[Paleopsych] NYT: Some New Help for the Extremely Gifted
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Sat Oct 29 01:27:42 UTC 2005
Some New Help for the Extremely Gifted
[Again, my big beef with the No Child Left Behind Act is not that it is
wasteful and utopian, for this is no different from other programs, but that it
requires States to have develop uniform curricula for gifted, bright, bright
normal, normal, dull normal, morons, imbeciles, and idiots alike.]
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
RENO, Nev. - Misha Raffiee is 10 years old. An eighth grader in her
final year of private school here, she reads up to six books a month,
plays violin and piano and asks so many questions that her teachers
sometimes get angry at her.
Driven by an insatiable curiosity, she wants to be a brain surgeon.
Her parents expect her to have a bachelor's degree by the time she is
14 and a medical degree soon after. The pace will be wholly dependent
upon her teachers' abilities to feed an intellect that in her current
setting often goes wanting.
"I do wish they would go faster," she said of her classroom
activities. "If I could go at my own pace, I could go forward twice as
By next fall, Misha may have her chance. She has applied to the
Davidson Academy of Nevada, a newly formed public school at the
University of Nevada, Reno for profoundly gifted children, those whose
test scores and evaluations place them in the 99.9th percentile.
It is a rare opportunity. Children like Misha, who have I.Q.'s of 160
and above, constitute only a tiny fraction of the 72 million children
who attend the nation's public and private schools. Their needs are
often overlooked as federal and state governments concentrate their
resources on slower learners to lift test scores in reading and
mathematics to a minimum standard.
While federal spending for the Bush administration's education law, No
Child Left Behind, is to reach $24.4 billion in the current fiscal
year, the Department of Education has allocated only $11 million for
programs aimed at "gifted and talented" students. Recognizing that
children with unusually high aptitude require special attention and
more rigorous coursework, many communities try to serve them through
schools that offer specialized classes, accelerated learning programs
and dual credit for high school and college.
In addition, a small but growing number of charter, magnet and
early-entrance schools are tailoring their curriculums to prepare
students for college. And foundations, like the Institute for
Educational Advancement in South Pasadena, Calif., are forming to help
gifted children find programs to challenge them.
Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the
"vast majority" of federal spending for children in kindergarten
through 12th grade was for the neediest children. Why so little money
for the brightest children?
"Unfortunately," she said, "we don't live in a perfect world with
Education experts familiar with the needs of the most gifted students
say there are scarcely enough programs to serve them.
"We are undercutting the research and development people of this
nation," said Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research
Center on the Gifted and Talented, at the University of Connecticut.
"No one would ever argue against No Child Left Behind, but when you
ignore kids who will create new jobs, new therapies and new medicines,
we're selling them down the river."
Nancy Green, executive director of the National Association for Gifted
Children, said that state and local efforts were admirable but that
their inconsistency reflected lost opportunities. A new survey by her
association found that among 39 states that responded, 24 spent as
much as $10 million on programs for gifted children but 7 spent less
than $1 million and 8 spent nothing.
"For a nation, I'm not sure why we value equity over excellence," Ms.
Green said. "All kids are entitled to an appropriate education for
their ability, not just those we're teaching to a minimum standard."
A 2004 report by the International Center for Gifted Education and
Talent Development at the University of Iowa charges American schools
with impeding the development of the country's brightest children and
calls the lack of more programs for them "a national scandal." It
warns, "The price may be the slow but steady erosion of American
The Davidson Academy would be an unusual addition to the options
available to especially smart children, according to its founders, Bob
and Jan Davidson, a retired couple who made a fortune designing
educational software. In 1999, they created a foundation dedicated to
serving highly gifted children and, as part of it, a summer
scholarship program that enables students aged 12 to 15 to earn up to
seven college credits at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Mr. Davidson said the academy, an outgrowth of the summer program, was
the nation's first public school for gifted students created by a
private foundation and codified by state law. In June, Gov. Kenny C.
Guinn signed a bill that authorized public schools for "profoundly
gifted pupils" to operate in a university setting.
"Our families in the summer program started asking us to start a
school," Ms. Davidson said. "We told them that we were not interested
in raising their children. But they told us that if we built a school,
they would come."
With plans to accept 30 applicants for the first year and twice that
for the second, the academy will be open to any students living in
Nevada who can perform at a sixth-grade level or better and can
demonstrate exceptional abilities through achievement tests and
letters of recommendation. Already, Mr. Davidson said, applications
have arrived from students in California and the East Coast whose
parents said they would be willing to move to Nevada.
The curriculum is intended to be flexible, Mr. Davidson said, to
satisfy the individual needs and interests of each student. Some
courses will be available for dual credit in high school and college;
some, for just college credit. Students will also have a choice of
taking courses in the usual manner of 15 weeks or in an immersion
format of 3 weeks. In either case, students will be invited to
specialize, but they must also take classes, like history and civics,
that are required for a public high school diploma in Nevada.
The Davidsons said they intended to cover all student costs - a
minimum of $10,000 a student each year - except for those courses
taken only for college credit. They are also assuming some of the
construction costs of a $50 million building where the academy will
eventually be housed. The state has agreed to pay $31 million of the
For Misha's parents, Kambiz, an associate dean at the university, and
his wife, Simi, a former bank economist, the academy could not have
come along at a more opportune time. They have watched their child in
wonderment - "She was reading at 2, reading chapter books at 3," her
mother said - and worried how to keep her stimulated next year.
Misha seemed overjoyed at the prospect of attending a challenging
school near home. She can keep her friends, continue swimming with her
community team and remain as violinist and associate concert master
with the Reno Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra.
"It would be a lot better if it started this year," she said of the
academy. "A lot of times now, I ask three and four questions that are
really complex, and the teacher stops and says, 'We're not getting
into that; let's go on to another subject.' At the academy, I know I
could ask whatever I wanted and the teacher wouldn't get mad."
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