by Dick Kantenberger
Guest Columnist EducationNews.org
It is like someone shouted “FIRE” in a theater, but nobody moved. Is the theater empty? No, it’s full of people, but still nobody moved or even cared.We are losing hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of potential geniuses every year in the United States because we are just not finding them before it’s too late, which in most cases is about the time they are suppose to start 9th grade.
It’s not like this is some unknown phenomenon.Thomas Jefferson put it succinctly in 1782 while Governor of Virginia when he wrote “By…(selecting) the youth of genius from among the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use if not sought for and cultivated”.It’s not that academia in America is not aware of the situation.Since Leta Hollingworth began studying gifted children over a hundred years ago, many hundreds, perhaps thousands, in academia have devoted their lives to the study of gifted and talented students since then.Some of the giants in gifted and talented (GT) today include Dr. Joseph Renzulli, Director of the National Research Center for the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Howard Gardner at Harvard, Dr. Robert Sternburg at Tufts, Dr. Francoys Gagné at University of Quebec, Dr. Sandra Kaplan at USC, Dr. Richard Olenchak at the University of Houston, Dr. James Delisle at Kent State, Dr. Joyce Juntune at Texas A&M, most of whom I have communicated with and have received encouragement for my advocacy of GT.
Outside of education few understand that the gifted student learns differently from the above average or the Advanced Placement student.They learn much more quickly, they can retain it far longer, and they can synthesize and analyze the newly learned material and begin hypothesizing almost immediately.Most of us regular learners can do the same thing, except it takes us much longer.In other words, it takes hard work for us to learn and to be successful.No wonder the gifted kid gets bored very quickly when asked to do repetitive drills in school and homeworkThe GT teacher has to recognize just how gifted a student is and to constantly keep finding a level that will be challenging and interesting to the student.It takes extra teacher training to do that.The more severely academically-challenged students are, the more they are at risk, and the more special attention they require.The gifted are no different.The more gifted they are, the more they are at risk, and the more special attention they require.One important point on giftedness, just because kids are gifted does not mean they are or will automatically become talented. They have to be trained before they are talented.This is true whether they are to become a scientist, a baseball player, an auto mechanic, an actor, or a CEO.If not trained, all of these people are lost to society.If we don’t find these at risk gifted kids, usually by the time they are in 8th grade, they may be lost to us. It has been reported that some will turn up as drug dealers, internet pirates and scam artists.They are too smart to do nothing.
So why are we still losing these potential leaders? Part of it is because most Americans think that because these kids are very intelligent that they don’t need any help; “If there’re that smart they will work it out and be OK”. But these kids are just as vulnerable as the academically-challenged students and the Special Education students.Let me say it again, these gifted kids are just as vulnerable as the academically-challenged and the Special Education student.Few in this country are not aware of, and approve of, the Special Education programs, and rightly so.Also few in this country are not aware of the government program No Child Left Behind, which is aimed at the academically-challenged and to provide them with a high school education.It is an admirable goal, but even the school superintendents and principals around the country are complaining to the government (both States and National) that they are forced to use so much energy and financial resources on No Child Left Behind, it has diluted their efforts in one of their primary goals of preparing students so our universities can train them.And at the same time many of the gifted, our future leaders in industry, education and government, are falling through the cracks.
Dr. Donna Y. Ford at Vanderbilt University told me recently via e-mail that from the data she pulled from the Office of Civil Rights that we are losing over 250,000 African-American GT students every year, and if the national count is indicative of the figures compiled by the Texas Education Agency, the loss of GT students among Hispanics is over twice that of African-Americans, and if you count the poor of all races the loss is four times that of African-Americans. I am amazed that parents and leaders in the Hispanic, African-American, Women Movements, and advocates of the poor are not up in arms over this situation. Clearly, Thomas Jefferson was right in 1782, but nobody listened.Will we listen now?
We are currently only finding the easily identifiable GT students, and the word “find” my not be the right word. Many parents of Asians and middle class white boys are beating down the principal’s doors all over the country to get their children into GT classes and programs.Research has shown for many years what Jefferson said in 1782 that giftedness occurs equally among all races, cultures and both sexes.But what does a typical GT class look like?It is often Asians and middle class white boys with a smattering of girls, Hispanics and African-Americans. Since in public education in Texas, Whites and Asian student populations combined don’t even make a majority, it is easy to see the disparity.The others are much harder to find, primarily due to cultural and economic differences.Many don’t want to be found. In certain segments of our society being gifted is being labeled a nerd.Kids want to fit in with their friends and don’t want them to think they are different.They try to hide it from their friends and even their parents, so they intentionally goof-off and make low to average grades.Many of the highly gifted learn so quickly they get very bored at school and become troublemakers.There are many characteristics that teachers must be trained to look for.Notice I said teachers, not councilors, principals and administrators, because they rarely see the kids in the classroom.It is the teachers that have to know what to look for and have the opportunity to see all the telltale signs.
That’s one of the reasons that Dr. James Delisle at Kent State spends one afternoon a week teaching classes at a local Middle School in Kent Ohio along with his lecturing all over the country on weekends..Jim even puts it on his business card; Distinguish Professor of Education and Part Time Middle School Teacher.
There are so many little characteristics a teacher must look for, and that is why they have to be properly trained. It is the total collection of characteristics that is needed in order to make a judgment.For instance, exquisite handwriting and very bad handwriting can be both a characteristic of a potential gifted student.By themselves they don’t mean much, but coupled with several other clues they could identify a potential GT student.But, either sign should send a message to the teacher to start looking for other signs.A rude and disruptive kid may be a sign of an academically-challenged student, or one who has goofed off so long that he or she is way behind and doesn’t care any more, or they also may be a gifted student who is bored to death because they learned the material in the first ten minutes of class and are repulsed to doing repetitive drills and homework. Some highly gifted kids will in time refuse to do any work at all in school What is critical with all of these students I just mentioned are that they are at risk of dropping out of school before they begin high school. That is why we need to find them and get them into special educational programs, whether Special Ed or GT, before they drop out.That’s why the period between the 3rd and 8th grade is so important.
Recent research on identifying and serving diverse gifted students published in the Journal for the Education of the Gifted by K. L Speirs Neumeister, C. M. Adams, R. L. Pierce, J. C. Cassady, and F. A. Dixonwrote “Few, if any, teachers mentioned gifted characteristics that are prevalent in minority populations such as oral tradition, movement and verve, communalism and affective characteristics… Only 15% of the teachers recognized that boredom or non-interest may be common in gifted students. Teachers were less likely to notice gifted characteristics in students having a skill deficit in one area, poor work habits, or behavioral or family problems.”The authors concluded that the results of the survey indicated a need for more professional development on how giftedness manifests itself in minority and economically disadvantaged populations and on multicultural education.
The state and national governments press the school districts to accommodate the academically-challenged students and the Special Education students. These programs are heavily funded.Of course there are some issues with No Child Left Behind that need to be modified and very likely will be in the near future, but Gifted and Talented education is not only under-funded, it is also hamstrung by the state legislatures.Only 27 states have laws requiring Gifted and Talented programs in their public schools, but only seven states require that certified GT teachers teach the GT students that have been found, but three of these, and sadly Texas is one of them, only make it OPTIONAL that GT students be taught by certified GT teachers.But that’s not the end of the story.In Texas, it is no longer necessary to have certified GT teachers.Regular certified teachers need only spent 30 clock-hours attending GT lectures and seminars to be eligible to teach GT students.No certification exam is required.I have seen a few teachers at these seminars reading, knitting and grading papers during the lectures. There are no exams.It takes a certain degree of training to be able to find these kids in the first place and even more to know how to modify their curriculums.Without certification exams, it is not happening.Why?In Texas it use to be required that teachers could only become certified through university credits.But the need for GT teachers became severely outstripped by the number of newly discovered GT students.Not wanting to spend the money needed to train and certify GT teachers, the Texas Legislature, the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas District Superintendents all came up with a compromise that resulted in the 30 clock-hours, non-certification exam program.This is not enough.It takes more training for a teacher to be able to first, recognize the hard to identify GT student, and then to develop the necessary modified curriculum for each student.Let me make this perfectly clear, there are many very good and qualified GT teachers in Texas and the U.S. who are totally devoted to their profession and goals, but there are not enough of them.Also the teachers do not have to be gifted themselves to find and teach GT kids, just trained to recognize the signs and know how to modify their curricula.Any good teacher can easily be trained.
To give the GT students a level playing field, our state legislators are going to have to shift more money to train and certify new GT teachers.In Texas, where our special education students outnumber the GT students by factor of 1.4 to 1, special education expenditures outpace GT expenditures by almost 11 to 1.In my own school district special education outspends GT by 43 to 1 and all these figures are the actual expenditure numbers from the Texas Education Agency for 2006-2007.As bad as this is, Texas is the second highest state in the U.S. in GT spending.Dr. Robert Sternburg at Tufts University told me he estimated that in America we spend about $99 on special education for every $1 spent on gifted and talented education.Dr. Joyce Van Tassel-Baska at William and Mary College is quoted in Genius Denied that America spends 143 times as much on special education as on gifted and talented.
So it is clear, we must train and certify many more teachers in GT to 1] Find the poor, the girls, and the minorities that are being lost, and 2]To train these students to be the leaders that they should be and have the potential to be.
The big question is what can you as an individual do about it.While the national government sets the tone, it is basically the state legislators (representatives and state senators) and the state education agencies that have the power because they control the money and the priorities.Most legislators are not aware of the problem, while most state agencies and district superintendents are so pressured with federal initiatives like No Child Left Behind, they can only give lip service to the GT problem, which they mostlyare aware of and understand.
The real power lies with you. If you would call, or write, or fax, or e-mail your state representative and state senator and the head of your state education agency and ask them
1] to require state certification exams of Gifted and Talented teachers, and
2] that all identified Gifted and Talented students be taught by state certified Gifted and Talented teachers.
We are doing exactly that for our special education students.We should do the same for our most brilliant kids, many of whom we are losing.
Dick Kantenberger, of Houston, Texas was a Texas teacher certified in Secondary and Elementary Mathematics and Science, Physics, Special Education, and Gifted and Talented. Member, Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented
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