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There's Gifted, and Then There's Profoundly Gifted

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

Recently, you said in The Post that you thought the needs of the gifted were being adequately addressed. I know there are many parents who disagree with you, but I am not one of them. I think that the big local public school districts are doing a good job meeting the needs of the vast majority of gifted kids. Those kids are like my son, who attends a Fairfax County public schools Gifted and Talented Center. The center is a great model for the moderately to highly gifted child.

However, I do think there is a small segment of gifted children for which the GT centers are not a good model. These are the exceptionally and profoundly gifted, who have the very highest IQs. And I think it is the parents of these children whom you continue to hear from. I believe that these kids are the ones who need to skip a grade (or two) to be with their intellectual peers, although they do not fit in socially with older kids. When they are placed with their age peers in a GT Center, the exceptionally and profoundly gifted kids tend to have problems in general with socializing and fitting in, which sets them up for bullying, teasing, social isolation, etc.

Public schools require 20 to 30 kids in a classroom, and that may not be the best learning model for the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. (And I'm not sure the parents would want them going to "resource rooms" for their lessons, like special education). I guess the real problem comes in the total number of the exceptionally and profoundly gifted. They are such a small percentage of the school population that their parents just don't have a big enough voice to get them any special services. I know that many end up home-schooling.

Wendy Hoskins

Falls Church area

I think you are quite right. It is unrealistic and indeed harmful to try to develop services for such kids in the public schools. Nearly everyone acknowledges that our public schools cannot find, train or afford to pay staff members who can teach anything useful to children with the compositional talents of Mozart or the putting stroke of Tiger Woods, to name just two child prodigies. Such children need specialists, as do the exceptionally and profoundly gifted students you cite. If we try to teach them in public schools, we are likely to waste their time. I am similarly not convinced that our GT centers, although wonderful places for many of those students, add much value in the long term. I still await data that prove me wrong. I think it is much better to accelerate gifted students to the upper grades -- or bring upper-grade lessons down to them -- so they can learn something new.

Dear Extra Credit:

I disagree with your comment that students with emotional or learning disabilities require a solution different from gifted classes. On what are you basing this statement? A review of the literature (see work by Susan Baum, Joe Renzulli, Sally Reis, Steven Owen and J. Dixon, Linda Silverman, Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Linda Mills, Carol Brody, Rich Weinfeld, etc.) points to providing gifted education opportunities first, and supporting the special needs once those opportunities for gifted education are provided.

Lynn Blycher

Chairwoman, Loudoun County public schools

Special Education Advisory Committee

I have seen no research that says if you have a child with a social contact disorder you should first get him into a gifted class and then work on his emotional disability. If the kid is having trouble dealing with people in daily life, that takes priority in my view.

Dear Extra Credit:

Were you meaning to insult only Charles County regular class teachers and students, or were you trying to insult all of the regular-class teachers and students in the Washington area? I found your comment in the Nov. 1 column -- "You can urge your son to stare at the ceiling happily in a regular class for which he will get a B for being nice to the teacher" -- insulting and mean-spirited. It is a condescending remark, implying that learning occurs only in AP classes, and all other classes in the school are used for babysitting.

I teach five regular classes in Montgomery County, and I can assure you my students work hard and learn at a high level in my classes. No one gets good grades "for being nice" to me. They get good grades by working hard, doing what is expected of them and proving they know the class material by scoring well on quizzes and tests, both the ones I write to cover day-to-day learning, and ones written by the county and state to cover end-of-semester and end-of-course information. I can assure you that being friendly in class and being liked by me will not affect a student's grade at all. My students prove to me every day, through their hard work and their good scores, that they know the material being covered in class and the objectives of the course.

You can think or say whatever you like about teachers, but please don't belittle the effort of my students. In no way is your comment reflective of what is occurring in my class on a daily basis. You owe an apology to every one of my students who received a good grade for the marking period that just ended. Your comment denigrated the efforts of all of these students. Their grade was earned by hard work, perseverance and long hours studying. To imply anything else is just wrong.

Rob Shaver

Montgomery County teacher

You are absolutely right. I apologize. I find myself endlessly amusing and love exaggerating for effect, but once again I was stupid, not clever.

Please send your questions, along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number, to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 526 King St., Suite 515, Alexandria, Va. 22314. Or e-mailextracredit@washpost.com.

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