What we are seeing since the inception of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program is that now the children that are being ‘left behind’ are those who are deemed over-achievers. The NCLB program was implemented by President Bush back in 2002 to “Improve the academic achievement of the disadvantaged” (ED, 2004). Stated in the purpose of this program explicitly conveys that the focus is on under-achieving students. I will quote directly because I feel that the weight of the statements may be lessened if I were to paraphrase. From the U.S. Department of Education (ED) website for the NCLB program Section 001: Statement of Purpose says, “meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children in our Nation’s highest-poverty schools, limited English proficient children, migratory children, children with disabilities, Indian children, neglected or delinquent children, and young children in need of reading assistance; closing the achievement gap between high- and low-performing children, especially the achievement gaps between minority and nonminority students, and between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers”(ED, 2004). While this program has great implications, a well-intentioned goal, and encompasses the very thing that our school system should strive to achieve, it is less than unfair that our gifted children have been pushed to the sidelines to incorporate such a program. And that is exactly what is happening.
Since the focus has shifted to ensuring that all students receive a similar education, thus emphasizing that the children in the bottom 10% of classrooms are being instructed properly – they are actually the ones who receive the majority of the attention. While this isn’t what the NCLB program intended, it is how it has been interpreted by the states and schools. What this means is that those children who are above average intelligence are left to their own devices because they are smart enough to figure it out on their own or they grasp the concepts easily and therefore do not need lengthy instruction. In my state, the requirement to be deemed gifted and to gain acceptance into the Gifted and Talented program the student must pass an IQ test with a score of 130 or higher, score within the 97 percentile range on standardized tests, and “pass” a series of aptitude tests. What is happening is that these gifted children are left for extended periods of time in class without attention and instruction; they become bored, unchallenged, and neglected. Sure, there are Gifted and Talented (GT) classes available for those deemed high-achieving, but these classes typically only meet for an hour a day, and many times not even all five days of the school week which leave at least thirty hours of instruction a week where these children are left in waiting. According to Kristen Stephens and Jan Riggsbee, both of which are gifted education specialists at Duke University, these gifted children are left sitting idle in classrooms awaiting instruction that nurtures their capabilities, challenges their intellect, and engages them in coursework that is relevant to their level of comprehension (Stephens & Riggsbee, 2007). As a result, these children not only become bored, but they lose passion in their coursework, they become frustrated and unmotivated from the lack of commitment and challenges, and they become lost in the shuffle; and their talent many times is left underdeveloped (Stephens & Riggsbee, 2007).
We have all been introduced to Rosenthal’s Pygmalion in the Classroom experiment multiple times as psychology majors, and we have all come to learn what a great example it is of a self-fulfilling prophecy within the education system. But what if we were to put a spin on it. A perhaps unorthodox correlation to applied social psychology in regards to the gifted student can be seen through the self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a set of expectations about another person that directly influences the way you perceive that person and in turn behave toward that person. Your perception > expectation > and then behavior towards that person in turn influences the way in which that person behaves in response to you. Now that they have responded in a way that is congruent with your expectations, your initial beliefs have now been confirmed and solidified (Schneider, et al, 2012). Back to the gifted student. Say you are a teacher and you have a gifted young lady named Alyssa in your class. Alyssa performs better on class assignments, standardized tests, and because of her abilities finishes her assignments much quicker than her classmates. As her teacher, you can give Alyssa an assignment and ask her if she needs instruction to which she declines and she completes her assignment quickly with no (or minimal) mistakes. You then realize that she does not need detailed instruction and that you can focus your attention on other students in class. You continue to give her assignments without instruction and she continues to turn them in without mistakes. While this type of self-fulfilling prophecy does not sound bad, the lack of instruction that occurs, coupled with the obvious distinction between Alyssa and her classmates, can cause negative side effects.
A teacher’s subjective expectations/assumptions about a student’s demonstrated academic ability can often become an objective reality as other teachers may adopt the same treatment towards the student. By treating the gifted student in this way, the teacher has strictly defined her expectations of both the gifted and non-gifted students by the way she differentiates the amount of teaching time per student, to whom she shares praise or exerts control, and the practice of autonomy within her classroom (Marsh, et al, 1995) – all of these actions performed by the teacher then turns her expectations into reality. This differential treatment between the gifted and non-gifted students, and the labelling of the gifted student (whether explicit or implicit) shows the gifted student that she has traits that distinguish her from her peers. Having a student that is treated differently from her classmates may seem like a privilege, but over time this student will start to form the idea that since she is treated differently, than she must be different. As gifted students mature, and as they become more aware that they are distinguished from their classmates for a specific reason, their self-concept can decline and become more negative in nature (Marsh, et al, 1995).
What should be happening is that children should be tested on their abilities and placed according to learning styles, academic motivation and capabilities, and intelligence levels within their school. Classrooms should be set up in a way that focuses on the needs of the students, not what is easiest for the school itself. In each classroom in a typical middle school, you may have 1-4 children who have tested in the 97 percentile range or higher and thus have been deemed over-achieving. That roughly equates to 12-36 children per grade that fit into this category. That is enough children to make up an entire classroom. If we provide children with learning challenges a class structure that is adopted to meet their individual needs (Special Education classes) then why can we not provide the same individualized learning environment for high achieving students that are not having their educational needs met? A classroom designed specifically for gifted students taught by properly trained teachers that use appropriate curriculum to meet the needs of the gifted children would be an easy step to take that would pay off immensely in the future. One could argue that money is needed to fund these programs and in response I would say that these children are already being taught in these schools. By gathering them together and putting them in one classroom, which would free up a teacher to teach them, and thus, would require a very minimal (if any) amount of extra funding. For example, the public school that my daughter attended before we pulled her out spends $6,966 per student with a school population of 839 for both 5th and 6th grade; with only 3% of that money allotted for the gifted and talented program (“District Spending,” 2012). And this is an award winning school, deemed amongst the best in the state that has a much larger budget than most schools in the state, but they told us that our daughter was “beyond their curriculum” and “would be better off skipping a few grades or attending a virtual academy that could offer her a challenging environment.” This is of course what we did, but we should not have to. Public schools should incorporate ways in which they can cater to the needs of the advanced while still meeting the needs of the deficient.
Regardless of the approach that is taken to combat this problem, at the very least there should be more research done on the effects of schooling on the gifted child. There is countless journal articles about research conducted on ways in which we can raise the bar for average or under achieving students, but just like in public schools today, gifted children have once again fallen through the cracks. With our own government leaders emphasizing an environment that values research and innovation you would think that more federal money would be allotted to gifted programs rather than to programs that address student deficiencies. In a country that is currently in a transition, facing troubling economic times, and a technology boom – now is the time that we need to give our brightest young minds every tool they need to excel to their fullest potential, because after all, we could all benefit as a result.
District Spending Cabot Middle School North. (2012, November 29). Retrieved from Education.com website: http://www.education.com/schoolfinder/us/arkansas/cabot/cabot-middle-school-north/
Marsh, H. W. M. W., Chessor, D., Craven, R., & Roche, L. (1995). The Effects of Gifted and Talented Programs on Academic Self-Concept: The Big Fish Strikes Again. American Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 285-319. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1163433
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Stephens, K., & Riggsbee, J. (2007, February 1). The Children Neglected by No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from Duke Today website: http://today.duke.edu/2007/02/gifted_oped.html
U.S. Department of Education (ED). (2004, September 15). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education website: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg1.html#sec1001