The 800 Million Dollar Question

As a student of school psychology, much of my training deals with assessing and accommodating students with learning disabilities. As a psychologist (in my next life), many of my professional responsibilities will be geared towards serving students who fall to the left of the old bell curve, intelligence-wise (and yes, I know that “intelligence” is a highly debatable social construct, but that’s beyond the scope of this post).

A less-widely discussed component of special education, however, is giftedness. John Cloud raises some issues for us all to consider as we head back into our widely heterogeneous classrooms in his piece from last week’s Time, Are We Failing our Geniuses?

For my money, the meat of the article is right here (emphasis mine):

American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally retarded. Spending on the gifted isn’t even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. But it can’t make sense to spend 10 times as much to try to bring low-achieving students to mere proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential.

Cue also the reports of how NCLB has caused schools to slash funding for gifted programs as early after its enactment as 2002. Now, for your amusement, I’ll attempt to crunch some numbers from the article (you may not want to drink anything near your computer while I try this).

Cloud’s definition of “genius” – an IQ three standard deviations above the norm (145+) – only applies to a fraction of a percentage of American students (62,000, according to him), and therefore runs the risk of eliciting the “too minor a minority” response. I’m aware of “gifted” programming being granted to students with an IQ of 130+, a full standard deviation lower. If that’s true in all 50 states, then we now have an additional 2.14% of students (1.3 million, if Cloud’s initial figure of 62 million students is accurate) who are placed in non-differentiated classes with more average age-level peers (read the article to see why this may not be a good thing). Still not a huge number, but it’s almost 21 times the number Cloud describes. NB: If I’ve screwed these numbers up somehow, someone please let me know in the comments.

Incidentally, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is officially against tracking students, regardless of intelligence/ability, but they do support differentiated instruction in order to provide diverse student groups with appropriate academic engagement. Regardless of where you fall on the tracking/no tracking debate, a million students aren’t getting appropriate public educations. Sounds like someone’s getting left behind.

One Comment

  • To add to this…do you think this is the reason we are having such a problem engaging students in science and technology fields? These highly gifted students are not being challenged and/or inspired in our public schools. Just more food for thought.

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