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Are Gifted Children Neglected by U.S. Public Schools?

Anders began kindergarten last month and, now that I finally have a child in school, I’ve become a bit obsessed with learning everything I can about the state of our nation’s education system. We can’t afford to put our son in private school, there aren’t any local to us even if we wanted to, and so, for now, he is enrolled in public school. After touring his elementary school and meeting his teacher, I feel confident that Anders will thrive in that environment for the time being.

I view kindergarten as a year for dipping a toe into the classroom waters, a means of testing the temperature before diving all in. Children learn the basic skills needed to be a good student — sitting still, listening attentively, following instructions. It lays the foundation. The years following are for determining whether a child will sink or swim.

Recently, I read an article in the New York Times that succinctly stated my greatest concern with the education my son will receive as it currently stands. The article, titled “Young, Gifted and Neglected,” highlights the fact that our education system is set up to “raise the floor under low-achieving students” but does very little to “raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.” 

Personally, I don’t believe we are doing what is necessary to even raise the floor and I have serious doubts that the average public school is prepared to challenge a child performing well above average. Researcher Chester Finn agrees. During a survey of U.S. schools he discovered that of 20,000 public high schools, only 165 were exam schools. An exam school is a school that concentrates on high-ability, highly-motivated students who must apply for admission and be accepted to attend. As you can imagine, getting into these school can be tough as they educate only 1 percent of America. One of these schools, the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology, receives 3,300 applications on average each year and admits only 480 students.

While ensuring that our children graduate with the basic skills necessary to secure a job is important, it is equally important that we enable our future scientists, doctors, and engineers. Receiving an education that challenges a gifted child should not be a luxury only available to those who can afford to pay the cost of private school.

Finn says it best in his Times op-ed:

Many more students could benefit from [exam] schools like these — and the numbers would multiply if our education system did right by such students in the early grades. But that will happen only when we acknowledge that leaving no child behind means paying as much attention to those who’ve mastered the basics — and have the capacity and motivation for much more — as we do to those who cannot yet read or subtract.

Do you have concerns about whether the schools in your area are properly prepared to support your gifted child? Is it possible to receive an education in the public school system that rivals that of a private school?

Photo credit: istock photo

Read more from Amber on The Daily Doty and Babble’s Strollerderby.

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