Who’s Really Gifted?

By Mary McGarr

Written on February 2, 2006

An article in the Houston Chronicle (www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/3640786.html) recently announced that Houston ISD has a committee working on a report about their Gifted and Talented program, otherwise known as the Vanguard Program.

The gist of the article centered on changing the method of entry into the program from having parents nominate their own children to having every child eligible be entered with the option of parents being able to remove their child if that is their wish.

The article described the Vanguard program, the logistics for it’s being part of the curriculum, the fact that 10% of the students in HISD are stipulated as being “gifted” and so on.

Houston ISD’s gifted program is typical of those that exist in Texas. The opt in feature rather than the opt out feature is prevalent. The percentage of students labeled gifted, however, is a vacillating number.

For many years I have questioned the opt in feature of the program, especially in Katy ISD. To not include all students who are truly gifted is illogical.

For many years I have also questioned the arbitrary percentages of students that can be labeled as gifted. To say that ten percent of all students in every school district should be accommodated in a gifted program is questionable. There are school districts that have a much higher percentage, but it is difficult to tell the actual numbers from the TEA statistics because they evidently include all students, and of course most students have opted out of the program by secondary school years as there is not much offered for them that is of value and/or they have taken advantage of AP course offerings instead.

Giftedness is limited by its very definition to probably the top three percent of the students and then only in school districts  that have populations with high IQ’s. Katy ISD used to provide additional instruction to only the top 3% of the students in elementary school. Katy ISD currently designates 6.07% of the total student population as being Gifted and Talented [Source: TEA AEIS 2009-2010] and in 2014 6.71% are designated as GT [Source:  KISD web site].

Of course, in the last twenty-eight years, no effort has been made to measure Intelligence Quotients (IQs), and therein lies the problem. Other scoring mechanisms have been contrived to find those who have an above average ability intellectually. Some of those methods work and some are simply mindless.

Since mostly norm referenced tests are given to our students, and no IQ tests are given, as politically correct thinking stipulates that “all children are the same,” one is hard pressed to discover who is actually intellectually gifted by virtue of test scores.

Another ruse that has been foisted on the public is the “talented” part of the designation. Supposedly “all” children have talents, and perhaps they do, but “talent” has nothing to do with intellectual abilities regarding academic endeavor.

I fear that the GT program is being used for some reasons that are not appropriate. The program can be a way to separate children. It can also be a way to elevate those who do not deserve to be elevated. Parents must decide for themselves the agenda of those who manipulate these children. Imagine the damage to children who are told they are “gifted” when they find out they are not!

There are certain factors that indicate giftedness and one can find such lists in all sorts of places--especially on line. If parents suspect that their child is truly intellectually gifted, they have an obligation to that child to see to it that the child receives an appropriate education. Fighting for one in our public schools is probably a waste of time. For one thing, those who teach in such programs are ordinarily not themselves gifted, and that fact leads to lots of problems for affected children.

The public schools are notorious for assuming that they know everything about this subject, and when attending “Gifted and Talented” parent meetings, they will amusedly talk down to the parents of the gifted students! They evidently have not read enough to know that intellectual ability is mostly inherited.

Taking charge of the education of a gifted child is the parent’s responsibility. Good books on the subject abound. I recommend Guiding the Gifted Child by James T. Webb, Elizabeth A. Meckstroth, and Stephanie S. Tolan. It is old enough (1987) to not be tainted by politically correct thinking. Also Growing Up Gifted (1979) by Barbara Clark is also an excellent resource. Both are available as used books from www.alibris.com

 In a speech I gave at the GT Secondary Challenge Orientation one time, I suggested these activities for parents of gifted students.  They are still apropos.  It is the obligation of the parents of gifted students to advocate for them and push for appropriate educational opportunities.  Gifted students have just as much right to those tax dollars as anyone else. They shouldn't be wasting their time "helping other students to learn."  Forcing them to provide this "service" is unthinkable! THEY should be pushing ahead to learn more, not sitting still waiting for the rest of the class to catch up.  And if I'm a parent of an average or below average child, I pay lots of taxes to hire the very best teachers to teach my children, and I certainly don't want them being taught by another student!  And last but not least, from the average or below average students' point of view, how demeaning it is to have to be taught by another student who is smarter than you! This practice needs to stop right now.

Here are my suggestions: 

Provide your children with everything they need to learn and to be successful. Demand that they receive an appropriate education.  The competition they face now is the least they will ever see in their lifetime, so make sure they see the bigger picture. Don’t spend your money on a car for them while they are in high school; they don’t need one and will get along much better without one--your goal is to keep them out of trouble until they realize how important it is to be smart; let them share your car (you have to buy a cool one!) and instead give them your attention and support and the chance to see the educated world. Spend your money providing them with opportunity. Help them to collect all those things they want to collect.  Take them to see plays and operas and musicals; visit our country’s museums and parks; go on road trips more than airline trips, nurture those individual talents that will make them special; see that they receive private instruction if they have a talent; make sure they read; buy them books; go to the library or large book stores; take them to a university library; help them learn to do research; play card games and board games and work puzzles with them, make sure they take typing and learn to use computers and to understand operating systems and basic software packages; help them to make full use of the Internet; make them take the SAT and the ACT every year as early as it is allowed; during their junior and senior years, pay for them to be tutored in test taking to improve their scores, buy a Princeton Review and go through it with them, break your neck and your bank account getting them into the best university you can. Make sure they have "talents" that colleges need so they can get scholarships or entrance.  Many Asian children learn to play the violin, just so they can gain admission to an outstanding university.  When they get there, they double major to get the degree they REALLY want and  to keep their scholarship.  Nothing wrong with that!  It shows gumption.

Go in the back door if you have to, but get them in.

Having a gifted child is a huge responsibility.  Don't fritter away a child's mind because you the parent had better things to do.  You don't!