Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Parenting Gifted Children: Speaking Out for Gifted Children in Illinois

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Here is my testimony from the ISBE budget hearing.

Like you, I want to see every student in Illinois demonstrate academic achievement. As the mother of two academically advanced elementary school students, I’m unclear on how this is done. Tests like the ISATs mean little for children like mine who exceed government dictated expectations for a given grade level long before they enter it.

I want my children to work hard and learn new things. I want them to demonstrate significant and measurable achievement each school year. I want the State of Illinois to recognize and serve gifted students as a special needs population. High ability/academically talented/gifted- choose your term- these children have social, emotional and educational needs that differ from those of most students.

Not only that, within the gifted population, there is a continuum of abilities, such that a highly or profoundly gifted student is as many standard deviations away from a moderately gifted student, as a moderately gifted student is from an average one. But that’s an aside, expecting public schools to accommodate the type of students who, by very definition, are quite rare is a pipe dream. Unless that student has learning or physical differences that place them on the low end of the bell curve, of course.*

There’s a perception that gifted children have all the advantages, but many parents I know struggle with the intensities and challenges such a child often brings. .... (At a recent) PTO meeting, I held back an ironic chuckle when a teacher proclaimed, "If our students aren't challenged, then they’re cheated."

Let me be clear, high ability children throughout the state of Illinois are being cheated because of a lack of funding, lack of teacher training, and lack of appropriate coursework.

It would be nice if our state and nation worked harder to recognize and serve academically advanced students like my sons. I’m not promising one of my boys will find the cure for cancer or be the next Einstein (have you heard how he treated his first wife?), I just want what the state wants- demonstrated academic achievement and preparation for success after high school. If my boys and other children like them don’t learn to work hard now, if they don’t experience the frustration of facing a challenge and the joy of overcoming it during their most formative years, what will happen to them beyond high school?

Please stop leaving gifted children behind.

*This came off as kind of snarky and I'm torn that I included it. I left it in because, tone aside, that does seem to be my experience.


Jeanne said...

When advocating for gifted to an audience possibly hostile to G/T services I usually will compare the EG/PG as being as different from the typical learner (90 - 100 IQ) as a severely learning disabled child is (under 70 IQ) from the norm. You wouldn't expect the "intellectually deficient" student to thrive in the typical classroom without intervention, yet we subject Eg/PG kids to that scenario daily. I think that puts a better perspective on how very different IQ levels at the far ends of that famous bell curve require more intense interventions. Great post - so glad you are giving parents/advocates the words they need to request services. That was a brave, courageous act Mrs. Moldofsky!

ivyangel7 said...

Your experience in Illinois is not unique - we have similar experiences further south as well. I live in a state that has a mandate to serve gifted children - for 5 hours a week - in an enrichment program. Our children are not just gifted for 5 hours out of their week. They are gifted all the time. And although enrichment can be cross-curricular and provide some real-world experiential learning, it isn't the only way, and is often not the best way, to serve gifted children. I teach a gifted class - and the social and emotional issues that many of the students I have had over the last several years are just as tangled and often more dangerous than those of the children at the other end of the spectrum. I wish our legislators understood how difficult school, and life, can be for these amazing children. Thank you for your candidness and your efforts.

Shari said...

I am going to use the line "If our children aren't being challenged, they are being cheated" if you don't mind. I think it sums up my thoughts on education perfectly.

2KoP said...

Well, hmm. I'm a mom with kids on both sides of the special needs spectrum — "gifted" and "challenged" — plus a couple in between.

I have to say, that while I am now facing some real issues with my gifted 7th grader, it has been a constant battle with my special needs son, who is now a high school senior. It's challenging to parent both of them, but I have had to fight much harder for my older son.

His issues are subtle and easy to miss if you're not paying attention (much like most gifted kids' issues). It often takes months before teachers get a handle on what's "wrong" with him or how he operates best. Some never get it. He has been called lazy, ADD, ADHD (totally not), on the high end of the autism spectrum, gifted, and many other labels.

His disabilities have defied categorization, but have been alternately called non-verbal learning disability (which means exactly the opposite of what it sounds like), executive functioning disorder, sequencing issues, short-term memory deficit, and many others. None has been a perfect fit.

While I wholeheartedly agree that we should do everything we can to provide the best education for all our students, I have watched the special ed budgets in this state be slashed over the last 13 years — and my son is one of the children paying for those cuts.

These are all difficult, complicated issues and, sadly, it almost always comes down to money. The best we can do as parents is to learn everything we can about how our children learn, and be fierce advocates for each of them. Good luck to all of us.