[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.]


    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
    infinite resources."

    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
    construction costs.

    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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