Monthly Archives: May 2011

If Schools Can’t Meet Gifted Kids’ Needs, What Can?

We’ve mentioned earlier that between asynchrony itself, dramatically different learning styles, and twice-exceptionalities, asynchronous scholars have educational needs that differ so dramatically from those of typical learners that the existing school system can rarely meet them. Especially for gifted kids on the furthest ends of the spectrum, this is the case even in gifted and talented education (GATE) programs, which in any case rarely exist before the third grade, and too often are severely limited or completely absent in this day of funding crises and No Child Left Behind. But giftedness comes hand-in-hand with acute needs, and not meeting those needs seriously damages the child.

In recognition of this harm, out of sheer necessity, increasing numbers of families educate their asynchronous children outside traditional school settings—primarily after the school day ends (“afterschooling,” as noted above) or in home schools.

We should pause here to say that there also are a limited number of private schools that serve asynchronous scholars, but nearly all of these schools target asynchronous scholars whose IQs fall in the first and second standard deviations above the “normal” range at most (so, 130-159); and in many cases do not serve children with “twice exceptionalities.” There is one exception to this, the Davidson Academy in Reno, NV, which is both public and designed to serve profoundly gifted children—but even the Davidson Academy requires that children test well enough to meet their entrance requirements (and quite a number of profoundly gifted children do not test well, because even most IQ tests are not designed to test profoundly gifted children!), and have asynchronies or twice exceptionalities that are not too severe to prevent them from being able to function well in a classroom settings (many exceptionally and profoundly gifted children have intense asynchronies, and a subset has learning disabilities or sensory processing issues that make classroom work untenable). Nonetheless, for those children who qualify, the Davidson Academy is a wonderful, wonderful resource.

But back to those whose needs cannot be met in these school settings: There are a certain number of charter schools offering distance education to homeschoolers. Such schools in California offer $1,200 to $1,800 per school year per pupil to be used for external enrichment classes or service providers, curricula, books and sometimes supplies. However, those funds must be used only for the charters’ “approved vendors.” At many charters the approved vendor list is restricted enough that the more asynchronous scholars cannot use the funds to support deep study subjects of interest to the child—particularly if those interests are extremely specialized or substantially out of grade-level. Many charters also place monthly and annual testing, worksheet and reporting requirements on participants that don’t match the needs of more asynchronous scholars. For these reasons, many, if not most, asynchronous homeschoolers do not enroll in charters. (Hard figures are not available; this estimate is based on anecdotal information gathered from regional and national online mailing lists and forums for gifted homeschoolers.)

Many people might be left wondering what exactly an asynchronous scholar might need in a home school setting. The answer is complex, because there is as much variation in the population of asynchronous scholars as there is in the population of children in general. Most asynchronous scholars learn best when they drive their own learning, selecting a topic of interest and diving in deep for extended periods of time. The parents’ (or tutor’s, teacher’s, educational advisor’s, or mentor’s) role becomes one of facilitation, procuring resources for children so they can teach themselves. These children learn entire concepts at a time, and circle back later to fill in details.

But other asynchronous scholars learn well by following established but compacted curricula at an accelerated rate. Some have extremely high IQs but are dyslexic or have other learning disabilities, and need to use learning strategies developed for learners with those disabilities, but adapted to meet their needs for accelerated, compacted learning. Some asynchronous scholars delve so deep into a particular area at young ages that they outstrip all existing child-oriented materials before their interest as been sated, and parents must develop new materials, adapt adult-level materials, develop entire classes on a particular (sometimes arcane) subject, or find tutors or mentors who can do the same.

There is a thriving online community that addresses some of these needs, and it provides critical support to afterschooling and homeschooling families. The community is comprised of online mailing lists and websites (including those of service providers like the Davidson Institute and the national talent search programs) listing resources, reference sources, and research. Some of the leading lists include TAGMAX, TAGFAM and for those with twice exceptionalities, TAGPDQ; the Gifted Homschoolers’ Forum’s mailing list; and a great many others listed on the Hoagies’ Gifted website. Mailiing list members discuss their challenges and successes, point one another to resources they’ve found useful for their own asynchronous scholars, and the like.

But it may be no surprise to learn that obtaining these resources requires funds far in excess of what many families have at their disposal. Although the cost of educating a typical child at home may be fairly reasonable (assuming the self-selecting respondents of that survey were parents of typical children, which they may not be), meeting the needs of a substantially asynchronous gifted child requires much more money. To be able to meet the educational needs of an asynchronous scholar at home, one parent typically has to remain home, often putting a career (and thus income) on hold, further limiting what’s available. Even families of asynchronous scholars attending typical schools need to spend equal amounts to obtain learning materials for their children to use at home. And this is to say nothing about the services of education advocacy specialists, IQ and achievement assessments, evaluations and treatment for common (among asynchronous children in particular) disabilities not covered by insurance like sensory processing disorder, and the like.

This also doesn’t factor in the costs of the highly specialized materials, tutors, and resources these children may require: Biology lab equipment… college-level texts that still don’t contain material too inappropriate for highly sensitive young children… travel to perform at concerts… appropriate supplies for prodigious artists… a telescope and corresponding computer software and hardware for a child doing original astronomy research… tutors, teachers, community college classes… we’ll stop there. This list may sound incredible, but there are children that need these things to be their right selves, to meet their own, intense inner drive to learn and explore.

The fact is that our system makes no allowance for children like this. The burden of providing these things for these kids this falls on the family. Fairness aside, that can work fine when a family has the means; but there are dozens, if not hundreds of families in California alone who do not have the resources to do so.

asflogobriefThe aim of the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund is to rectify that shortfall. We are building on a model proven by hundreds of families who work every day to find and implement resources for their asynchronous children. Based on that model, the Fund will provide the resources for families of lesser means to permit them to identify and meet their children’s needs. Please join us today in building this program: Your support will make a difference!


But They Don’t Need Help in School; They’re Smart!

One of the questions we’re asked most is “Why help smart kids? They don’t need help in school!”  And for the bright child, this is usually true. Regular smart kids can figure things out on their own, may be able to entertain themselves when they finish ahead of their classmates, and may have general coping skills to deal with being in a classroom full of kids who lag behind them.

But the demographic the Fund serves is different. Unfortunately, between asynchrony itself, dramatically different learning styles, and twice-exceptionalities, asynchronous scholars have educational needs that differ so dramatically from those of typical learners that the existing school system can rarely meet them, even in gifted and talented education (GATE) programs (which in any case rarely exist before the third grade, and too often are severely limited or completely absent in this day of decreased funding for anything but No Child Left Behind). Educators can and sometimes do adopt strategies to address the needs of some children performing well above the norm. But the realities of No Child Left Behind mean that at least in public education, teachers are so focused on bringing low performers up to the midline that they have little to no resources to invest in children above the midline.

The degree to which these resources are limited is shocking: Of every $100 in federal funding for education, only two cents was available for GATE programs in 2009. In the past year, state budget woes have altogether eradicated GATE funding in many states. Most recently in April 2011, the national Javits Gifted & Talented Students Education program was eliminated altogether.

One would think that private schools have a better track record in meeting the needs of asynchronous scholars, but the success of these efforts varies based on the same criteria as with public schools: Having specially trained teachers who truly “get” asynchronous scholars, and who also have the time and resources to address their needs – and most specifically, willingness and ability to use both acceleration and compacting as the core strategies for the most advanced learners. In practice, the success rate (or lack thereof) is comparable in public and private schools. The fact that asynchronous scholars have needs that cannot be met by schools’ normal activities or services is recognized in the very definition of giftedness offered by the US government, in the Javits Act of 1988 — at least until it was canceled this year.

A limited number of private and charter schools do exist to serve children performing above the norm, but these focus almost exclusively on students largely without twice exceptionalities, whose IQs are in what Columbia University professor Leta Hollingworth identified as the “socially optimal” range of roughly two to four standard deviations above the norm (125 to 155 IQ). The Davidson Academy in Reno, Nevada is a notable exception, but even that institution serves only a narrow segment of asynchronous scholars, those scoring above the 99.9thpercentile on nationally normed IQ and achievement tests, which excludes students who may be brilliant but not test well, or who may have certain learning disabilities, or who function just below that threshold, but above the range served by other such schools.

Not having their needs met can be catastrophic for the most asynchronous of children. At best, they may “coast” through school, never learning healthy work and study skills, persistence, or much of anything new academically. At worst, health breakdowns occur, both mental and physical, and dysfunction becomes ingrained in the child’s personality.

Even children who are grade levels ahead of their agemates will cease to learn if the learning environment does not meet their needs. Let a child languish—fail to establish an environment with material matched to the child’s instructional level, progressing at an appropriate pace for that child—for even part of a school year, and the consequences are dramatic: Self-esteem plummets. Love of learning disappears. Knowledge and understanding are lost. Willingness to cooperate with others, to be patient and follow rules while others’ needs are clearly being met but theirs are not—it all takes a nosedive.

What if a more appropriate learning environment is reintroduced later? Sadly, the lost ground is lost.The problem is so profound that one study found that as many as 60 percent of asynchronous scholars drop out before completing undergraduate studies or going on to graduate studies. Other studies have estimated that five to twenty percent of students identified as “gifted”—asynchronous scholars—drop out of high school.

Additionally, even for children with IQs just over 130 in a school with no GATE program (or at an age before GATE programs are offered), harm accumulates over time as children’s needs are not met, akin to the stress over time of asking left-handed children to exclusively use their right hands in school; asking children not to perform to their natural ability—not to be themselves because they are different from the vast majority—is inherently harmful.

The reasons we should meet the needs of asynchronous scholars are the same as the reasons to meet the needs of any other group of children. What right do we as a society have to exclude a class of children from having their needs met, simply because they are “smart?” The “why” may seem self-evident to specialists in gifted education or parents of asynchronous scholars, but it bears explaining for everyone else. These kids need our help. They’re kids, and they deserve our help.