2017-02-05 12:14 am

The problem with the current approach to K-12 promotions from grade to grade (1873)

The following is from the Annual Report (#18) of the Board of Education, Saint Louis Missouri, in 1872 - including the Superintendent's discussion of their high school's system of promotion.

This is the first of two excerpts from the Annual Report. This is focused on the evils of the standard promotion system - which was not yet standard in most of the country, but which was becoming increasingly so. With no further delay, the words of Dr. W. T. Harris:

"The High School course is divided into four classes, the work laid down for each occupying one year in its accomplishment. (See Appendix, p. xcv.) The fact that each High School class is expected to begin its work in September and complete it in June, indicates at once the condition of things that I have already alluded to in this report. Such a course of study is "nailed to the calendar," and its progress is rigid and determined by the lapse of time, and not by the progress of the pupil. If a pupil is sick and unable to attend school for ten weeks, he finds, on his return, that there is no class just ready to admit him. The class which he left is now ten weeks in advance of him, and to make up this work and at the same time to do the regular work of the class is too difficult. If it were possible, it would prove a superiority of individual work over work in a class.

"The pupil is probably obliged to enter the next class below, but this class is thirty weeks behind his present acquirements, and his ten weeks' sickness has thus cost him a year's progress. On entering the lower class, however, he finds himself going over familiar ground, and gets careless in his work. By the time his present class arrive at the work from which he was broken off by sickness the previous year, he has acquired a loose habit of study, and is likely to fail on the first difficult study that he encounters. Two failures are pretty sure to complete his discouragement and cause him to leave school. Another case: A pupil, for some reason, is not quite able at the close of the year to pass the standard for admission to the next class, and is accordingly obliged to join the class below. He is set back just one year at once. He might have lacked five weeks' study or ten weeks' study—scarcely more than this—of completing the work of his class. But for this he is obliged to lose nearly a year more than was really necessary. It must be remembered that these are not isolated instances, but that the number of each class who ought to be separated, for one reason or other, from the part of the class that does the work of the grade thoroughly, is about one-third of the entire number. In order to avoid this evil of putting back pupils, there is a strong temptation to let them pass on at a low standard. The consequence of such a course is that each class is impeded in its work by the presence of a number who are not «qual to the performance of their tasks.

"These evils are not confined to the classes of the High School; they extend to the higher classes of the District Schools. Inasmuch as the examination for admission to the High School is to occur in June, the first grade's work of the District School must be completed at that time, and hence must be commenced in September of each year. This fact in turn influences the time of beginning and completing the work of the second grade. The tendency of all this is to produce a system of classification throughout the entire course of the District Schools similar to that in the High School. In this case classes would follow each other at intervals of a year, and the difficulty of properly assigning those who should be classified in grades between those established exists throughout the entire system. In many sections of the country—in Ohio and New York, for example—this very practice prevails. A promotion takes place once or twice a year, on occasion of a general written examination by the superintendent. Those who "pass" go on; those who fail fall back to the lower class or leave school altogether."
2017-01-13 04:41 pm

On Gifted Students: Continuing the 1899 NEA Report on College Entrance Requirements

IX. Resolved, That we approve of encouraging gifted students to complete the preparatory course in less time than is required by most students.

In this resolution the committee desires to approve a principle, rather, than to recommend a definite plan for the application of that principle. Gifted students should be allowed special opportunities quite as much in grades below the secondary school as in the secondary school itself, and it seems probable, indeed, that the saving of time may be expected most advantageously in the lower grades. The subject of the grading of pupils below the secondary school is, however, not in the province of this committee.

In laying out a course of study the average student must be the basis of reckoning, but in the schematization of educational work there is constant danger that the interest of the individual student may not be sufficiently considered. There are students who must take more than the allotted time in which to complete the preparatory course, while there are others who can easily finish the course in less than the schedule time. This can be done, too, without overpressure and consequent injury to health. It is a truism that some students acquire much more readily and easily than others. Modern educators do not accept the doctrine of Helvetius, that all men are by birth endowed with the same natural capacities. Instead of cramping and confining the more gifted students, it is the duty of the secondary school to discover them and to furnish them every opportunity for progress in their work. There are difficulties of administration, caused chiefly by the time schedule, which sometimes cannot be overcome; but it seems to the committee that students have a right to expect that the school officers will use their best efforts to overcome these obstacles, and, so far as is consistent with good administration, offer to the students full opportunity for progress according to their individual capacities.
2015-05-22 11:57 pm

Even our counters to the arguments against programs are old!

"There is one department in this university which already sets unqualified excellence as its standard and which regularly produces conspicuous examples of the performance which a persistent effort to excel oneself can reach. We refer, of course, to our athletic department. Our athletic coaches offer us an example of Honors methods of teaching in action which we would do well to ponder. Is it too much to ask that we try to do as well by our best students as we do now by our best athletes? Is the maximum challenge of maximum ability an acceptable goal only in physical education, not in mental? We do not think so."

~Cornell (University) Honors Committee
as quoted in The Superior Student
Volume 3, Issue 2 - Page 15

This was presented in response to the question, "Does an Honors program create a second-class status for the rest of the students?"

"No properly conceived Honors program should have the effect of short-changing the general run of students. No either-or is involved here, but precisely the contrary; we are urging that we do our best for all students. We stress special attention to the superior student simply because his are the needs we are now farthest from meeting."

`ibid, page 16.
2015-03-01 02:33 pm

Acceleration in Physics as Applied to Education

A number of years ago, I attended a lecture given by the late Dr. Ted Sizer. For those of you who don't recognize the name, he was the founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, one of the more established educational reform movements. At that point, he was Dean of Brown University's School of Education, but previously he'd held the same title at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and still earlier he'd been headmaster of Phillipss Academy Andover.

Sizer enjoyed startling his audiences and this speech was no exception.

"I believe in tracking," he declared. Then he paused to let his words sink in.

"...so long as there is one track for every student." The other shoe had dropped and the audience felt much better!

In a subsequent conversation, I hearkened back to that speech, which he recalled with a chuckle. "But Ted, doesn't that imply that fully individualized education is the way to go?"

While he did not initially get my point, after a bit he conceded that perhaps that was the logical extension of his comment, but he did not concede that it was necessarily what was actually best.

But what does that have to do with acceleration or physics? Bear with me briefly. We'll get there.

In educationese, for more than 100 years, acceleration has usually meant skipping a grade (1). Radical acceleration has been defined by Miraca Gross for at least a decade as resulting in high school graduation 3 or more years (2). More recently, acceleration has included a variety of techniques including subject-only acceleration - techniques that are almost as old as grade skipping.

Physics, on the other hand, says Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity. Acceleration is inherently a vector quantity, and an object will have non-zero acceleration if its speed and/or direction is changing (3). (Velocity = speed and direction, both.)

To my mind, grade skipping barely deserves the label of acceleration at all. Imagine, if you will, a car going 60 miles per hour along a straight highway. No acceleration, right? Now, a beam of light appears around the car; the car disappears; then the beam places the car two miles ahead on the same highway going in the same direction.

The car has only been displaced - everything else remains the same: speed and direction.

This is almost a perfect metaphor for grade skipping. The student finishes a particular grade or even a particular day of a particular grade and then is a year removed forward from there without a change in the pace of the school or the direction of the student.

The thing that makes this not a perfect metaphor is that the first month or two in the accelerated school often involves some scrambling on the part of the student to acquire the full academic year of material that has been skipped past - it is often the most exciting time in the student's academic life! And it is sufficient for many if not most skippers. But for some of them (hg? pg? who knows!), the return to the regular pace after that burst of excitement is just as stultifying as the original grade was and all the student's reasons for being skipped return in spades, often to the thorough frustration of the school and/or parents, who thought they had dealt with the student's needs.

This is why we have radical acceleration.

From the physics perspective, though, there is more than a bit of irony in the resistance that so many teachers, principals, schools and districts give to acceleration.

It is not just that as educational interventions go that acceleration is among the most studied and best proven, though those are true and I am sure other bloggers have written about it and linked to A Nation Deceived among other documents that support this position.

It is that acceleration is an active standard tool actively used in almost every public school in America. I can imagine a few raised eyebrows, but remember that change in velocity is the definition of acceleration I am using, which means a change in speed and/or direction.

Our slower students and our SPED students get the benefit of acceleration regularly. (Or not the benefit in the case of grade retention!) Change in curriculum, extra time, adjusted curriculum or assignments or testing. Change in room for part of the time to get more support.

All of this is acceleration. And all of it would and does benefit the gifted student who gets it, too. Change the pace. Change the type of delivery. More or less time on a topic. adjusted curriculum or assignments or assessment.

I don't know that this is astonishing news. I don't claim that it is a new perspective. It's just the only thing I thought I had to say on the topic of acceleration. Hmmm... not quite.

In those times 100 years ago, they were conscious of having as much as 5 levels of knowledge (current year minus 2 through current year plus 2) in their cities' 4th grades, for example. They were conscious that as many as 25% of the students were one or more years accelerated in their knowledge, even when they were not accelerated by grade, let alone those who were accelerated by grade.

(1) For example, Annual report of the School Committee and of the superintendent of schools of the City of Chicopee for the year ending November 30th, 1914 (<http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?num=1&u=1&seq=16&view=plaintext&size=100&id=uiug.30112088234122&q1=accelerated>)
(2) http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10349.aspx
(3) http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/acca.html
2014-09-14 11:49 pm
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Genius and Talent

"This quality of genius is, sometimes, difficult to be distinguished from talent, because high genius includes talent. It is talent, and something more. The usual distinction between genius and talent is, that one represents creative thought, the other practical skill ; one invents, the other applies. But the truth is, that high genius applies its own inventions better than talent alone can do. A man who has mastered the higher mathematics, does not, on that account, lose his knowledge of arithmetic. Hannibal, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Newton, Scott, Burke, Arkwright, were they not men of talent as well as men of genius’! Because a great man does not, always, do what many smaller men can often do as well, smaller men must not, therefore, affect to pity him as a visionary, and pretend to lick into shape his formless theories.

But, still, there doubtless is a marked distinction between men of genius and men simply of talent. Talent repeats ; genius creates. Talent is a cistern ; genius a fountain. Talent deals with the actual, with discovered and realized truths, analyzing, arranging, combining, applying positive knowledge,and,in action, looking to precedents. Genius deals with the possible, creates new combinations, discovers new laws, and acts from an insight into new principles. Talent jogs to conclusions to which genius takes giant leaps. Talent accumulates knowledge, and has it packed up in the memory ; genius assimilates it with its own substance, grows with every new accession, and converts knowledge into power. Talent gives out what it has taken in ; genius, what has risen from its unsounded wells of living thought. Talent, in difficult situations, strives to untie knots, which genius instantly cuts with one swift decision. Talent is full of thoughts ; genius, of thought. One has definite acquisitions; the other, indefinite power.

But the most important distinction between the two qualities is this : one, in conception, follows mechanical processes ; the other, vital. Talent feebly conceives objects with the senses and understanding; genius, fusing all its powers together in the alembic of an impassioned imagination, clutches every thing in the concrete, conceives objects as living realities, gives body to spiritual abstractions, and spirit to bodily appearances..."

~Edwin Percy Whipple, excerpted from an 1850 speech:

(For the curious, Edwin Percy Whipple and Guy Montrose Whipple (researcher in the field of IQ testing and giftedness) were 6th cousins, once removed, and though they lived comparatively near each other, it is unlikely that they knew each other. Edwin died when Guy was 10 years old.)
2013-09-16 06:41 pm
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What a school needs to avoid and what it needs to have - 1836

"Vast sums are yearly squandered to no purpose. If the books selected consist of extracts and compilations, wholly unsuited to the capacity of children - if the house is cold or crowded, inconvenient and uncomfortable - and especially if given over to the management of an incompetent teacher, the school becomes a scene of anarchy and confusion, and all is waste-the young mind becomes disgusted with books and schools and teachers, and hates learning forever after.


"The entire premises... should be an enchanting spot, sheltered alike from the cold blasts of winder, and the summer's scorching sun; a place of love, of kindness and good will; and not a place of whips, consternation, despotism and terror."

J. D. Pierce, Sup't of Schools, Michigan, December, 1836 (Senate Document 7)
Journal of the Senate of the State of Michigan, January, 1837.

(also from System of Public Instruction and Primary School Law of Michigan (Document No. 6)
Prepared by Francis W. Sherman, Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1852)
2013-09-16 06:04 pm

On Differentiation, from "The High School Failures" (1919)

The full title is The High School Failures: A Study of the School Records of Pupils Failing in Academic or Commercial High School Subjects.

“The recognition of individual differences urged in section 1 necessitates a differentiation and a flexibility of the high school curriculum that is limited only by the social and individual needs to be served, the size of the school, and the availability of means. The rigid inflexibility of the inherited course of study has contributed perhaps more than its full share to the waste product of the educational machinery. … ‘Specialization of instruction for different pupils within one class is needed as well as specialization of the curriculum for different classes.’ There must be less of the assumption that the pupils are made for the schools, whose regime they must fit or else fail repeatedly where they do not fit.”


From the dissertation of Francis P. O'Brien

The subquote is from Edward L. Thorndike, from his book Individuality (1911). The next line of that quote is "Since human nature does not all into sharply defined groups, we can generally never be sure of having a dozen pupols who need to be treated exactly alike."
2013-08-31 12:51 am

Suggestions for Flexiblity - no news here

More from the 1968 report to President Johnson on "Gifted Persons."

"These twin requirements of increasing instructional speed and quantity without decreasing quality have generated new administrative arrangements and stimulated an educational technology that can aid the development of programs for gifted students. The newer administrative arrangements -- better methods for apportioning students, teachers, and the talents of both -- include:

1. Nongraded classes: This term does not imply that students receive no grades for performance. Rather, it recognizes that a student might be capable of performing at the sixth grade level in mathematics and science, at the fifth-grade level in social sciences, and at the eighth-grade in English. Nongraded classes permit students to move among the grade levels for each area of study, rather than taking all classes at one level. Some schools -- those in the Pittsburgh area, for example -- have experimented with cooperative arrangements involving schools at different levels (for example, junior and senior high schools), and a number of colleges permit outstanding high school students to enroll in college courses while completing high school requirements.*

2. Team teaching: ... Team teaching, in short, enables each teacher to do what he or she is best at, and gives all students the best instruction that the staff can provide in each subject.

3. Individually prescribed instruction: ... IPI, in essence, allows students to choose their own assignments each day in consultation with the teachers, permits each to work alone on that assignment, and then checks the student's performance to diagnose any learning problems he may have and gauge his readiness to undertake more difficult work. Each student moves at his own pace in each subject, working as fast as he can, as far as he can. Carefully planned curricular materials, including film-slides and recordings as well as printed matter, perform much of the routine instructional work, freeing teachers to provide help to those students who need it, and freeing students from the necessity of listening to group lectures they do not need.

4. Flexible scheduling: There is no intrinsic reason why each class period should last 50 minutes, but -- with the exception of occasional two-hour laboratory periods -- most classes do, whether in English or algebra or playing the oboe. By recognizing that some units of learning can profitably be taught in less time than others, and by structuring the class day in varying multiples of 20 minutes, say, flexible scheduling permits the student to spend more or less time on each subject as appropriate.

5. Self-directed learning or independent study: Long used by good teachers as a means of relieving exceptional students from unnecessary repetition, this approach is particularly appropriate in small schools where special programs for the talented are not feasible. It can also be used in larger schools where a relatively few students have such unusual abilities or talents that they do not fit anywhere in the regular or special programs. Some of the more innovative schools -- Nova High School in Fort Lauderdale, for example -- have built their whole program around some combination of independent study and nongradedness.

6. Resource centers: These provide facilities and equipment for enabling gifted students, individually or in groups, to carry on activities appropriate for their talent development. Such a center may serve students from a single school or from a whole group of schools.

Each of these methods recognizes that (1) students differ in their rates of learning, even though they may be the same age and share the same classroom; (2) a uniform rate of class progression based on the learning ability of the majority can bore fast learners and frustrate slow learners; and (3) children -- even young ones -- have a genuine appetite for learning which can be stimulated by offering each the precise kind and amount of knowledge he is ready to consume. Continuing this chef's analogy,we might say that administrative arrangements such as those outlined above permit a school to offer a daily smorgasbord of learning in place of the same menu for everybody.

*Meeting the Needs of the Able Student Through Provisions for Flexible Progressions, C.M. Lindvall with the collaboration of J. Steele Gow,Jr., and Francis J. Rifugiato. A report of the Regional Commission on Educational Coordination and the Coordinated Education Center. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962.
2013-08-30 10:57 pm

Administrative Flexibility

"...developing special opportunities for the gifted does not require large sums of money or a great enrollment. It does require both political support and educational leadership. The first makes educational change possible; the second gives it form and direction. Of the two, leadership from professionals in the school system seems the more important component, since by calling attention to the need for a differentiated curriculum the educator can begin rousing community support and focus that support by offering special program suggestions.


"For the purposes to which this report addresses itself, educational leadership comprises two components: First, recognition that compulsory adherence to standard curriculum can actually damage the exceptionally talented youngster,and a determination to build into the school as much administrative flexibility as possible; and second, ingenuity in working with such students and their teachers to fashion a pedagogically sound substitute for the standard program.

Administrative Flexibility

"Both the expansion of knowledge and the proliferation of professional specialization have forced the schools to convey more information and to convey it more efficiently. Schools have more to teach; they must do it faster, and hence better. They have been forced to investigate ways of enabling students to learn on their own, rather than requiring them to sit in classrooms for fixed periods of time while the teacher dispenses knowledge. Furthermore, knowledge is increasing at such a rate that teachers cannot be retrained fast enough to keep up with the old method of "teaching by telling." Hence they have to concentrate on helping the children develop the skills they will need to keep renewing their learning in the years ahead."

The year was 1968.

The quote is from a report to President Johnson on "Gifted Persons," probably the least cited of this field's national reports! Roughly 16 appearances in a casual Google search, mostly providing one sentence from the report (and mostly the same sentence). It shows up in zero libraries in WorldCat.

Four years later, under Nixon, the Marland Report was produced. It's available free online, and sits in more than 400 libraries.

The Marland Report's definition of gifted had a huge impact - and still retains some impact. The Task Force's report mostly has faded into obscurity, if it was ever out of obscurity. The next entry picks up the Report where this one left off.

White House Task Force on the Education of Gifted Persons (1968). Talent development: An investment in the nation's future. (A report to the President). Available through the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library.
2013-07-31 07:05 pm

Equality and the Schools (excerpts)

"No greater foe to the genuine equality of opportunity which our educational, as our political system, implies, can be found than the belief that equality can be attained by ignoring or denying diversity of gifts or by submerging all elevations in the vast ocean of the commonplace.
"The supreme test of a teacher's efficiency is nothow wellhe has awaened sluggish minds, orhow far he has ledthe capable, or what excellencieshe has discovered, but how few he has "failed." Reward for, or even recognition of, high achievement inanyline save athletics is singularly lacking.
"Soon we shall hear that college itself has been appropriated by the aspiring crowd and the inspiring dictum shall go forth that human society owes every child a college education.
"It is undoubtedly true, as we are continually being reminded, that the public schools as they stand, do not produce the citizenship needed for the work ahead of the country.' But in all fairness, how can they be expected to when the whole tendency of teaching and of administration is toward the minimizing of distinctions by virtue of which alone special efficiency of anysort is possible?"

~ Frank P. Whitney,
Equality and the Schools in Education, Vol. 33, No. 2 (October, 1912)
2013-07-31 02:25 pm

School Organization and the Individual Child

"During the middle part of the last century individual teaching fell into disgrace and... the emphasis was placed on class teaching and class organization. Indeed, a careful perusal of [journals] would almost lead one to believe that individual children scarcely existed in the schools..., so little is said of their needs.

"Matters in America, however, began to change for the better in the seventies... The importance of the individual child has since then been brought to the front slowly but surely, until now the principle is rather firmly established that the school should be organized to meet the varying needs of the individuals who comprise it."

School organization and the individual child: a book for school executives and teachers, being an exposition of plans that have been evolved to adapt school organization to the needs of individual children, normal, supernormal and subnormal. By William H. Holmes (1912)
2013-07-30 01:33 pm
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Notes on Language (more dealing with labels)

From A Plea for the Queen's English: Stray Notes on Speaking and Spelling By Henry Alford

140. We seem rather unfortunate in our designations for our men of ability. For another term by which we describe them, "talented," is about as bad as possible. What is it? It looks like a participle. From what verb? Fancy such a verb as "to talent!" Coleridge somewhere cries out against this newspaper word, and says, Imagine other participles formed by this analogy, and men being said to be pennied, shillinged, or pounded. He perhaps forgot that, by an equal abuse, men are said to be "moneyed men, or as we sometimes see it spelt (as if the word itself were not bad enough without making it worse by false orthography), "monied."

141. Another formation of this kind, "gifted," is at present very much in vogue. Every man whose parts are to be praised is a gifted author, or speaker, or preacher. Nay, sometimes a very odd transfer is made, and the pen with which the author writes is said to be "gifted," instead of himself.


He wasn't all that pleased with "superior" or "inferior" as in, "He is a clearly inferior man," either.

(Originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)
2013-07-30 01:29 pm
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On Race and Intelligence

Historical events appear to have been much more potent in leading races to civilisation than their faculty, and it follows that achievements of races do not warrant us to assume that one race is more highly gifted than the other.

Dr. Franz Boas, from:
Human Faculty as determined by Race, in the Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1894.

Isn't it amazing how far we have come from there?

(originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)

Postscript: More on this issue to follow in 2014, probably.
2013-07-30 01:23 pm

93 years later -- The Essentials of Good Teaching (1920)

Optional Work. - A wide variation in the abilities and attainments of children makes optional work an essential factor of effective teaching. Since all pupils cannot go the same pace, it is important that some special provision be made which will insure a maximum accomplishment for each. In well-regulated schools this condition is provided for by adjusting the assignment to the average ability of the class and then providing special aid for the weakest of the group, and optional work of a supplemental character for the unusually gifted children.

With all of its defects the country school of a quarter century ago was strongest in caring for the unusually gifted children. These were given great freedom in thought, in rate of accomplishment, and in the materials assigned. The graded system with all of its improvement has decidedly narrowed the range of opportunity of the gifted child. Supplemental provisions, such as optional work, must be introduced to restore these opportunities for maximum development.

To be effective, optional work should not be merely incidental or 'busy work.' It must be an organic part of the school program. It should feature in both the assignment and the recitation with as much prominence as does the regular work of the class.

(Leaving the discussion of gifted)

Constant acceptance of the utterances of textbook writers and teachers, by pupils, slowly but surely develops a servile dependence which negatives the underlying factors in responsibility.

Unfortunately the school has fostered an enormous amount of docility.

The Essentials of Good Teaching By Edwin Arthur Turner, Lotus Delta Coffman

(Originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007. Original title: 87 years later)
2013-07-30 01:10 pm
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Educational Administration (Strayer and Thorndike)

1. Enrollment in Relation to Age and Grade

Two of the very easiest facts to observe and record about the pupils in any school are age and grade. If they are recorded as in Table 1 on the following page, even these simple items tell much about the working of the school in question. Thus, looking at each vertical column, one sees at once the enormous variability in age of those who reach the same grade or educational standard. In the third grade in Connecticut in 1903, children were reported as young as four years old and as old as seventeen. To include nine tenths of the children in this grade, a range of five years is required. Over three years are required to include even three fourths of them. In the fourth grade, only a quarter of the children are of the so-called "normal" age of ten; a fifth of them are twelve or over; in a class of forty there will usually be one child fourteen or more years old and four children eight or less. In the elementary school, even in the lower grades, there are many adolescents, beginning to be moved by the instincts of adult life. In the high school are many boys and girls under fifteen who, though intellectually gifted, are physically, emotionally, and in social instincts little children.

(from page 3, with emphasis and link added)
Educational Administration: Quantitative Studies (1913) By George Drayton Strayer, Edward Lee Thorndike

As I noted elsewhere (I think), "With all of its defects the country school of a quarter century ago was strongest in caring for the unusually gifted children. These were given great freedom in thought, in rate of accomplishment, and in the materials assigned. The graded system with all of its improvement has decidedly narrowed the range of opportunity of the gifted child."

Thorndike's work, both then and later, provides a lens through which one can examine educational practice today, not only of the gifted, and see some of the places in which we fall terribly terribly short.

(originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)
2013-07-30 12:48 pm

Giftedness and Delinquency

One of the questions that arises along the way is "Are gifted children at risk?" Inevitably, the question brings the reply "At risk of what?"

Dropping out, depression, drugs, delinquency, and death (self-inflicted) are the answers. 4 of these five are pretty commonly discussed within the gifted lit - and often researchers seek to support or refute them. There are lots of stories and fewer statistics - and what stats there are may be misquoted, misremembered, or misremembered.

For the moment, I am going to focus on delinquency. I've been reading one of the studies that set out to disprove the notion that violent adolescents are any likelier to be gifted than the general population: High intelligence and severe delinquency: Evidence disputing the connection, by Dewey G. Cornell, in Roeper Review, May 92, Vol. 14, Issue 4.

Dr. Cornell had 157 violent offenders to examine and he did a pretty thorough job of illustrating his general point. Of the 157, "only 2 subjects obtaining scores greater than 130, and 2 more scoring greater than 120" on their full scale IQs (WISC-R or WAIS-R). He took it further, correctly observing that prison populations are known for higher performance scores than verbal.

"There were 13 subjects with Performance IQ's of at least 120. This included two subjects with IQ's greater than 140 and two more with IQ's greater than 130. In contrast, there were only 3 subjects with Verbal IQ's of 120 or higher, and all 3 had equivalent or higher Performance IQ's."

13 out of 157 is not overrepresented for 120+ (9% is the expected percentage.)

He talked a bit about race, and looks at the fact that the 'minority' members of the 13 above 120 performance IQ group were only 31% (4 of 13) vs. being 75% of the below 110 population. From there, he continued to explore his 2nd question, "Do highly intelligent delinquents differ from other delinquents in their social background and prior adjustment?"

And that is where I think Dr. Cornell made his mistake.

The white population of the total 157 group was 44, or 28% of the whole. The number of whites who scored 120 and above on the Performance Scale was 9, or more than 20% of the white population, when 9% would have been expected.

Cornell wrote, in conclusion: "The results of this study provide evidence that high intelligence is not associated with severe delinquency. In fact, the majority of delinquents are of below average intelligence, and only a few delinquents obtained scores above the high average range. While it is possible to identify delinquents with high intelligence, it is not reasonable to infer a connection between delinquency and high intelligence."

I think he missed a vital segment of his population.

This is hardly conclusive to prove risk, let alone to be as definitive in the opposite direction from Cornell. But it does at least raise an unanswered question: Might there be a greater risk for gifted (high performance scale) white adolescents to become seriously delinquent than for the norm?

(originally written Aug. 27th, 2010)

Postscript: In addition, there are factors to be considered, including size and location of population. There are also language issues deeply embedded in the prison population, perhaps tied to the number of dyslexics (or, as Ken Seeley would note, visual-spatial individuals).
2013-07-29 04:40 pm

Supernormal Children

tl; dr: It could have been written today.

The consensus of evidence, biological, psychological, and statistical, indicates that mental ability, like all other biological traits, is distributed in the form of the so-called curve of probability. If this be granted, it follows (1) that mediocrity is the commonest condition, (2) that instances of ability superior to and inferior to mediocrity are of practically equal frequency and degree, and (3) that the more an ability deviates from mediocrity, in either direction, the less frequent is its occurrence. The idiot is rarer than the moron, the genius than the man of talent. The root of this distribution undoubtedly lies in heredity, in native endowment. Education cannot create ability; it can only develop the latent possibilities given by heredity. Educational agencies, however, cannot lose sight of individual differences; educational training cannot be conducted as if all pupils were alike in native endowment. This truth has been clearly recognized in so far as it applies to the lower end of the curve of distribution; we have to-day, in consequence, a flourishing pedagogy of the subnormal. But we are only beginning to realize the necessity of special adjustments of our educational agencies to meet the needs of the upper end of the curve, to develop a pedagogy of the supernormal. And here it may be noted that by supernormal we imply not something abnormal, or beyond the limits of the healthy and the wholesome, but a mental endowment superior to the average, a condition that corresponds on the plus side of mediocrity to subnormal on the minus side. The supernormal child is the gifted child, the talented child, the child of superior ability.

Quantitatively, superior ability may evidently vary all the way from ability just noticeably above the average up to the most extraordinary manifestations of genius. With real genius, the kind of ability that appears in, let us say, one man in a million, the school has perhaps no special concern, chiefly because the appearance of such ability is so rare that administrators cannot be expected to provide special devices for its training — if, indeed, it be amenable to prearranged educational forms. The real problem of the school concerns the children who rank as the best two or three or the best half dozen in every hundred, for these are numerous enough to warrant special educational treatment.

Qualitatively, it is feasible to distinguish between general, or all-round, superiority and specific superiority. The problem of the school treatment of children of the latter type, of children who possess special talent in a restricted field, must doubtless await solution until we have met the larger problem of dealing with the former type. At present we know almost nothing in a scientific way about the genesis, distribution, and training of special talents. Psychologists, however, agree that children may be born with a constitutional tendency favoring superior achievement in music, in mathematics, in various phases of artistic creation, and probably also in linguistic and technical activities. The enlightening experiment of Dr. Kerschensteiner, at Munich, who by a simple test of drawing discovered a number of cases of exceptional ability in this field (ability that had in several instances been unsuspected by parents or teachers), and who was able to direct these children into appropriate careers, may serve as a pattern for similar "censuses" of special talent, which might be undertaken with profit in any large school system. We may hope that in time special "talent classes" may be organized to supply at public expense the training appropriate to children who bid fair to distinguish themselves in music, drawing, painting, dramatics, invention, and other special lines. Meanwhile, it is to be desired that psychologists should make extended analyses of individual children who display exceptional gifts in particular directions.

With regard to the education of gifted children of all-round or general ability, the thesis may be laid down that the needs of society demand special training for such children in the public schools and that this special training must be conducted in special classes, segregated from the regular school grades. To this thesis the following objections are sometimes raised. (1) It is occasionally asserted that there are no supernormal children — an assertion that disregards the cumulative evidence of biological and psychological investigation, as well as the evidence of common sense. (2) More often it is argued that supernormal children exist, but they will take care of themselves. Galton, to be sure, has sought to show that real genius "will out," but this is certainly not true of the lesser grades of superiority with which the school has to deal. We do not believe that a favorable environment can create ability, but we know that an unfavorable environment may hinder its fruition. Experience shows that poverty, ill health, poor teaching, and lack of encouragement may stifle native ability of a high order. We know only those talents that have succeeded. As Lester Ward has pointed out, "Great men have been produced by the co-operation of two causes, genius [innate ability] and opportunity; neither alone can accomplish it." (3) There is a popular notion that the precocious child should be held back, that an early manifestation of ability is an unfavorable sign. It is true that precocity does not guarantee superiority at maturity, but it is equally true that it frequently does precede it. We admit that it is better for a dull child to take a slower pace: why should a bright child, given a healthy body, be compelled to follow the pace of the mediocre child? To hold back a gifted child is to exert a baneful influence upon his development, and not merely mentally, in that he assimilates less information than he might, but more particularly morally, in that he forms pernicious habits of idleness, fails to feel the spur of competition, and fails to develop the higher ethical qualities that the school should bring into play. (4) It is argued by some that the special training of gifted children is not the business of the public school, but of the home. Yet the state has already recognized its responsibility to provide for the instruction of the intellectually fit by its system of state universities, with their research and graduate departments. Again, any argument that defends special provision for the subnormal for the sake of their better training would defend special provision for the supernormal for the sake of their better training. "Any exceptional talent, potential genius, or superior intelligence that remains undeveloped is a loss, not merely for the individuals themselves, but also for the progress of the nation and humanity" (Stern). The state, then, has reason to devote special attention to supernormal children. (5) It is argued by others that though desirable enough, special training for the gifted is too expensive or too difficult of administration. As a matter of fact, however, the additional expense is not great and is more than justified by the return upon the investment, while the administrative difficulties are being successfully met in several cities, as will be shown in a moment. (6) It is sometimes argued that to place the gifted child in special classes handicaps the pupils and the teacher of the regular class by removing the brighter and more capable members. But surely it is, as Kendall has said, "a travesty on the rights of bright children to keep them in classes below their ability for the purpose of helping on and stimulating pupils of less ability." The rights of the individual pupil are more sacred than the desires of the teacher or the classificatory boundaries of the graded system. (7) Finally, it has been objected that to segregate bright pupils would make them priggish, would develop a species of intellectual arrogance. This possibility may be avoided readily enough by due care in administration. Admission to special classes must be looked upon merely as a kind of specialization, as indeed it is, and continuance in them must be conditioned by persistent faithful effort, as well as by intellectual brilliancy.

There are, then, no valid objections to the thesis that supernormal children should be given special treatment in the public schools. It remains to be seen what has been, or might be, the nature of this special treatment. The disadvantages of the standard ironclad grade system are everywhere acknowledged. Various plans are in operation to secure greater flexibility. Do these plans .serve the needs of bright children? Without going into the details of various systems of promotion (see Grading and Promotion), we may distinguish three main types of modification of the standard system. (1) Certain plans aim to keep the class together in promotion. Thus, the so-called "Batavia system" keeps the class together by expending extra effort upon the laggards. Here, it is evident, no attention is paid to the peculiar needs of gifted children. The "North Denver plan" reverses the emphasis and keeps the class together by giving more intensive, more extensive, and more independent work to the brighter pupils. They are, however, kept at the regular pace in their progress through the school system. (2) Certain plans aim to secure a different rate of progress for children of different abilities. Typical are the systems prevailing in Cambridge, Mass., in Chicago, and in Pueblo, Col. In the "Cambridge plan" pupils are classified according to their ability and go forward at three different rates, — slow, regular, and fast, — while at various points transfers may be made from one " track " to another. Bright pupils may accomplish the work of the first six years in four years, and it is worthy of note that these "fast" pupils do first-class work later in the high school. The chief objection to this system seems to lie in the expense. In the "Chicago plan," or "large-school plan," three or more sections are organized in each grade on the basis of ability.

Each section goes forward at its own pace and is promoted as soon as it is ready for the work of the grade above. The bright section may gain one or two months over the slowest section in each half year of work. The plan permits close grading, but is feasible only in large schools. In the "Pueblo plan" each pupil sets his own pace. Extreme individualism prevails. Its promoter, Preston Search, was led to its adoption because he was convinced that " the bright, capable pupil has been retarded in his progress, has spent time in lifeless reviews and valueless repetitions of lessons, and has had his ambition stunted." The plan suffers somewhat from the lack of class competition, and it requires teachers of unusual ability. (3) The "segregation plan," illustrated in Worcester, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Harrisburg, Lincoln, Neb., and perhaps elsewhere, by its system of "preparatory centers," more nearly meets the theoretical requirements of gifted children. Pupils who have done strong work up to a certain grade, usually the sixth, are transferred to a special room, where they complete their preparation for the high school under selected teachers. The work is arranged on the departmental plan and includes, as a rule, the Latin, German, advanced English, and sometimes the mathematics of the first year in the high school. Pupils from these preparatory centers enter the high school with sufficient advanced credit to save one year in their subsequent course. Statistics show, moreover, that their work in the high school is commonly not only successful, but of conspicuous merit. In one Baltimore center, selected pupils have been retained for a third year and are then easily able to finish the high school in two years. In Cincinnati, in 1910, an experiment was instituted in the segregation of bright pupils from the third, fourth, and fifth grades. The results were decidedly favorable; two years' work was accomplished in one year, while the atmosphere of the class was that of joyful industry and orderly intelligent work."

We are evidently only at the beginning of special education for supernormal children. The segregation centers have developed only in the last decade or so. Many problems remain to be solved. When, for instance, should segregation begin? The Cincinnati experiment suggests that it may profitably begin much earlier than the sixth grade. Again, what should be the standard of selection? Thus far, the standard has been relatively low. At Baltimore, for example, the centers contain pupils whose rank is anywhere in the upper 25 per cent of the regular classes. But Goddard's application of the Binet tests to 2000 public school children at Vineland, N.J., indicates that only about 4 per cent are mentally advanced two years or more above their chronological age. Again, Petzoldt, in Germany, has proposed the establishment in Berlin of "elite classes" on such a basis as to select the best child in each 1500 to 2000 pupils. It would be highly instructive to have this experiment tried out. For ordinary purposes, however, classes with a selection of 4 to 5 per cent and with a total enrollment of 20 to 25 would seemingly be most desirable.

Other problems that press for solution are these: what is the relative part played by heredity on the one hand and environment on the other hand in the production of individuals of superior achievement? Is it true that the world is full of children of marked native ability who need only the opportunity to achieve their promise, or must we proceed, according to the tenets of the new science (or religion) of eugenics, systematically to breed human ability? How early in a child's life may exceptional ability be safely diagnosed? What physical, mental, or moral traits afford reliable criteria of superior ability, and how may these be detected or measured scientifically? How can we discover and foster special ability in musical, artistic, literary, mechanical, mathematical, scientific, and other lines? Can we surely distinguish, and by what methods, between mere precocity that does not culminate in final superiority, and real ability, early displayed, that fulfills its promise? Is it in any way possible adequately to meet the demands of the education of gifted children without segregation into special classes? Ought classes for supernormal children to pursue the regular curriculum at a faster pace, or ought they to provide a more intensive and more extensive training by different methods? Ought gifted children to begin formal school work at an early age, or ought they, on the contrary, to be held back from formal training till their eighth year or later? Is it desirable and feasible to subsidize the careers of gifted children?

These and many other scientifically and practically important special problems which the general problem of the supernormal child sets for solution make it evident that an extensive investigation of the whole field by a corps of educational and psychological experts is imperatively demanded. Such an investigation would repay many fold the time and labor expended.
~G. M. W.

Great Britain. — In Great Britain the question of the supernormal child does not assume so much importance as in America and Germany. In fact, it may almost be said that conditions are reversed and more attention is paid to the bright than to the average or poor pupils. In the elementary schools, where each principal is to all intents and purposes autonomous, a system of flexible grading and promotion provides for the rapid progress of the able pupil through the elementary schools, so that in the seventh or highest standard the ages of pupils may sometimes vary from ten and one half years to fourteen or over. The bright pupil has always been provided for by scholarships to the secondary or grammar schools obtained in open competition. A large number of these are frequently gained by poor but able boys from elementary schools at the age of eleven or twelve. As a rule they carry only free tuition; sometimes additional maintenance grants are given. A scholarship is valid for three years and is usually renewable according to grade of work done. More recently, since the central authority in England began to interest itself immediately in secondary education, schools and school authorities have been compelled as a condition of securing government grants to provide free places to pupils between the ages of ten and thirteen coming from elementary schools. The number of free places to be offered is ordinarily 25 per cent of the total number of pupils admitted in the previous year. The percentage may, however, be varied with the consent of the Board of Education. By the aid of scholarships, provided by special endowments or local authorities, and free tuition, pupils can win their way through to the universities. At the same time, the system always makes some demand on the means of the parents, and in some cases school authorities offer maintenance grants as well as remission of fees. For an account of the system of recruiting candidates for the elementary teaching profession, see Teachers, Training op. In Scotland the system of district bursaries provides for the promotion of pupils from elementary to secondary schools.

copied from Monroe's Cyclopedia of Education (1917)
Entry on Supernormal Children written by Guy Montrose Whipple
2012-04-23 02:35 pm
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Intellectual Giftedness in Disabled Persons

I was chatting not long ago about the early days of active consideration that one could both be gifted and have a disability - before the term 2e came into being. It was prompted by my having discovered the Australian book from last year, Dual Exceptionality.

In the conversation, I was reminded of books on the topic: Intellectual Giftedness in Disabled Persons (IGDP), by Joanne Rand Whitmore and C. June Maker. As some of you know, they are, separately, authors of two of my other favorite books - Whitmore on underachievement and Maker on curriculum modification.

IGDP was published in 1985, and it starts with a bit of self-awareness. The first chapter is entitled The Emerging Field: Education of Gifted Handicapped Students. Other chapter titles are also informative:

2) Hearing-Impaired Gifted Persons
3) Gifted Persons with Visual Impairment
4) Gifted Persons with Severe Physical Impairment
5) Gifted Adults Incurring Severe Disabilities
6) Intellectually Gifted Persons with Specific Learning Disabilities
7) The Affective Needs of Intellectually Gifted Persons with Disabilities
8) The Intellectual Needs of Gifted Persons with Disabilities

Unfortunately, as a work, IGDP is basically alone. While the field of 2e has paraded along, looking at the confluence of learning disabilities and giftedness where they live together in children (and, to a limited extent, adults), the attention paid to physical forms of exceptionality is comparatively rare. And, as has been noted elsewhere, there is scarce enough attention to the population of gifted adults, let alone to gifted disabled adults! (The exception to this seems to be the ADHD adult.)

Yes, the specific terminology may be dated. The content and concepts are not.

Whitmore & Maker created an amazing book.

Unfortunately, it is perhaps even more amazing today than it was when it came out.
2011-12-31 09:24 pm
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Nature vs. Anti-Nurture

A lot has been written, and more is sure to be put forth, about the balance of nature and nurture in intelligence and 'raising' IQs. This includes articles about the variability of IQ through the teen years (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/Media-office/Press-releases/2011/WTVM053199.htm) and observations such as:
"It's analogous to fitness.A teenager who is athletically fit at 14 could be less fit at 18 if they stopped exercising. Conversely, an unfit teenager can become much fitter with exercise."

A fair amount of fuss has been made of this information, prompting stories such as USA Today's http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/medical/mentalhealth/story/2011-12-27/IQ-isnt-fixed-at-birth-and-can-increase-with-education/52237552/1 - IQ Isn't Fixed at Birth.

But when was the last time we thought IQ was fixed at birth?
"The predominant view is that the genetic factors place an absolute ceiling on an individual's intelligence potential, and he may or may not reach this potential, depending on how enriched or deprived his environment is.
"There are many instances in which a young child's IQ increases with an improvement in environment. Skeels (1966) conducted a study in which he took very young girls (under 19.3 months) from an orphanage in which the environment was seriously depressed and placed them in an institution for the mentally retarded. Their IQ's improved from a mean of 65 for the group to a mean of 91.8 during an 18 month period. ... Another group of 12 little girls stayed in the orphanage;their mean IQ dropped from 86.7 to 60.5 in two years."
~Max Vogel (1980), The Psychology Problem Solver: A Complete Solution Guide to Any Textbook

Of course, there are those who would be skeptical of whether the change would last. But what Vogel's quote neglects to mention is that it wasn't Skeels doing this in 1966 - it was Skeels & Dye, in 1939 (A study of the effects of differential stimulation on mentally retarded children - findable in The Best of AAMR - Families and Mental Retardation, p. 19-33).
Twenty-five years later, Skeels (1966) located all of the subjects in the original study. What he discovered was even more impressive than the IQ gains originally reported. Of the 13 children in the experimental group, 11 had married; the marriages had produced nine children, all of normal intelligence. The experimental group’s median level of education was the 12th grade, and four had attended college. All were either homemakers or employed outside the home, in jobs ranging from professional and business work to domestic service (for the two who had not been adopted). The story of the 12 children who had remained in the orphanage was less positive. Four were still institutionalized in 1965, and all but one of the noninstitutionalized subjects who were employed worked as unskilled laborers. The median level of education for the contrast group was the third grade.
~"William L. Heward (2000), Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education (6th ed.), p. 159

While this is among the oldest of these looks, the chain of evidence is long and ongoing. We know well that we can depress intelligence and that we can stimulate intelligence. We know that performance on IQ tests is not fixed at birth, even without little subtleties like mood, relationship with tester, color of skin, etc.

But here we are, 70 years later, being astounded that "IQ is not fixed at birth."

What Skeels and Dye learned in 1939 was important. Rosemary Salz (Effects of Part-Time "Mothering" on IQ and SQ of Young Institutionalized Children, 1973) took it further - showing that even in an institutional setting with a decent educational program, active nurturing had an impact on children's IQs. One place implemented a foster-grandmother program, hiring impoverished elder women to come in and give one-to-one attention. The other didn't. You know which group showed growth in their IQs.

Education matters. Emotions matter. Physical health matters. Safety matters.

The absence of these matters.

Anti-nurturance matters.

In Nature vs. Anti-Nurture, Anti-Nurture wins far more often than not.

It may be up to Skeels (1966) to close this for us again:
"It seems obvious that under present-day conditions there are still countless infants with sound biological constitutions and potentialities for development well within the normal range who will become retarded and noncontributing members of society unless appropriate intervention occurs. It is suggested by the findings of this study and others published in the past 20 years that sufficient knowledge is available to design programs of intervention to counteract the devastating effects of poverty, sociocultural, and maternal deprivation.... The unanswered questions of this study could form the basis for many lifelong research projects. If the tragic fate of the twelve contrast group children provokes even a single crucial study that will help prevent such a fate for others, their lives will not have been in vain."
2011-11-13 11:23 pm

The Need for Special Education of Gifted Children

"The need for special education of gifted children is indicated by the large percentage of failures in our colleges and universities due, not to lack of capacity, but to bad habits and undesirable attitudes; by the many graduates of higher institutions of learning who do not feel under the slightest obligation to society which made possible their higher education; and by those gifted children who leave school because of dissatisfaction with traditional education.

"A gifted child is one with exceptionally good intelligence who deviates from the average to such an extent that he requires special education to make the most of his possibilities. The problem is to determine the nature and extent of the special education required to enable him to attain his maximum development."

Sub-committee on Gifted
Committee on Special Classes
White House Conference on Child Health and Protection