The problem of giftedness

From this article:

Questions for debate:

  1. What is to be done about this situation? If a child is being “prepped” into giftedness with expensive programs, then they are at a ridiculous advantage over a child who isn’t. This is unfair, but is it something correctable?

  2. Should kindergartners be tested for giftedness? I say no. Selecting the smart ones out of the bunch so early in the game is assuming that early-bloomers–kids who start talking earlier, for instance, or who are better at paying attention–are inherently smarter than kids who develop later. Like a couple of years later. When I was in school, kids weren’t pulled out for gifted programs until the third grade. That seems reasonable to me. By that age, kids are at a better place for being compared. When you are just four or five-years-old, though, so much of who you are is still latent. I barely spoke intelligible English when I was in kindergarten (having a twin does this to you). I couldn’t tie my shoes or distinguish my right shoe from my left, I couldn’t zip my own coat, and I couldn’t hold a pencil correctly. By the third grade, however, my speech problems were almost all gone, I had fantastic spatial abilities, and I had shown myself–despite having a strange pencil grip–to be a talented artist. Based on the last standardized test that I took (the GRE)–if the correlation is as indeed as tight as “they” say it is–I have an IQ that would qualify me for Mensa. But I was some kind of a retarded child when I was five. Destined for a life of mediocrity.

  3. When kids are picked out so early and told that they are gifted, you create a halo affect where they actually achieve better than they would have otherwise. Does the opposite occur too? If you’re a smart kid who’s stuck in an average classroom and you know there’s a gifted program just across the street that you don’t qualify for because you missed the cut-off by a point, how does this make you feel? I’ll tell you, as someone who was in this situation. It sucks. The gifted kids got to learn French, go to museums, do science experiments, and write books that the rest of us were totally excluded from. They even got to learn typing in the fifth grade, which meant that they were submitting perfectly typed reports in middle schoool while the other kids were turning in hand-written stuff. It wasn’t until I got into the fifth grade that my teacher intervened and had me participate in as many enrichment activities as she could possibly get away with (for instance, I got to enter the writing contest and I won!) But I would consider myself lucky. I had parents that constantly assured me that I was smart, despite not being in the gifted class.

  4. The intersection of socioeconomics and race in this doesn’t surprise me at all, and like I said, I don’t know how it can be addressed. It’s clear to me that parents with financial means are using the system so that they can get their kids in the very best public schools, thus saving money while creating an image that their kids are not sheltered or spoiled since they attend public schools. I can’t say I completely fault them. I’d probably do the same. But it only works if someone gets excluded. I’m wondering how they set the percentile cutoff. Is it drawn from the population of a random pool of test-takers that stays constant from year-to-year? Or can it be shifted based on the performance of the preceding year’s cohort of test-takers? That is to say, if no one is prepped last year, the cut-off score will presumably be lower than it will be this year, when everyone was preppred. I have a feeling that the “random population” is what sets the bar because that would make more sense, but I have no idea if this is the case. If it’s not, then they aren’t tested for an objective definition of giftedness. Only a relative one.

What do ya’ll think? Do you think this is a problem or just another one of those advantages that come with class that will never go away.
(Please forgive any typos. I have to run to work in the mornings, so I always rush when I’m on the Dope at this hour.)

Arguably the upper class kids are more gifted already, by some definitions of gifted. At four the kid may have already traveled extensively in Europe and Asia, go to museums every weekend, and have pets of ten different species. The kid’s preschool is of course equipped with all the best technology, most engaging learning materials, and best-educated teachers. If the kid has issues with speech, motor skills, or poor social interaction, a professional has been working, often one-on-one, for maybe several years now, on how to resolve it or teach the kid workaround strategies.

All these rich experiences and knowledge are surely shaping the kid’s brain in a different way than the child who goes home from an underfunded Head Start to watch Pokemon reruns while mom works 12 hours a day. You could say that the rich kid’s whole life is an unfair tutoring session.

Or that kid might be shoved off to some bored foreign nanny who robotically subjects them to endless drills designed to wire their brain to exactly parrot this single test. What do you know about it?

Understimulation can affect cognitive development, for sure. But the difference between a smart kid and a dull kid does not involve European vacations. A stadard issue pre-school, some toys and books at home, and attention from a parent (or grandparent, sibling, aunt, unle, etc.) should be plenty to lead to full neurological development. A three year old should visit playgrounds, for sure. But a Chinese playground is not going to lead to vastly different results than your neighborhood park.

In any case, in this example the richer kids are not automatically obviously smarter. They are being coached in test-taking techniques, not the knowledge that the test is supposed to measure.

I agree that kindergarden is too young for life-changeing tests. Obviously more gifted slots should be opened to meet demand, and kids entering who can’t cut it should be sent back to the standard track. Give everyone who wants a shot a chance, and see who makes it through.

Children should be allowed to be children. Parents should accept their children, and not expect more from them than they have the ability to deliver.

In Freakonomics, authors University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner devote a chapter to “The negligible effects of good parenting on education.” In this chapter they reveal that there is a strong correlation between the number and quality of books in a home, and the mental aptitude test scores children raised in that home get. However, there is a week correlation between reading to children and high aptitude test scores.

The politically incorrect explanation for this is that intelligent parents tend to accumulate lots of good books. They also tend to bequeath their intelligence genetically to their children. However, if the intelligence does not exist in the first place, there can be no compensation.

Giftedness, by definition, is given; it is not acquired.

Parents should recognize and encourage talents in their children, but they should not assume their children are “gifted,” if they are not, and they should not try to turn their children into geniuses.

Outstanding achievement is a matter of both talent and opportunity. Muhammad Ali was introduced to boxing by accident at the age of 12. Someone stole his bicycle. He looked all over the downtown area of Louisville, Kentucky looking for his bicycle. He went into barber shops, and bars asking if anyone had seen his bicycle. Finally he went into a boxing gym.

He never did find his bicycle. He was fascinated by the boxing gym, and began taking lessons. If his bicycle had not been stolen there is a good chance he would never have discovered boxing. He would have been on high school athletic teams. He may have even gotten a scholarship in something like football He probably would not have been a professional football player. His talents lay in boxing.

If I had discovered that boxing gym, and began taking lessons I doubt I would have gotten past my first or second match in a Golden Gloves championship.

On the other hand, when I was in the third grade my father discovered me reading Kingsblood Royal, by Sinclair Lewis, and Uncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright. He told me those books were too grim for a child, and that I should stop reading them.

Because I was a well behaved child, I obeyed. I did not read those books until I was an adult. They are grim, fictional accounts of racial discrimination. Nevertheless, I wish my father had encouraged my childhood interest in serious literature. I probably would not have become a novelist, but I may have done better in school.

Maybe the only test the school district should be relying on is a standard IQ test (such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children)? They’re not testing knowledge per se, and so a prep course wouldn’t be much help.

And I agree that there’s not much need to test kindergarteners.

My brothers and I benefited from ‘gifted’ programs. My first brother and I were in a private school that was already accelerated (we went from preschool onward) and then we were in advanced programs in public high school. My littlest brother has been in a gifted program since K (public).

My son isn’t in one, but he’s at a private school.

What do you want to ‘be done’ about it, exactly? The complaint was that the parents of the wealthier kids could afford test booklets and prep. The complaint was not about the programs themselves.

Kindergarten is a big deal. If the kid is already ahead, don’t hold him/her back.

First off let us dismiss the false advertising that the program, as described, is for gifted children. One out of ten children are not gifted, bright maybe, well preppped for a particular test maybe, but not gifted.

Are bright kids who get put into a Kindergarten program that is going to push them hard at any real advantage, compared to a bright child who is in a more play focussed Kindergarten? I know of no evidence to support such a claim and have much anecdotal experience that goes against it. I recall a study (but it was years ago and I have no chance now to hunt it down) that showed that children in academically oriented Kindergartens did learn to read and add faster than those in play oriented ones but that by 2nd grade both groups tested the same except on measures of creativity - on those measures the kids in the play oriented groups did much better later on.

Prepping a kid to make entrance into a program that they really are not bright enough for, as some of the wealthier parents seem to be doing, is also doing the kid no service. The program will be developmentally inappropriate for that child and the child will be stressed. Having a child stressed out by Kindergarten is a poor way to prepare them for a long course of academic success.

Oh there are children who are clearly really gifted at age 5. Without special push from the parents they are reading at a third grade level, they are making abstract connections, they are telling and creating funny jokes since age 4, they are great at pattern recognition. These very few kids may socially have a hard time in a regular classroom as their peers won’t get them and their comments at story time may not be appreciated. But that is not one out of ten kids or even one out of one hundred. And it is very hard to fool a test that a bread and butter bright or advantaged child is that child by a prep class. That rare child could do with having a real peer group and by third grade runs the risk of turning off school if not given the chance to be challenged some. I know of one child who at fourth grade is feeling really bad about himself because he does not allow himself to be himself with peers, he acts in order to fit in because his peers just look at him funny if he talks about what really interests him. He knows he is being fake and believes there is something wrong with him.

The Mom needs to get a life. Her child is not at a disadvantage because some wealthy parents prepped their bright kids into a so-called gifted program. Or because the school system enables the delusion of giftedness in normal bright advantaged children. The wealthy parents who think that getting their kid into “the gifted program” and shuttling them about to various extra lessons and pushing them to do work sheets is going to make a difference as to what college the kid goes to or what career the kid will have, are wrong. A bright kid will learn what they need to learn in any good Kindergarten class and have many chances to excel or fail, and a child being in a “gifted” program does not become gifted by virtue of being expected to think in ways they cannnot. The school system may ask themselves if perhaps they should reserve early gifted ed for those who are the real sigma outliers and testing broadly to try to identify those kids seems to be to be silly.

I teach rich preschoolers. I’m talking about some of the kids I know. Sure, it doesn’t take European vacations to grow up neurologically normal. I was a lower middle class kid and my parents read to me and I turned out fine. And sure, there are drawbacks to being overprivileged. But some rich parents focus their money and efforts on prepping their child to be a successful student and lifetime learner to an extent that poorer ones couldn’t even if they wanted to. The test prep is one of dozens of things they might do. Even if they didn’t do the test prep, the way they speak to their child in everyday life is likely to be closer to test questions than the way other parents speak to their kids. For instance, using higher level vocabulary, explaining the meanings of concepts, or asking the child why they think something happened or how does X remind them of Y, with the constant intent of making their kid smarter. I think non-rich parents may tend to be more relaxed about letting the kid be a kid because they aren’t feeling intense competition. They won’t be judged as lesser parents if their kid is good at sports instead of academics, or just likes to build with Lego. Of course this only describes my experience with some of the kids I know, and I know a very skewed sample.

My son builds with Legos and K’Nex because he is a FREAKING GENIUS.

Don’t fool yourself.



(but I do think that the language parents use may have an impact on a child’s development, no doubt.)

xoferew, thing is that bright advantaged is not gifted. The big advantage statistically that the upper middle class child has over the lower SES one is not the trip to Europe or to the museum. It’s that the kid has better odds to have two parents at home so has someone available to read to him or her at bedtime (rather than working the second job) and to be there after school to make sure the homework gets done and who can explain and expound upon the material as it gets more advanced by virtue of their own higher educational level. That and the peer group they get the opportunity to associate with. That helps and helps lots, but it does not created giftedness.

DSeid, I agree, but I’m wondering if the test actually tests for “giftedness” rather than “bright advantaged.” Looking at this website that purports to prep kids for the OLSAT test, they offer things like “verbal reasoning,” “reasoning by analogies,” “arithmatic reasoning,” “recognizing patterns,” “listening and following directions.” Surely all those are areas where a kid would score higher if they practiced them every day at home or in preschool. I think it would be really hard to test for just innate giftedness.

Heck yeah it has an impact. Kids will repeat every single thing their parents say even if they have no clue what it means. My wife taught kindergarten and on more than one occasion saw this up close. She had a 5-year-old call a girl a “bitch.” She asked him why he called her that and his response was something along the line of “That’s one thing to call girls.” Can you punish that kid for that if it’s how he’s been raised?

One thing she really disliked about kindergarten was explaining to parents that no, their kid was not gifted. Probably 75% parents will think their kid is, but gosh darn it, our stupid system of statistics only lets about 50% of them be above average with even *fewer *being in the top 1/10th!

Yup. They are not really trying to serve the gifted, they are serving the delusions of the parents.

The funny thing is that you have, on the one hand, a bunch of kids being held back from KG so they can be the oldest ones in the class and have an easier time, and OTOH these parents trying to push their kids into a class in which they’ll be among the dumbest kids in the group. And both think they are doing the best for their kids.

Giftedness aside, some kids thrive when they are really challenged, don’t get frustrated, and are motivated by competing with others, so would benefit from being in a class where most of the kids are smarter, while others have weak self-confidence or other issues that have kept them from seeing themselves as potentially academically successful, and those kids may do better in a class where many of the kids are less smart. (Assuming both classes are well-run, well-equipped, and well-taught.) Parents don’t necessarily take that into account, but I often bring it up (tactfully) at parent-teacher conferences. At least it’s good for consoling parents when their snowflake only got into Sludgebucket Private Acadamy instead of KinderHarvard.

“Gifted” at that age is going to correlate strongly with age. Remember, they’re loosely defining “four years old” as one day past four to one day before five, or some similar cutoff. There might be a year between some of these kids, which at that age is huge. I’m sure you’d find most of the “gifted” kids were closer to the older end of the year long spectrum.

Testing for giftedness at 5 is silly, the brain is still developing at that age at such a fast rate that a test will likely miss about half the kids who actually turn out to be gifted.
The test prep and studying will probably help kids at the margin get into the class and then keep marginal kids who can’t afford them out of the gifted class. However there is very little evidence that gifted classes help marginal kids at all. They probably help the average kid in them, but the marginal kid barely or not at all. Because of this there is no real public policy problem with kids trying to game the system. It is just a waste of the parent’s money and upper middle class New Yorkers have plenty of money to waste.
The women mentioned in the article should concentrate on marrying a good man, that is the best thing she could do for her child.

I was involved with a support group for the parents of gifted kids for a lot of years, and so I’ve sat through a lot of talks by psychologists and our district’s support person. They test the first time at the end of second grade, recognizing that kids mature at different rates and an early bloomer might not be truly gifted. At least when I was involved the decision involved the kid talking to a psychologist, who I’m pretty sure was going to see through any prep. Forcing a kid into a program where she is going to be at the bottom is not very good for the kid, especially if the kid is socially out of sync with others in her class. it is hard enough - GATE identified kids have reasonably high school dropout rates. Being identified is in no way a guarantee of success in life. I never thought if these kids might have been improperly identified, but it might be true.

The introduction for parents of newly identified kids was heavy on the characteristics of gifted kids, things that they do everyday, not just on some test. I strongly resonated with these.

Free or subsidized test prep for low-income families. Getting the right education to the right student is conducive to the public good, and so justifies inequity in distribution of funds.

This is a question that probably needs to be settled on empirical grounds. I don’t have the slightest idea what the answer is. Are students who show advanced skills in Kindergarten more likely to be capable of advanced accomplishments at 20? Good question. What does the research say?

Another empirical question. What does the research say?

My own kid has been selected for something called the “Stretch Program” in our school district. Having grown up “gifted” myself and feeling like I know something about the possible pitfalls to be found therein, I try to be careful not to just tell him it’s because he’s “smart” in some blanket sense, but rather I tell him it means that his school thinks that if he works hard at academic things, he can do really well at them. But only if he works hard. And takes on challenges. And works hard. And behaves. And works hard. (See, for me, being “gifted” became a license to be lazy and think of myself as an exception to all rules–and I’m still dealing with the fallout from this in my day-to-day and work life.)

And I definitely avoid giving him any notion that he or the Stretch Program are somehow better than other kids or non-Stretch Program classes. They’re different classes for different kids who should work their hardest at different things, and that is all.

Free or subsidized gifted test prep for low income families.

Here is another stupid GATE trick. The next town over from us found that the ethnic mix of GATE identified kids did not match that of the town, so they started a quota system where slots are assigned by ethnicity and filled with the best kids they can find.
They justify this by saying that giftedness is not race-related. This is true, but it is certainly genetic to some extent, and self-selection means that the percentage of gifted kids for one ethnic group in this town might not match that of the global population. If they had instead did an outreach to make sure that each truly gifted kid in poor schools was identified, it would have been great. The way they did it was stupid.

I can imagine a truly accurate test would have to take background circumstances into account. For example, a kid from a household where the parents are never home and no one ever reads to him or gives him any real stimulation other than TV–and who can nevertheless read at age 4 and correctly answer questions about patterns etc…–is much more likely to be innately gifted than is a kid who can do the same things but who is being raised by a family of mathematicians and English professors. The latter kid is being raised on a background rich with academic material even in casual conversation, so it’s no surprise if he picks up such skills even if he’s not innately gifted.