Are schools failing highly gifted kids in society?

Time magazine takes a provocative look at whether schools are not serving the needs of the smartest kids in society. The magazine asks “Are we Failing our Geniuses? and is generally referring to kids with IQs over 145, many of whom would need to skip three grades to be with their intellectual peers.

The article summarizes it best but also puts it in some pretty vicious terms. From

“To some extent, complacency is built into the system. 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.”

“We take for granted that those with IQs at least three standard deviations below the mean (those who score 55 or lower on IQ tests) require “special” education. But students with IQs that are at least three standard deviations above the mean (145 or higher) often have just as much trouble interacting with average kids and learning at an average pace. Shouldn’t we do something special for them as well? True, these are IQs at the extremes. Of the 62 million school-age kids in the U.S., only about 62,000 have IQs above 145. (A similar number have IQs below 55.) That’s a small number, but they appear in every demographic, in every community. What to do with them? Squandered potential is always unfortunate, but presumably it is these powerful young minds that, if nourished, could one day cure leukemia or stop global warming or become the next James Joyce–or at least J.K. Rowling.”

“In a no-child-left-behind conception of public education, lifting everyone up to a minimum level is more important than allowing students to excel to their limit. It has become more important for schools to identify deficiencies than to cultivate gifts. Odd though it seems for a law written and enacted during a Republican Administration, the social impulse behind No Child Left Behind is radically egalitarian. It has forced schools to deeply subsidize the education of the least gifted, and gifted programs have suffered. The year after the President signed the law in 2002, Illinois cut $16 million from gifted education; Michigan cut funding from $5 million to $500,000. Federal spending declined from $11.3 million in 2002 to $7.6 million this year…”

The problem is just not about servicing these students intellectually but socially as well.

“Gael (Oswald), a math teacher, began to research giftedness and found that high-IQ kids can become isolated adults. ‘They end up often as depressed adults … who don’t have friends or who find it difficult to function,’ she says. Actually, research shows that gifted kids given appropriately challenging environments–even when that means being placed in classes of much older students–usually turn out fine. At the University of New South Wales, Gross conducted a longitudinal study of 60 Australians who scored at least 160 on IQ tests beginning in the late ’80s. Today most of the 33 students who were not allowed to skip grades have jaded views of education, and at least three are dropouts. ‘These young people find it very difficult to sustain friendships because, having been to a large extent socially isolated at school, they have had much less practice … in developing and maintaining social relationships,’ Gross has written. ‘A number have had counseling. Two have been treated for severe depression.’ By contrast, the 17 kids who were able to skip at least three grades have mostly received Ph.D.s, and all have good friends.’

I can’t pull any more quotes from the article so I encourage you to read the whole article if you have time. It is very interesting.

So here are my questions:

Do you think schools are screwing the smartest kids in our society? Should kids be able to skip two and three grades ahead to be with their intellectual peers?

What do make of the article’s contention that the kids on the low end of the spectrum are getting too much of the resources leaving the gifted kids out in the cold? At what level should we be spending on the lower-end spectrum? At what level of proficiency should they be brought up to?

Is it right not to spend of the less intelligent kids to spend more on the brightest?

What about the social and mental health implications: how can those needs be met for the highly gifted child?

113 comments Add your comment


September 15th, 2010
8:54 pm

I haven’t had a chance to read all of the comments today and don’t know if this article has been mentioned but I looked it up to share because I remembered reading it in Newseek a while back–it was written by the mother of a son with Autism and an advanced daughter who feels that school funding should be shifted.

To quote the author, Stephanie Lindsley in in 2009

” My son will probably meet minimum standards, but most parents of autistic children describe goals for their kids in much more modest terms: being able to bathe themselves, get a job, or live semi-independently. My daughter has the potential for much more. If she were given even a fraction of the customized education that my son receives, she could learn the skills needed to prevent the next worldwide flu pandemic, or invent a new form of nonpolluting transportation. Perhaps she could even discover a cure for autism.”


September 15th, 2010
9:10 pm

i actually clarified my remarks about hispanics not using food stamps….where i live and work i dont see it. i said that im sure that is probably different in other areas. what i do see are people buying very expensive food with their ebt cards and then using their cash for beer and cigarrettes. and phone cards. and dvds and cds and games for their xbox or whatever. i see this every day. welll…5 days a week. and the people i see where i work are white people. some you can tell are victims of recent misfortune…they are a tad hesitant..a little ashamed. then you see the ones, the mom is there with her ebt card….her daughter and her kids are their with theirs…trust me when i say…when you are around this everyday you can tell the ones who were raised to be on government assistance and the ones who werent. i have no problem with people getting help when they need it. i have a problem with those to whom it is a way of life. sometimes for generations. and their kids are automatically put on the free lunch and breakfast program at school, so they dont even have to buy the kids but 1 meal a day. my problem is that people work hard for a little money and dont qualify for anything. i work very hard at my job…and there are times when i can barely buy groceries. it hasnt always been that way for me…not until i lost my job due to this stupid recession. i just think working people should be able to get some kind of help when they need it. i know older people who get under $1000 a month in social security and are not able to work and get between $10 and $25 a month on food stamps. this system is so twisted it is incredible.


September 15th, 2010
11:13 pm

I love the folks that get in line at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market with the EBT cards and buy expensive imported cheese and organic meats. When you spend $100 on an EBT card, but only have 2-3 small bags of groceries, then you are abusing the system.


September 15th, 2010
11:44 pm


MJG, as I said before (please read what I actually wrote), I’m not claiming people never abuse the system, and I never said otherwise. In fact, I actually said that the system only “allows” certain groups to purchase restaurant food, and that those doing so who do not meet those criteria could be committing fraud.

So what I don’t understand is where you are getting the idea that I think no one on food stamps ever buys frivolous items. I was not questioning if you had actually had seen someone buying crab legs — I believe you have. I was questioning why you seemed to think I’m arguing that abuse of the system doesn’t exist and then proceeded to lecture me about it. Just because I dared to point out the reasoning behind states allowing EBT cards being used at some restaurants? I honestly thought that Becky might want to know that since she seemed perplexed by it. I wasn’t expressing an opinion or criticizing someone else’s — I was trying to share some facts about a specific program! But I guess as usual you read my posts looking for something to disagree with, and once again managed to twist what I write into something else entirely. It’s like you’re having an argument with yourself! SHEESH


September 16th, 2010
4:07 am

HB…yes, I do tend to disagree with you…you are correct on that. We live in different worlds…so it seems. Becky, deidre and now Alecia live in mine, others too! I am all for helping people but generations of abuse does not IMO help people.


September 16th, 2010
7:46 am

You still don’t get it, do you? I didn’t write any of the things you were lecturing me about or express any disagreement with Becky (or even address anything that dierdre wrote in her very thoughtful posts, but I really enjoyed reading them). The only thing I disagreed with you on is your misinterpretation of what I wrote. Honestly, I think you decide what you want to lecture me about and completely disregard what actually write. Either that or you have really poor reading comprehension skills.


September 16th, 2010
3:02 pm

Thank you, deidra and MJG–God blessed us beyond measure by “bringing him back” to us. I rejoice every day, through the good and the bad.

Warrior Woman

September 16th, 2010
4:26 pm

@Mom of 4 – AP classes aren’t offered until high school. If you wait that long to challenge gifted and above average children, you’ve blown it. The ability to move ahead in areas where you are gifted is critical, and skipping grades, as difficult as it is, may often be the only achievable way to move on in public elementary and middle schools.


September 17th, 2010
7:05 am

Let God will be done thru this blog

September 17th, 2010
10:54 am

Commented and it still says “awaiting moderation.” Is it?


September 17th, 2010
2:12 pm

Mental retardation is a classification, just as is emotional disturbance. “Special needs” is too broad a term for the context of this article. This article is speaking of students who have severe deficiencies and whom fall at the IQ benchmark of 55 or lower. It’s significant for a few reasons. One, there are many types of “special needs” students who CAN actually benefit from education and grow and learn. However, students with such severe disabilities can’t. It’s not something I say to be cruel. It’s reality.

Despite the fact that there is a comparable number of students with a “gifted” IQ, the students who are gifted have no protection in most states, and nothing on a federal level. When you talk about FAPE (Fair Appropriate Practices in Education) the students with IQs of 55 or lower are assured “education,” but the students who are gifted are not included at all.

It’s absurd. I am, for various reasons, opposed to public education entirely, but I am especially opposed to a public education system that ensures that students who are mentally incapable of learning get an “education,” when the students who could be world leaders, inventors, scientists, etc are not given adequate or appropriate educational opportunities.

Most people are afraid to be so blunt, as it isn’t PC to discuss the disabled so boldly. I am not afraid. I feel that if we’re going to support “special needs” that needs to include the special needs of ALL students.

It’s a sad situation and says a lot about our society that gifted children are scorned and not given the opportunities they need. I grew up in a family that had several students in special education. I was one of them. I was “emotionally disturbed,” and I got that classification and an IEP because – at 15 – I asked for it. I went to an alternative placement and that school was designed for students who were both “emotionally disturbed” but also very bright. It is not a typical school at all, even as special education programs go.

So, I am not at all opposed to special education. I just think that we’re using resources very poorly when we spend so much on students who simply cannot learn and so little on students who not only can learn, but often need and desperately want educational challenges.

Rolade Berthier

September 19th, 2010
5:11 am

Yes, we should do something about our gifted children. Giftedness is a life experience. One day our gifted children will be parents, employees, employers, policy makers, politicians, etc… Our way of life has been influenced, and will be affected, by decisions and actions of gifted people, e.g. inventors, historians, artists, Nobel Prize winners, etc. Giftedness is wasted or under-utilised due to lack of recognition, encouragement and appropriate measures.

Yes, most public institutions don’t cater to giftedness and thus there has been a rise in private education and specialised schooling. Unfortunately, those from low socio-economic background families miss out on this.

I identify with Oswald’s results. These have also been my findings and experience.

Author ‘Intelligence, Giftedness: Pre-cradle to Post-grave’

Louisa Russo

September 19th, 2010
3:08 pm

I am telling my story to maybe help someone else…

I have traveled an exhausting road that has worn me down with disappointment, heartache, and many times overwhelming despair. One might think that a child that is gifted would make it somehow. There were days of profound reasoning; to explain to my son why he had to go to school when he felt he was unchallenged. In the years that have past in grade school he had lost that spark. He has always felt that he was a mismatch between goals of the grade he was in and the skills he had already mastered. Many a day he has woken up in the morning crying and begging not to go to school. I always asked for him to do his best; however, signs of his motivational paralysis were displayed through daydreaming (common in giftedness) and underachieving in school. He really never showed his true capabilities. If he were given that opportunity, he would have shown it. It was his frustration of having to show what he knows in order to get those higher level academics, and even if he did he could not go there. He knew that.

So, with a heavy heart I made the decision to withdraw him from Public School and then Private School. All I ever wanted for him was to be healthy and happy. He was never happy in all his grade school years. He has never wanted to go enthusiastically to any school.

Now, he is home schooled. I see that gleam in his eye and that flame within him ignited again because he is learning what comes natural to him. He is learning Algebra I, Electronics, and Physical Science. You should have seen him solve for X in his head, this is who he is and all he ever wanted was to be recognized for his abilities and given the opportunity to do so.

The Mom in me loving my son beyond all else had to do what my son so hungers for. These are the decisions in life that I will look back upon. Whether he attends college at 12 years old, has his PHD in his twenties, or maybe does something that changes the world, I had to do this, to follow his heart and know this is the best decision I can make based upon all of the above and the peace within me making that decision.