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.