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Guest Opinion: 'Giftedness' overlooked in social-emotional education discussions

There is no GATE program in Palo Alto school district despite unusually large gifted population

"Sharon, you're smart, you're nice, and you're good at sports. You're going to have a great life," a friend told me during PE class at Gunn High School. She touched me by recognizing my attributes, but I disagreed with her. A person who is regarded as smart, nice and good at sports will not necessarily have an easy life filled with happiness and success.

I recently read Adrienne Van Gorden's letter to the editor, "Consider the gifted" (April 22, 2016). She claims that our community is ignoring a group of students with special needs because we mistakenly believe they can manage everything easily. This group is the gifted.

There is no gifted and talented education (GATE) program in the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD), despite our unusually large gifted population, as noted in the Palo Alto Weekly's "Startup schools for 'gifted' emerge as state cuts public funding." Ironically, PAUSD even has a school named after Lewis Terman, who invented the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, which is used by schools worldwide to test for intellectual giftedness.

Why do we not have GATE?

First, the district suspended GATE years ago because of "elimination of funding."

Second, some teachers and principals see problems in academic "laning" (similar to "tracks" in other schools, but more flexible), feeling that students in lower lanes are discouraged from taking more challenging classes because they view themselves as "dumb." GATE could discourage more students, by admitting only those tested as gifted and denying others the choice to join, they say.

Third, parents, students and the administration could feel more pressure. Parents may insist on retesting their children until they are classified as gifted.

Fourth, the achievement gap could widen between lower- and higher-achieving students by reserving resources for students who are perceived as already "well-off."

However, problems arise from the lack of GATE: No gifted specialists are available to identify and support the social/emotional needs related to intellectual giftedness. Studies by the Center for Talented Youth in Ireland show that the gifted, without adequate social/emotional support, can easily suffer from "feelings of frustration, low self-esteem, isolation, difference ... negative social behaviour and unfulfilled potential."

I am not recommending a new way of assessing gifted individuals; rather, I am defining giftedness as encompassing not only intellectual but also social and emotional traits.

GiftedandTalented.com, operated by Stanford University, archives articles on different elements of giftedness. One article explains that "'negative' factors (such as tension, anxiety, and depression)" can be present during "personal growth and development." Another describes the affective and behavioral traits of "sensitivity and excitability."

Likewise, NAGC states that gifted individuals have "unusual emotional depth and intensity."

Studying gifted traits, we can see why many of our students face the problems that they face. The traits come from their nervous systems' ease of stimulation, or over-excitability. Over-excitability is the underpinning of acuity and intellectual giftedness, but it is also the root of susceptibility to "negative factors" and excessive emotional sensitivity.

Those in the field of giftedness consider social and emotional sensitivities as prevailing gifted traits. They assert that affective and behavioral education is necessary for gifted learners to not feel "out-of-sync" because of their sensitivities and dive into unhealthy lifestyles such as perfectionism and self-criticism.

The feelings of someone tense, anxious or depressed could stem from personal development in an environment that's not entirely supportive. They may spring from their unrecognized and unsupported giftedness, rather than exclusively from their "excessive" work, "immature" brain, "performance-prizing" parents or "overachieving" environment, as commonly perceived.

Lacking gifted identification and specialists, we've missed a cause of social/emotional problems among our youth. They surely do not stem from only giftedness, but giftedness is a possible cause.

If we had gifted identification at PAUSD schools, we could advise gifted students on how to embrace -- not repudiate -- their social/emotional traits. They would understand that without their over-excitability, they would be rid of their burdensome sensitivities, but they would also have to give up attributes essential to what most people think of when they hear "giftedness." Because we do not have specialized gifted support, gifted students have to figure themselves out circuitously.

Personally, I spent years feeling "out-of-sync," repudiating and trying to "improve" myself. Throughout elementary school and middle school, I was called "quiet," "shy" and "sensitive." In middle school and high school, I tried to reinvent myself to never be called quiet, shy or sensitive again. I tried changing into a louder, more assertive and tougher person, by joining clubs and running for officer positions.

Graduating high school, I left those clubs and reflected upon my experiences. I have searched online and read several books to understand myself. The most enlightening book has been Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski's "Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults." Reading that, I recognized my giftedness, learned about myself and gained understanding of my peers at Gunn. I cannot help thinking that the lack of a gifted program had led to a high school life marked with unnecessary self-ignorance.

I am happy that PAUSD is exploring social-emotional learning (SEL). Our district will tackle not only academic but also personal development. Our schools will teach SEL curricula, looking to increase students' self-awareness and help them manage emotions.

SEL is an opportunity to teach students about the social and emotional traits of giftedness. I would like for it to include a section on giftedness, so our school district could provide a chance for the gifted to see and understand themselves without a controversial GATE program.

Sharon Chen is a 2015 alum of Gunn High School and current student at Columbia University. She can be emailed at sharon.chen@columbia.edu.

Comments

58 people like this
Posted by Thank you
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2016 at 10:49 am

Wonderful essay.

I am not sure the district eliminated funding as much as it repurposed funding it had been spending on GATE when the state let districts do that. They clearly seemed to think AP classes were the same thing.

The other problem with failing to understand giftedness at the district level is that giftedness isn't just one thing. Creativity is often associated with giftedness but not all gifted children are highly creative. Creativity seems at best tolerated in this district, and normal school practices usually punish those behaviors starting early on. Teachers think they like creativity, but in reality, that's because they don't know what creativity is, according to researchers. They prefer developmental advancement not creativity. Developmental advancement is rewarded, leading to a redshirting problem that never gets acknowledged or addressed for the negative impacts on the other students.

Giftedness can be asynchronous, too, students can be very advanced in some ways and lag in others, but the way our district programs sort and judge constantly rather than supporting whole children - saying it is not the same as doing it - usually causes asynchronous learners to be both bored and think they are bad students.

We had a great experience in PAUSD elementary, but things get dramatically worse for the creative and gifted in middle school and abysmal in high school. I dearly wish we had left earlier. It's not just PAUSD, though. It's really the model of schooling.

School can be structured in a way to meet the needs of the gifted without laning, but that's in a more holistic kind of educational model that is incompatible with this system and the limited imaginations and heart of the administrators who wouldn't know giftedness if it bit them.


31 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 20, 2016 at 10:09 am

Eileen is a registered user.

I also think the Palo Alto School system needs to bring back the GATE program. There are so many truly gifted kids that fall through the cracks because their teachers do not recognize their creativity and expect them to fit into a mold. My child was one of those! He loved school until middle school. Thats when it is all about regurgitation and homework. Very little time spent on nurturing critical thinking or appreciating intelligent creative thinkers. My son had only one year of high school before he opted out with the High School Equivalency test. He was always a self learner and Paly teachers never appreciated that. He went on to get a college degree and is now in a, fully funded, PhD program at Harvard. All thanks to his personal ambition, incredible intellect and exceptional creativity. Harvard could see that! The Palo Alto School system has a gigantic problem in the way they treat gifted kids. So many of them give up and take a different route than my son and never reach their potential. The system needs to identify these kids and give them the tools to succeed!


43 people like this
Posted by too much
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 20, 2016 at 2:16 pm

The self-obsession here, the certainty that one is "gifted" and an oh so special snowflake.
This really IS the "ME" generation, I see.


12 people like this
Posted by Moni
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2016 at 3:24 pm

This is a great discussion. Kate Vrijmoet, a mother of two gifted students wrote wonderful piece on "Giftedness." Please read it if you are interested. There is a lot of good information and resources attached. Web Link


23 people like this
Posted by PA mom
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 20, 2016 at 3:31 pm

I agree with the author that we need to have a GATE emotion support program, not necessarily GATE academic program. The current issues bothering local high schools and parents may then be mitigated.


26 people like this
Posted by palo alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 20, 2016 at 3:57 pm

@too much

I could not believe the article the first time. I thought that it must be a joke. Is this a "Candid Camera" moment???


37 people like this
Posted by A.J.
a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2016 at 9:25 pm

I don't really agree. Gifted vs non gifted will only create larger social rifts between young students. By labelling students, it separates them into black or white (gifted or non) before they have developed personally. A more important cause would be to decrease classroom size so teachers have more individual relationship with students, to accommodate for variously gifted kids


24 people like this
Posted by Michael Phelps in the kiddie pool
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2016 at 10:28 pm

Great discussion. I'm glad you are raising awareness that intellectually gifted students have unique challenges that are worthy of understanding.

We celebrate and elevate athletic gifts, while downplaying or ignoring the needs of kids who learn quickly and hunger for more intellectual challenge

Just read a great blog post called "What if Michael Phelps had to Swim in the Kiddie Pool?"

Web Link




18 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 21, 2016 at 12:50 am

Eileen is a registered user.

Thanks Michael Phelps!
"too much", I think you might have a misconception of what the term, gifted really means. I'm talking about kids with exceptionally high IQ's, many reading by 3yrs (like my son), independent learners, engaged in classroom discussions but unable to do the required projects and homework to get good grades. Many suffer from years of depression, low self extreme and isolation because of this. Lazy, NO! Self learners, Yes! Would GATE help them? I don't know. I know there are programs that are set up for the under performing and struggling kids, why not for the super bright and talented struggling kids? No snowflakes allowed!


31 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Yet another class of students that needs some special accommodation. Enough, is enough. Our public schools cannot cater to every possible special need.


24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2016 at 5:33 pm

I was a gifted student. My gifts however were destroyed, shredded, sliced apart, buried and forgotten forever after my experience at Gunn High School annihilated the innate self-mofivation and love of learning I once had.

Thanks a lot, PAUSD!


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2016 at 7:00 pm

What is your point again? Schools don't need more funding, they need to hold teachers accountable which they don't. So kids are forced to sit in class and endure less than competent disciplinarians when their time could be better spent elsewhere. Teachers should need more than "teaching credentials" to be worth the student's time.

I didn't quite get your post, is that some kind of elaborate insult?


30 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2016 at 7:57 pm

@Enough
"Our public schools cannot possibly cater to every special need."

Actually, our public schools are in fact legally obligated to "cater" to every "special need", if, by special need, you mean a disability that interferes with a child obtaining a free and appropriate education. Furthermore, they CAN in fact cater to every special need, if they decide to spend the money on it, manage it well, instead of putting in place adversarial systems that cost more on lawyers and bureaucrats than it would to provide the care. Plus such a system turns district staff into adversaries of students, which is not a good thing to have all their focus taken up by cheating as many students out of accommodations as possible rather than putting creative energy into just doing whatever it takes for every child (as is the Finnish motto and in spirit, our district motto).

The districts may not have to have a GATE program, but they are being given money by the state specifically for GATE programming, so to say we cannot in this expensive district with so many smart people, being given the money to do so, should require some better justification for why we can't do this, especially since as the writer described, gifted children are not just fine in the system. But sometime in recent history, the state allowed districts to decide how to best spend the money. So (according to the district website) the district decided offering APs was the same thing. It's not.

Our district has a goal of helping each child to reach their creative potential. If you think the district people have set their sights too high and should change their vision to something like: Let's keep setting our sights lower while paying more for it - then you should go to district meetings and promote it so we are at least not lying to families who come here expecting a great education.


@Eileen,
The Prussian model of education was indeed designed to be a sorting system, that mainly inculcated compliance in order to get better workers and soldiers for the industrial revolution. The system of education has hardly changed since it was adopted here from Prussia. At that time in history, it was the norm for many if not most children not to survive into adulthood. Today, we have a different standard, we aspire or every chilld to live to adulthood. By the same token, we aspire for every child to thrive. For this to be possible, we need a different system than the Prussian model. The system itself is incompatible with the goal of helping every child, gifted or disabled (or both), average or 2e, to thrive.

I do think @Enough has point - while we are in fact obligated to accommodate the needs of different students, and most definitely have the resources to do so, and do it well, we probably won't. I speak as a parent who saw many good things in the system in elementary school that kept us hopeful that things would get better in regards to supporting the creative and gifted to meet their potential. I wish I had been more willing to understand the perspective of @Enough, because it's pretty prevalent in district leadership. I also wish I had understood that the school system we have - not PAUSD in particular, but the Prussian model - was the source of far more negatives than we realized, and that we could provide better outside the system. The world is changing.

Web Link

Recent Business Insider article on homeschooling
Web Link

Blog from SENG about "unschooling" gifted children
Web Link

@Resident,
I'm so sorry for what was clearly a bad experience. I hope that attitude of the adults in our schools was not like the @teacher above. Someone like that should find a different place to work if they resent their students so much that they insult rather than support, help, and meet students where they are. You can regain your love of learning. The gift of that hard experience is the lesson in helping you find what does support you on your journey. I feel very lucky that we figured it out before high school, but it was still a harsh lesson and I wish we'd figured it out earlier. I am immensely thankful because without the hard knocks, I'm sure we would have marched dutifully on through high school and felt like you and the writer of this piece. Now education is such a joy, it can be for you again.


25 people like this
Posted by SPA Dad
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2016 at 8:52 pm


If a person is gifted in one thing or another, she or he will find a way to satisfy their curiosity outside th classroom. Public school is meant to cover the basics for all.


13 people like this
Posted by Bon
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Jeeez. Palo Alto is such a bummer these days.


19 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 21, 2016 at 11:32 pm

@SPA,

Hmm. Let's see what happens to our top 10 school district if we make clear that Palo Alto schools are just to teach "the basics" and that district officials were intentionally deceiving the public when they made our district vision to help each child reach their creative potential.

Secondly, it's a myth that the gifted will be ok if left to languish.
Web Link
CNN education blog
See "Myth No. 8: Gifted students will get by on their own without any special help from the school."

The problem in that perspective is also that it misses what is happening to many kids, which is that they are in school all day, then doing homework with the rest of their time after school. There is a huge amount of overhead associated with going to schools here, children's time and educational direction is not their own. McGee was right to worry about some of the "competition" - gifted kids can already do much better with many resources for independent schooling, "unschooling", ala carte schooling, etc, locally. Yes, they can get by on their own, but only if they stop trying to make school with no gifted programs work and take their education into their own hands.

Since the schools don't identiy gifted kids, they don't have any idea of the ways they are even hurting them. They have no policy of allowing students to accelerate unless they are developmentally advanced (rather than gifted). If the children don't fit the developmentally advanced box, they won't be allowed even to take independent study to accelerate math - speaking from personal experience.. Said student struggled on in the system that never lets kids learn from their mistakes. It was only when we left that math education became accelerated and enjoyable again. The accelerated math opens up the possibility to do accelerated science that is said student's ultimate goal. None of this was possible in school, school was instead making the same child feel incompetent and bored.



24 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Aug 22, 2016 at 10:54 am

Sharon wrote an excellent article. I see this from several different sides. I will also add, that my experience was in k-8th grade.

1. My child was assessed as gifted in grade school. Those children hauled wheelbarrows of stuff to make compost once a week. Big wow. These were primarily children who were reading well before they entered school. Certainly there could have been a better program.

2. When I taught, I found there were a number of children never assessed who seemed extraordinarily bright to me, and when tested they were. Unfortunately they had sat through school totally bored and at times troublesome.

3. By 8th grade, they didn't know what to do with me so they let me work in the office and put up bulletin boards every afternoon. I thought that was great fun, but was it the best use of my time?

General comments: As a nation, we have gotten much better at supporting the special needs children, but our best and brightest tend to be left out of especially engaging programs that would stimulate them. At the high school level there seems to be a lot of AP classes that could engage these children. Emotionally, I assume nothing is provided to give support to the children who are considered "Brains", "Quirky", or "Geeky".


10 people like this
Posted by To Bon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 22, 2016 at 11:18 am

To Bon is a registered user.

To Bon, Palo Alto is not a bummer these days. Palo Alto Online is a bummer these days. There's a big difference. Amazing things continue to happen here, but you wouldn't know it from the negativism of the people who post here.

I'm to busy to spend any more time o this today. I have things to DO in the REAL WORLD where I live.


26 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Thank you to Sharon Chen, "Thank you," and others who have given their time to present some meaningful thoughts.

This is a discussion worth continuing, perhaps if there were a sympathetic ear on the BOE. In the past I've bristled at parents who say "my child is a genius/gifted" but I have changed my thinking after investigating giftedness. Yes, it is probably overused, but that doesn't justify ignoring students with these gifts. They have specific needs and greater understanding and teacher training can offer benefits to all our students.

See Tips for Teachers: Successful Strategies from the Davidson Institute
Web Link

I can't find my notes, but here are some specific criteria I recall defining GIFTEDNESS:

• Gifted students are usually operating at 3 or more grade levels above peers. They can cover material with extreme rapidity and in depth [Informal assessments are needed for ALL students and their teachers to be aware of the learning needs].

• Although Gifted students can be very self-motivated in their chosen subject, most do far better if they have one or more peers of similar ability in their classroom. [They shouldn't be separated from everyone, but rather allow them to be a contributing, valuable part of the class].

• Gifted students need to be given the option of bypassing foundation work in order to dive more deeply into the subject. [Again, a need for ongoing, informal assessments and FLEXIBILITY--they often need to be accelerated or advanced.]

Giftedness does fall under Special Education and schools are legally bound to support these students. If our schools can expand what it means to be "normal" we might find benefits to all our students.

I don't think our kids are Gifted!


12 people like this
Posted by Parent / Teacher
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 22, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Well as a parent and a teacher, I struggle with children being labeled as "gifted". I have seen a very few "gifted" children in my years. I have also noticed that they move to a school like Nueva since they can be with like individuals.

A SEL program is designed for helping all students gain social and emotional skills. It is not something that you say this is for a particular type of child. All children, independent of the academic skills, need to learn social skills. If a child has serious challenges with socializing, there are outside classes that can help these seriously challenged students be with others and learn the basics in addition to what is being done in the home.

Personally, I don't feel like everything can be put into the public education system. Some things are done at home with parents being home and teaching their children and leading by example. Sometimes, parents need to take time to be home and work part-time or take a few years off so that they can teach their children life skills and values.


50 people like this
Posted by Letdown
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm

PAUSD certainly was not supportive of my son's gifts-- if anything, most of the teachers put him down for them. We have assumed it was because his gifts were not "techie" enough.

He is an excellent artist and writer, and has superb 3-D visual abilities ( he can rotate images in his mind, too). He is extremely good at mechanics and mechanical engineering.

However, his Walter Hayes and Jordan math teachers seemed to have given him a math block.

He excelled in English and history, but had difficulty with foreign languages.

Throughout his entire PAUSD education, only TWO teachers, one at Jordan and one at Paly, EVER praised his talents. Others told him they were not useful or viable or important or relevant-- or some similar insult.

To this day, my son thinks he's "dumb as dirt". I rue the day I decided not to put him in private school!


45 people like this
Posted by Notice
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Aug 22, 2016 at 3:11 pm

Notice is a registered user.

@ Ferdinand - A group of children who really suffer in PAUSD are the "2E" or "Twice Exceptional" - children who have a learning or developmental disability in one area or subject, but are disabled in another.

It is possible, in fact common, to be gifted in one area but unable to learn without help in another. I know kids who can think algebraically in Kindergarten, but can't subtract. This means they actually cannot do algebra, because they cannot grasp a major component of it. But they will get no help learning to subtract because teachers will say the gift in algebra means they have no disability.

A common gift is "Hyper-Lexia" - reading ability far above grade level at a young age which may be accompanied by an inability to comprehend inference, indirect speech and language ("hit the ground running" does not mean hit the ground or run), or why characters act as they do. Reading words does not equal comprehension. These children also will receive no help.

Usually, these children fail as they go into higher grades and receive grades lower than in the past. They may barely pass. Teachers blame them, believing they have the ability they just don't want to succeed. This attitude is very strong in the PAUSD Special Education system, and destroys children. Teachers are told if the child is failing, it is their fault because the child succeeded in other years or subjects. Senior Administrators tell parents it is just the bad child, the teacher is bad this year and will be gone next year, the teacher will do co-teaching or differentiated learning, or there is bad parenting at home.

Gifts, creativity, internal beauty are all reasons prevent children from receiving academic help in PAUSD Special Education. Their social emotional health and learning is destroyed. Gifted and challenged children believe the negative way they are taught to think of themselves by PAUSD and its Administrators.


25 people like this
Posted by momof2e
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 22, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Thank you SO much more writing this thoughtful and well informed article. The word "gifted" has become so misunderstood, it's not about being a special snowflake, it's a disability in a way because the overstimulation from the world makes your body unable to keep up with your mind (especially since high giftedness is often correlation with ASD, ADHD, etc). Profoundly gifted kids don't always succeed at school or at work, in fact, they aren't able to cope and often have life issues and anxiety because of it. My child can do math and reading 4 grade levels ahead, but his writing is at grade level and his social skills are below grade level, he has trouble paying attention - it is very challenging teaching him when he's so asynchronous and often the teachers misunderstand his behavior. He doesn't want to do the repetitive addition problems, he wants something deeper and more engaging (not advanced, just engaging after knowing the basics), but the teacher won't offer it until he does the basics ad nauseum (if at all), which causes him to meltdown and dislike school.

Do we want a large part of our school population feeling high anxiety, feeling different and left out, unable to use their gifts because of their deficits, unserved by the mission to "help every child reach their full potential" just because of the label "gifted"? I would love to see giftedness training as part of the PAUSD SEL teacher training, in addition to more open-ended, hands on curriculum that helps every child be engaged and grow.


22 people like this
Posted by PV
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2016 at 3:27 pm

@spadad
I wish this were true, unfortunately after spending 6 hours exhausted, axious, and bored, my child has no energy to nurture any interests outside of school. So many PA parents are going to private schools with engaging personalized curriculum - we are in the hub of innovation, why can't our public schools do it too?


9 people like this
Posted by ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2016 at 5:36 pm

@Notice

Thank you for delineating more of the complexities surrounding "giftedness." I continue to feel that our system of education needs an infusion of ideas and practices outside itself. Many of our teachers are lovely people, skilled in their subjects, operating in a system that may severely inhibit them as well as their students.

I would love to hear any ideas for moving forward on improvements for this portion of our student population. One thing that comes to mind would be to feature strategies for teaching students with special needs a topic of a PLC [professional learning committee] that teachers are obligated to attend.


10 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 22, 2016 at 5:57 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I sent this message to the School Board and posted it to a different thread regarding "closing the achievement gap" in December 2014. I still feel the "gifted" are being short-changed to the detriment of students and the US position as a world leader.

"I see a lot of discussion about an "achievement gap". How are you going to encourage our best and brightest to develop to their full potential? Gen Z presents a whole new challenge that will require you to review and update the educational paradigm.
The implication I see is that "closing the gap" would involve a Procrustean policy that would attempt to flatten the difference between high and low achieving students to a mediocre average. That is NOT acceptable! There needs to be MORE gap, not less. It must be up to individual students and parents to decide how much effort to make to be below or above average, and by how much. There is a critical need for ALL of our students to be challenged to achieve their fullest potential.
And how about closing the achievement gap in sports? Since I lacked the bulk to be a football player, should I have lower self-esteem? Should I have been in a "remedial" sports program? And why did my teachers lower the classes expectations just so the jocks could maintain passing grades? Yes, I got great grades, but I suffered in college as a result. I had not been sufficiently challenged in high school to perform up to the expectations of a top-tier college. Yes, my good grades got me in, but I was at a big disadvantage to those who came from schools that had properly prepared them.
If parents want their children to succeed and excel at top-tier colleges, they must INSIST their children be exceptionally well educated, not just given an "average" education."


21 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:50 am

Eileen is a registered user.

Wow, I have to respond to, "Teacher/parent" above!! He/She says: "Personally, I don't feel like everything can be put into the public education system. Some things are done at home with parents being home and teaching their children and leading by example. Sometimes, parents need to take time to be home and work part-time or take a few years off so that they can teach their children life skills and values." What??? Leading by example??? Lack of values??? What a judgmental thing to say! We are a loving caring family and I was at home trying desperately to get the help need for my son to succeed in high school. I am really glad my son did not have you as his teacher making assumptions about his home life!! The public education system is set up to help each kid reach their potential, right? The definition of gifted....Intellectual giftedness is an intellectual ability significantly higher than average. It is a characteristic of children, variously defined, that motivates differences in school programming. It is thought to persist as a trait into adult life, with various consequences studied in longitudinal studies of giftedness over the last century. There is no generally agreed definition of giftedness for either children or adults, but most school placement decisions and most longitudinal studies over the course of individual lives have been based on IQ in the top 2 percent of the population, that is above IQ 130.
Quick background of my son's struggle at Paly... High IQ, ( in the top 2%) Reading at 3yrs, not a math lover but would get A's on tests but fail class because of incomplete homework. (could not do the repetitive work) A's in English but trouble with completing writing assignments. Always contributing in class discussions, teachers loved him for that. Not able to complete assignments but getting A's on all tests. Very social and engaging in classroom discussions but intellectually older than most of his friends. Not interested in allot of high school drama. Pretty much disliked math because of all the homework and not his thing. Total self learner in all subjects. Never a problem in the classroom. Super friendly fun and likable (super funny) until he started getting f's and failing and then he was super depressed. Was it because he needed help learning? No! Was it because he had trouble keeping track of homework and assignments. Yes! Was it because he was bored? Yes! So what did the school do for him? Stick him in a Special Ed class! This was a total waste of time and lowered his self esteem and made him depressed. Teachers really do not know how to work with highly gifted creative kids. They expected him to fall in line and get those high grades. So he left Paly after the second year taking the high school equivalency test. We agreed that he would work. He was 16. Finally he realized that in order to achieve his goals (film making) he needed to go to college. Two years at Foothill and then two years at UCSC. Straight A's. At 21 he went to Vietnam to teach English for three years and then became the Director of a Media Arts Collective in Kathmandu, Nepal for two years. Decided to go to grad school. Perfect score in English on the GRE, Super high in Math.(taught himself) He's now in a, fully funded, Cultural Anthropology PhD program at Harvard. The Paly system crushed his spirit for so many years. Those were very dark and depressed times for all of us, just like the author above. It does not have to be that way. The schools are losing so many bright, creative kids to alternative creative schools. The ones that can't afford the private schools drop out of public school and struggle to find their way... Both my husband and daughter are clinical psychologist who see many of these kids in their private practice. We have to do better for these kids.


16 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 23, 2016 at 2:46 am

Interesting contrast to the people who struggle to afford housing.


11 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:11 am

I need to add one more note to what I previously wrote. I don't know what the program currently is in Cupertino School District, but when I taught there, it was exemplary. They had various ways of handling their gifted students. One was to allow grade school children to take classes at the junior high like math where they were so beyond their stated grade level that it was ridiculous. Another was to take them out of the regular class once a week for a period of time and to extra-curricular challenging things like run a news broadcast. And lastly, because I had one of these classes, my last stint there I had 36 (that's another issue) gifted and/or self-motivated students and I was challenged to make their time worth their while. Some excelled in one area and lagged in another. I had 4 reading groups and those that excelled were reading selected classics and high school material. Two were moving at grade level. The fourth needed extra help to catch up. All were exposed to exciting challenges like given a persona and figuring out the finances for a family and plan the living situation they could afford. I provided loads of extra materials (manipulative & other) that could fill every spare moment they might have in the classroom. And, the district provided a counselor who had group sessions with any of the children who struggled socially. I hope the district is still that good.


72 people like this
Posted by where are the gifted adults?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:55 am

I have worked in the tech industry at R&D positions for nearly 30 years. Prior to that I went to graduate school for an engineering PhD. In all of that time I have encountered only two individuals who I would say are gifted. I don't buy it. There can't be as many gifted children as parents claim there are. If there were, they would end up being more of my colleagues. I certainly don't consider myself to be gifted, even though I graduated in the top 5% of my college class, and have dozens of patents and publications. And I have never worked with a genius -- that's another category all together (think Einstein, Faraday, Newton, Shannon, etc).

Parents need to raise the bar for giftedness. Your children might be bright, but they are also lazy. And it's the lazyness that gets in the way of everything.






17 people like this
Posted by Giftedness and PAUSD
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 23, 2016 at 12:14 pm

Giftedness and PAUSD is a registered user.

My experience with PAUSD has been mixed, but overall I've been impressed with the effort, if not always the outcome. My daughter's IQ is 145 (high but not super-high as these things go), she is very creative, and she was reading before age 3. She is difficult to have in class because she is intense, sensitive, and reactive. It's just how she is built, though we work on it constantly. As with every kid, what makes her unique has pros and cons.

As she started getting into trouble early on in elementary school, the principal became very aware, was quite involved, and has worked with teachers to manage her behavior and differentiate the work. The open-ended assignments (esp english and art) have worked well. Math has been tougher to make work, with less differentiation in elementary, but hopefully the new curriculum will improve that. It really needs to get better, because many kids are sitting in class out of their minds with boredom, learning impatience, inattention, and general dislike of school.

I have a lot of admiration for the teachers who work with my daughter. Those who put in a lot of extra effort or have very flexible assignments are able to engage her and teach her, and they find it very rewarding. All her teachers have to manage her behavior in order to teach the rest of the class, which in itself is not easy. Inclusion and differentiation are tough on teachers, and Palo Alto has an unusually high number of differently-abled kids. Since PAUSD is electing to go down this route, class sizes need to stay small, teachers need to offer flexible assignments and actively welcome all kids, and basic lanes need to stay in place to put some bound on the amount of differentiation required of teachers. With this, and dedicated and experienced teachers, I think it can work, for all kids. I've seen encouraging signs, but I also recognize how difficult it is.


11 people like this
Posted by NoMoPa
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm

@where are the gifted adults - You have been spoiled by your education, industry, and peers. Try hiring for retail and you'll better appreciate the calibre of person you are used to.


6 people like this
Posted by Stanford Professor
a resident of Stanford
on Aug 24, 2016 at 7:49 am

I find this both sad and disturbing. While having the PA school system recognize her genius (along with most of our kids at Gunn) Sharon doesn’t seem to consider what this would mean for all the kids that don’t get into the GATE program. How would they feel? What would this mean for their self-esteem and confidence? Would they even try? It is just that sort of self-centeredness that feeds her anxiety and isolation, and also on a societal level allows for the rise of someone like Donald Trump.


17 people like this
Posted by clear your eyes please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:01 am

@Stanford Professor
Please read clearly the last paragraph of the article. The author doesn't claim to have a GATE program. She just suggest to have have SEL include something about giftedness so children fall into this category can also get some support. Why discriminate people of high learning abilities and assume they would never need help?


5 people like this
Posted by Start saving for private school
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:07 am

One of the reasons Palo Alto housing prices might see some downward trending in the future is because of the school problem. Seems like there are kids that are stressed out because they can't keep up...now we hear that there are kids that so gifted that they are having psychological problems and are bored. All of these problems probably stem from having too few teachers, too many students, and not enough personal attention to each student. I think that private school is a huge expense, but probably worth it at this point. When shopping for a house in Palo Alto, one may need to factor in hundreds of thousands of dollars into their future expenses to allow for private school.


17 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:25 am

@Stanford Professor

"what this would mean for all the kids that don’t get into the GATE program. How would they feel? What would this mean for their self-esteem and confidence?"

I hope that is a joke. How do all the kids feel who don't get onto a varsity team, who don't make the traveling band, who don't get the job at the newspaper, who don't get invited to the "popular" party, etc. Welcome to life. We cannot pretend to kids that they are all the same, or even that life is always perfectly fair.


5 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:55 am

I'm too lazy to re-read the article but I think the intention of the article was to make a plea for our current education system to consider some of the instructional aspects of more progressive [and probably private] schools: more formative [not graded] feedback on skills, more flexibility in grouping kids [say, putting a 3rd grade student advanced in math with 5th graders during math], and more willingness to give students choice on projects [which many teachers are already doing].

Although there are many aspects of teaching which should be up to the teacher, it would certainly make public school more satisfying and possibly effective if there were a more commonly shared philosophy. This philosophy might already exist but the channels of communication are not great. Parents often are not accurately informed about what is happening at school. Perhaps this is too idealistic, but we as a community could improve our communication skills.


7 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2016 at 7:42 am

"How do all the kids feel who don't get onto a varsity team, "

That depends a lot on whether the varsity team is the only game in town, literally, and there are no other similarly publicly funded options such as intramural sports teams. But who ever heard of a top ten school district that would provide no sports opportunities at the middle school level so that the City has to do it, and no intramural sports at the high school so that kids who just want to play but not at the varsity level could make sports a part if their lives? (That was sarcasm, in case it wasn't obvious.)

It's interesting you shoukd mention this because a friend just told me their kid did not make the cut on a team sport he has been playing. I asked what he was going to do, expecting to hear of an alternative. But the kid will have to find another sport! There is no alternative.

If a GATE program is properly implemented, every child will feel they are getting what they need. There is a ton of research on GATE children, it's not about creating a secret society, it's about helping everyone meet their potential including kids who can be very very advanced in some ways, and realizing that developmentally advanced compliant children are not the same thing. The trouble is, there is too much of a culture at Churchill that thinks their job is to avoid giving kids what they need, and to spend a hundred times more than it would cost on legal fees to avoid even thinking about it. [Portion removed.]


13 people like this
Posted by Rheinlander
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Rheinlander is a registered user.

Even the Prussians, as well as most of Europe, have gotten rid of the old Prussian system of education.

It doesn't allow for creativity or " late bloomers", and basically pigeonholes children from early childhood.

Incidentally, Europe had gone back to making kindergarten non-academic, rather than pushing young children too hard and risking that they will burn out early.

Most successful business people and entrepreneurs were educated in the Montessori system.


16 people like this
Posted by Focusing on What Matters
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 30, 2016 at 9:21 am

I'm revisiting this opinion piece because I've been mulling it over for a few months now. First, I'd like to congratulate Sharon on having the courage to speak up about her experiences. A documentary is currently in the works exploring the bias that our society has against the "gifted" - both as a word and as a set of people. You can learn more about the documentary here: Web Link.

Second, while California, and Palo Alto in particular, schools have largely abandoned their gifted programs, many other states continue to recognize the unique learning needs of children whose intellectual development is progressing at a quicker pace than their peer group or even than some of their own other skill development (such as gross motor skills, fine motor skills, social skills, emotional skills, etc.). There is a push for better equity, access and understanding across demographic and SES diverse groups of children. You can read more about that here: Web Link.

Third, we as a community could use an "update" on our understanding of "gifted" kids and their needs. Rather than seeing these children as just high achievers or very bright, we need to understand that this is a special needs category, especially when viewed in light of the Columbus Group's definition of "gifted" - "Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally."

Sharon is absolutely correct in saying that "gifted" children - and especially young children in elementary school with more jagged development patterns - often experience the world differently than we would expect, and are more vulnerable. We must understand that "doing school well" does not equate to "giftedness" and that "high achievement" doesn't either. In fact, some of these kids vulnerabilities and asynchronous development make it difficult for these children to "go along to get along."

Lastly, we should not expect that just because someone is "gifted" or asynchronous in their development that they will become the next Einstein or Marie Curie or Mozart. Is that really our benchmark? Or should our benchmark be that each person has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential in creating a meaningful and purposeful life? That could mean that a person who writes beautiful poetry has a day job doing something entirely different just so he or she can pursue her non-paying interest. We must change these "measures of success" and pressures we put on children to achieve, achieve, achieve at all costs. And we must recognize that more of our children experience asynchronous development than we realize. Some are just better at hiding it. Until they can't. And then it may be too late.


10 people like this
Posted by Thank you
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2016 at 9:03 am

@stanhutchings,
The achievement gap has little to do with gifted education. The achievement gap refers to the performance/outcomes difference between children in traditionally underrepresented minorities and the mainstream in school. There aren't many large apples to apples studies of homeschool students and testing, and homeschooling is changing, but that said, the largest study found that homeschoolers get better scores on average, even adjusted for all the demographic disadvantages, and including kids whose parents aren't that educated themselves. Most notably, there is also no achievement or gender gap with homeschooled children, i.e., the achievement gap comes from something in the public education system now that can be solved. There is no reason to believe that minorities are less inclined to benefit from an optimal education, and in fact the homeschool testing results demonstrate that.

As to your suggestion of there needing to be a wide gap, that is an outdated view of education, what you might call the "virtuoso model", in which education is geared to sorting for the virtuosi, and everyone else involved in the orchestral production is a wash out from that. For one, that kind of approach is like a creativity death ray. It also misses the boat entirely on giftedness, especially asynchronous development. I will not repeat @Focusing's excellent post just above mine, but it's really important to first understand what giftedness is.


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