem

During a recent conference in 2011 entitled Are We Ready For the Coming Age of Abundance? theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, stated that 50% of Ph.D. candidates in the United States are foreign born. In addition to that, Dr. Kaku mentioned that at CCNY, where he holds a Professorship in theoretical physics, 100% of the Ph.D. candidates are foreign born. While it is wonderful that the U.S. is able to provide quality college-level education to everyone regardless of nationality, the question must be asked: why aren't more American-born citizens not becoming Ph. D. candidates? Statistical odds favor a higher American born percentage, but this is not the case. Why?

To arrive at a conclusion, we must take into consideration that the overreaching goal for public schools in the United States is to provide a free and age-level appropriate education to any child regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, etc. According to a survey in 2011, only 30% of Americans age 25 and up had a bachelor's degree. Also, after a recent analytical study by Callan, Finney, Kirst, Usdan, and Venezia (2006), the researchers commented:

"Educators and policymakers have not developed coherent state systems of education that adequately prepare high school students for the academic expectations of college (p.3)."

Therefore, the problem is an ever-widening gap in the transition from high school to college. While many factors contribute to this epidemic such as socio-economic status or geographical location, the numbers don't lie. ACT scores from 2012 revealed that only 60% of high school graduates were ready for college. Regardless of the cause, something has to change.

Hold that thought.

Between 2009 and 2013, I was given the opportunity to talk with various groups of students at three different high schools. These students were all in honors or advanced placement (AP) classes and the majority of them were identified as being academically or intellectually gifted. One of the first things that caught my attention was the fact that most of them used the exact same textbooks as the regular classes. "Well, funding is low and the information is still valuable," I thought to myself. "So, as long as the teacher is able to take them to the next level I guess that's ok." However, this was not the case. When I asked them about their assignments when compared to the regular classes, I was shocked to see a grave imbalance of quantity vs. quality.

Quantity, obviously, is the amount of work and the length of assignments. Quality, however, is based on practicality and how beneficial each assignment is to the students. In the honors and AP courses these students were taking, the vast majority of them were given the exact same assignments as the regular classes, but in greater quantity. If U.S. History had to write a 5-page paper on Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, A.P. U.S. History had to write a 10-page paper. If English II had to read All Quiet on the Western Front and The Shawl, the honors class would have to read those two books plus Les Miserables and poems by Robert Frost.

Does being gifted simply mean that one is able to do more of the same work? Based on the assignments alone, higher intellectual ability does not indicate a greater ability to think, perceive, or develop new concepts, but rather the ability to read and write for longer periods of time. I assume that's what made Beethoven so great, playing intermediate level piano melodies for hours on end. Sir Isaac Newton must have merely added and subtracted massive amounts of numbers together, going against the physics of Aristotle, to develop the first and second laws of motion. I can see Einstein now, studying for an Algebra II test while developing theories suggesting that space and time are not linear pathways through the universe, but rather curvatures that can be construed and manipulated. Are you following the sarcasm?

The bottom line is the majority of public school systems are not doing enough to propel their most capable students beyond the limits of average or above average students. Picture again the IQ bell curve. At the present moment, public education acts like a vacuum sucking everyone into the middle. While this works well for those who deviate low, it is mundane and pointless for those students who deviate high. If students with exceptionally low IQ scores receive special educational opportunities to meet their unique needs the opposite is also true. Students with exceptionally high IQ scores should receive special educational opportunities to meet their unique needs.