The Gifted: Left Behind?
With a new curriculum aimed at meeting the needs of more students, parents of advanced learners fear their kids are getting short shrift
As she sat in her second-grade math class doing addition and subtraction problems last year, Eleanor Clemans-Cope of Bethesda was feeling “anxious, bored and cooped up.”
“I felt like I was back in preschool,” says the 8-year-old, who attends Bradley Hills Elementary School in Bethesda. “I learned how to do this before kindergarten.”
She was so bored that she no longer wanted to go to school. So her mother, Lisa Clemans-Cope, spoke to Bradley Hills about providing more challenging work. She was told that her advanced learner would get it. But “what we saw was so sparse and totally inadequate,” she says.
Finally, Clemans-Cope signed up Eleanor for an entrance exam for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University’s competitive program for students in grades two through eight with exceptional math and verbal reasoning skills.
Eleanor passed easily, but her parents found the courses too expensive. She now attends weekly math sessions at a private after-school academic enrichment program with her best friend and several neighborhood kids. It costs her parents about $100 a month.
“You have to do something if your kid is not learning,” Clemans-Cope says. “We cannot sit and do nothing while [the school system works] things out.”
For years, the national debate in education has centered on No Child Left Behind. But in Montgomery County, a place where more than a third of all public school students are deemed gifted, the debate has been given a different spin.
Last year, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) introduced Curriculum 2.0, which calls for elementary school students of all skill levels to solve problems—math problems, in particular—together in a single classroom, rather than being segregated according to ability.
It’s a shift in priority that has parents of gifted students steamed.
The 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act defines gifted children as those who show high achievement in their “intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields.” It acknowledges that these students may need services outside of school in order to fully develop their capabilities. How they get those services varies widely, according to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in Washington, D.C.
Twenty-six states mandate services for gifted students, but a 2010-11 NAGC report found that the majority leave decisions about those services to local school districts. For the most part, gifted kids are taught in a regular classroom setting “where most teachers have little to no specialized training in gifted education,” the report says.