What does the research say about the best school environment for gifted children? We are looking at kindergarten options for the 2015-2016 school year for our child and I cannot find any conclusive research about what would be best for him – we feel paralyzed.
Back story: At 4.5 our child tested at a highly gifted level in math (~4th grade level) and simply above average in reading kindergarten-1st grade level). He responds the best in the classroom setting when there is structure and order, but needs to be constantly challenged, otherwise there are some minor behavioral issues. We have the ability and time to supplement at home, but our preference is to minimize that in order to allow him as much time to be a kid. The three options are all public schools and within the same district:
1. Skip kindergarten and send him directly into 1st grade at a solid school. This school also has a system of individual differentiation that allows children to “walk” up grade levels for specific subjects; up to two grade levels ahead, I believe. This is the only chance we have within the district to skip a grade, so it is now or never.
2. Attend the excellent “gifted” school. This school doesn’t cater to gifted children specifically, but rather works at an advanced pace, ~ 1.5 years ahead. The class moves together as a cohort, with some differentiation within that specific class, mostly in reading. My impression is that the school benefits bright children, but that outliers get left behind – my child being an outlier in both reading (low end) and math (high end).
3. Start kindergarten at a solid school that specializes in math and science. This school has one of the better math programs in the district and does a decent job allowing for differentiation within the classroom.
The district makes it incredibly difficult for children to change schools once they commit in kindergarten, so the pressure is on to make the right decision the first time
This one is easy… from a research perspective. A Nation Deceived (soon to be updated with A Nation Empowered!) talks about the research base for the different options. Also the Iowa Acceleration Scale that you can take discusses things that make acceleration a better or worse option (parents caring about sports being a big negative, for example). (This post talks about my favorite books from the endless # I read when we were originally facing these problems: https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/reading-books-on-giftedness/ )
From a practical perspective, not as simple.
IIRC, research would say that a gifted school with like-ability peers is best for the average gifted kid, followed by acceleration and/or single-subject acceleration, followed by I think differentiation and then pull-out. But that’s on average. Individual situations are rarely average.
What we’ve been doing is we’ve been looking at all of our options and making decisions on things like teacher quality, how well the schools understand basic concepts of gifted education/are willing to work with people, etc. Teacher quality and administration with a positive attitude can be far more important than school type.
If you haven’t visited these three schools, visit them. Ask them what they would do for your son in his situation. Ask them what they do when children have already mastered the material. Ask them how they handle squiggly kids. Ask them any and all of your concerns and listen to not just their specific answers, but how they deal with the questions. Do you feel that these are people you could work with if you needed to?
Also, as you’ve done, think about ability to make changes if you decide your decision was the wrong one. Even if you can’t change schools easily, you can undo acceleration if necessary.
Honestly, all your choices sound like promising choices on the surface. One full skip plus individual subject skipping is great. Gifted schools can be great (and a gifted public boarding school could be a really great choice a decade from now, or one of the fantastic magnets in your city). Math and science schools can also be good targets for gifted kids both because of their focus and because they often attract like-minded kids.
But the devil is in the details– how good are the teachers, how accommodating is the administration? For example, our local math and science charter has enormous K-3 classes… it does not give a good education for those years. Some gifted schools really just function to be white oases in minority-majority cities and thus get heavily watered down and end up not serving gifted kids at all; others are. as you note, more inflexible with outliers than non-gifted options. Being accelerated has benefits (academically and socially), but there’s something amazing about being able to be with other gifted kids your own age if your city has a large enough population to support that.
I will note that a lot of kids will not be reading at all in kindergarten and will not be at quite 1st grade level in first. Unless you suspect a learning disability (which I wouldn’t at this point, but I’m not an expert), then I would guess that that reading ability is going to shoot up over the course of the next year. I strongly recommending getting a pile of Cam Jansens (possibly a few Nate the Greats and similar books– the librarian can help you) and as many Magic Treehouse books as you can get your hands on soon after. Non-fiction books are also really popular at this age (Magic School bus is a good series, but really anything by Scholastic at this reading level is fascinating depending on the kids’ interest. Dinosaurs? Planets?). Reading for fun is still being a kid! So I wouldn’t be too worried at this point about the difference between math and reading skills– the reading will really just skyrocket once your kid finds something worth reading.
With luck, all of these will be as wonderful choices in reality as they sound and it will be impossible to make a bad decision. If it were my kid (or if your kid were my kid…), I wouldn’t be able to decide based on these descriptions and DH and I would visit and go with our gut instinct.
Grumpy Nation: What are your thoughts? For those of you with choices, how did you make schooling decisions for your kids?