The Alienation of Gifted Families by Our Public Schools: Working the System

Public schools are failing our gifted learners and this is an undeniable, well-documented  and widely-proclaimed fact. Gifted advocacy is critical to improving the educational, social and emotional lives of our gifted children.

November 2012 was my turning point: in the midst of my family’s own battle with our gifted son’s public school to try to get the appropriate education he needed, I turned to gifted advocacy to do my part to help change the increasing failure of our public schools to adequately educate our gifted learners. A sleepless night and my growing frustration with the school’s incomprehension of our gifted son’s unique learning needs led me to create a Facebook page for parents of gifted children in my city in Alabama. My intent was to find a local group of parents of gifted children for support and commiseration–misery loves company, right? This directly led to the establishment of an active, parent-led gifted advocacy group, the North Alabama Association for Gifted Children. It was full of dissatisfied but motivated parents like me. And now, I will forever be a passionate advocate for all gifted children.

Keeping up with all that is happening in the world of gifted learners is paramount to me and I have heard, over and over, about the struggle parents of gifted learners have trying to get their child’s school to recognize, acknowledge and teach to their child’s giftedness. Parent after parent, on blogs, on Twitter, in person, in advocacy group meetings–all tell the same tale: our public schools are neglecting our gifted learners and alienating parents by refusing to provide the necessary education our gifted learners need and deserve.

This is a monumental problem across the U. S. as demonstrated by the backlash from parents, mental health professionals, and gifted education professionals. Blogs from disgruntled parents, articles written by world and national gifted organizations, the growing number of gifted advocacy groups and the exploding number of gifted students turning to homeschooling all reveal the dissatisfaction with the education gifted children are receiving in our public schools. But this problem is, of course, complex.

My next two posts will each be discussing one of two key factors responsible for the alienation of the families of our gifted learners by our public schools. This first post will discuss the strained relationship between parents and schools.

Part One: Working the System with Honey

The following is a quote from a recent lengthy forum thread posted on a parent advocacy group website in regard to how to work with your school to get the necessary education for your gifted child:

 “As many people pointed here on the forum, we need to go thru the correct channels (subject teacher, gifted specialist, principal , and so on….) and request for correct procedure / testing… All this using correct language. And it doesn’t end here… Make sure you come out with correct plans for your child at the end of the meeting. I have experienced that just asking the teacher or principal for more challenging work or enrichment for your child is not enough, ask for specific differentiation, subject or grade acceleration ‘formally’. Fill out the forms (if any) or requests and send them to specific people as mentioned in the ‘Acceleration Procedure’ document. Provide all the material and test scores that you think are important to earn the acceleration for your child. Remember, if you are new to the system, you won’t have teachers who can support your claim. Follow up respectfully and diligently, because everyone is busy and have ‘other’ more important priorities. Keep asking for replies and meetings to discuss further. Ask for specific dates and follow up on those dates. To earn something, you always need to work hard for it! That is the truth.”

Whoa!  Back up the train!  Must we really have to work to earn our child’s education?

After reading this, I was angry and saddened by the reality that a parent truly feels that in order to make sure her gifted child receives the education that he needs and deserves, she has to be careful to work the school system and chain of command properly so she doesn’t risk losing her child’s needed and already-earned education. This following response was by a gifted teacher who was also posting in this thread:

“Sue, if you have spoken with the GT specialist and the classroom teacher about accelerating your child and they aren’t following the acceleration plan, I would suggest scheduling a conference with all of the stakeholders and bring a copy of it (acceleration plan) with you. Like I’ve stated before, make sure you coat your comments with “honey,” but make sure they understand that you want what’s best for your child and expect the proper method of acceleration to be followed. You might even discover that more has been attempted than you realize. Of course, you might not, but there’s always hope!”

 “Make sure you coat your comments with honey”? Yes, we need to be nice and polite and considerate in all of our social interactions. But, as parents of gifted learners, are we now resigned to having to sugar-coat our words or else the school will deny our children the education they NEED and DESERVE?

Another gifted parent posted this as her Facebook status recently: Yesterday and today were overwhelming (in good ways)… so much relief. We’ve spent the last year advocating for our 2E daughter at school and now have a great plan in place, and an excellent support team.” 

Should your gifted child, a 2E child at that, be expected to wait a year to receive the education they need? Is this what we as parents expect and accept from our public school system? We all know that funding is always an issue for gifted programs in public schools as these programs are the first to get cut when budgets need trimming. However, some strategies such as subject acceleration, grade acceleration and differentiation within the classroom do not always require extra funding. So, why are parents having to use “honey” to nicely prod schools to provide these to our gifted students?

The topic of how to work the system in the examples above are not unique–not at all. I see, hear, talk and read about this very issue everyday–parents who complain that they can’t get their school system to provide the appropriate education for their gifted child, parents who are asking each other for advice on how to work the system properly to ensure their gifted child receives the education he needs, and parents complaining because they are tired of having to repeatedly ask and beg the school system for the appropriate education for their child. The result: gifted families are turning to homeschooling, alternative schools, and private schools. This is demonstrated by evidence that gifted learners seem to be the single fastest-growing student population turning to homeschooling.

How do you feel about having to properly work the chain of command and beg your child’s school with sugar-coated words in order to make sure your child gets the education he needs? Want to know what I think about having to work the system with sugar-coated words? Want to know what my response is?

Here’s my own post on the lengthy forum thread on the parent advocacy group website mentioned previously:

“We need to all work together to try to overcome all the various issues. The one unfortunate fact that remains is that there are a record number of parents who are tired of having to “nicely” work the chain of command in the system and still are unable to get the challenging education their gifted child needs; these parents are, in growing numbers, turning to homeschooling and private schools with successful results. We need to work together to make changes, and changes can happen. But if parents have to continue to work, earn, use “gentle reminders” and “honey” to get the education their gifted child needs and deserves, our public schools will soon be the last place to find gifted students.”

Advocacy is essential to help improve the educational, social and emotional lives of our gifted children, and to help reverse the alienation of our gifted families by our public schools BECAUSE if public schools don’t change, public schools will soon be the last place to find gifted students.


Part Two: Myths and Misunderstanding: Teachers Who Don’t. Get. Gifted!


18 Comments on “The Alienation of Gifted Families by Our Public Schools: Working the System

  1. Pingback: Gifted Relationships. The Silver Lining in the Gifted Storm | Crushing Tall Poppies

  2. Pingback: Myths and Misunderstanding: Teachers Who Don’t. Get. Gifted! | Crushing Tall Poppies

  3. Pingback: My Recommendations for an Effective SFUSD GATE RedesignSF Public School Mom

  4. My son is a highly gifted 2E student in a private school. It’s not a private gifted school, though, and in many ways it operates like a public school in terms of how quickly it addresses students like my son. Over the years, because he is 2E — though we JUST managed to get that designation through testing this year after several years — only a handful of educators, those who understand gifted kids, even recognized his abilities. He’s otherwise been viewed as a good student (straight As) who is methodical (i.e. not as fast as they expect gifted kids to be) in his approach to his work. The opportunities to elevate his experience has been fairly non-existent, but we have been able to get accommodations for the other side of 2E.

    If he was given the opportunity to take on more challenging work, most teachers could see how far my son can take things. But how often is a teacher going to make a change for someone who seems to be doing “just fine” in their opinion? He has straight As after all. The only challenges he has faced are being a slower, less-interested reader and sitting through tedious math homework. Otherwise, he gets his work done and spends a lot of his time thinking about his Minecraft projects and how that jet pack he’s been designing in his head might be more eco-friendly.

    My son is in a weekend gifted program, and it’s there that learning really becomes something for him. We are thankful to have that. It helps keep everyone going while we trudge through finding a better fit for him in his “regular” school. Our revised IEP meeting is next month, and we have a social worker who seems very interested in addressing both sides of the 2E. As a parent, I am ALWAYS looking for the angles, always keeping on keeping on. When I find someone on the school side who seems to understand that gifted isn’t just about how quickly kids do their work, I think that this time we might actually get that door open more than a crack.

    It’s our educational system’s collective unfortunate choice that gifted kids aren’t found ways to fulfill their potential. As a parent, it won’t be mine, even if I can’t get our school totally on board.

    • Traci, yours is the same story as so many others. After reading your story, I began to wonder, how many high school football coaches would allow a gifted quarterback to languish while he tended to less-able football players. Or how many theatrically gifted teens would be given lesser parts in the school play so that the less-skilled actors could gain more experience taking on the lead roles in the play? In school, a child’s strengths and gifts in music and athletics are used and often celebrated, but not when it comes to intellectual giftedness.

      You are right, “it’s our educational system’s choice” not to fulfill the potential of gifted children. It’s a sad state of affairs. Advocacy is needed desperately–many loud, consistent voices!

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Traci!

  5. Schools and teachers could do a better job with our gifted students if we weren’t being punished constantly for not meeting political expectations with struggling learners – that is where the money and the resources are focused because if we don’t force struggling learners to succeed to a prescribed level, we get punished by your legislators. Just sayin’.

    • I absolutely know that–I was a public school teacher also. And although the entire educational system is not working for nearly all students and teachers, there are uncaring teachers just like there are pushy parents. I’ve been on both sides, so I do understand. The problem is bigger than teachers and parents. We all need to work together to try to bring about changes because it will be more than just the high-achievers and gifted children suffering. It gave me hope seeing the many voices on Twitter participating in the #whatif @arneduncan Twitter Storm recently!

      Carrie, thanks for hanging in there in the classroom and for leaving your thoughts here!

  6. I actually think that public schools really don’t want gifted kids and are relieved when they go away. They just don’t fit the purpose of public education, i.e. ensuring acquisition of skills (standards) based on chronological age. Countries that focus primarily on standards in the education of their children will never deal well with kids whose cognitive function exceeds the norm. Unfortunately, this focus will eventually lead to economic decline because the country no longer has a sufficient population of innovators. Sad . . .

    • Mari, it sure seems that way, doesn’t it? That schools don’t really want our gifted kids? I do know that schools do a better job at serving high-achieving students, whether they are gifted or not. The miseducation of our gifted kids hurts them and all of us.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mari!

  7. Depending on the level of giftedness, in the year–or 2 or 3–required to get an appropriate education, your child can be badly damaged if the school or teacher resents gifted children.

  8. I am interested in your facebook group. I am not in Alabama, but I am only 45 minutes from the Alabama line in Tennessee. I cannot find advocacy and am stressed to the max with my oldest daughter’s public education. I would LOVE to connect with other parents, but wasn’t sure the name of the group.

  9. I am always saying that homeschooling my three kids is way less work and way less stressful then sending them to school. I know that no one believes me…unless they had gifted kids in a school system 😉 I would love to know where the information about gifted learners being the single fastest growing population turning to homeschooling – that is fabulous and I am always looking for good information to pass along to those who are (constantly) questioning our decision to homeschool.

  10. Many parents feel the same way you do – “it’s just not worth it!” Homeschooling is such an excellent alternative to regular school and it allows gifted kids to receive all of the differentiation, acceleration and fast-paced learning they need without the stress of having to jump through hoops!

  11. I was a reluctant homeschooler, but now that I am doing it, I cannot imagine going through the fight to get her back into school.

    Just thinking about all the drama I will have to endure just to get my child a basically adequate education exhausts me. We will be moving to a new state soon, so last night I was reading up on the new local school gifted program. The hoops and regulations to jump through to get into the good schools, and the gifted program (They only test 2 weeks out of the year!!) is so tired. WHY. WHY should we have to struggle to get our kids an education. My child would be entering school 2-3 grade levels above her peers, and I would expect a year long fight to get her a mostly inadequate acceleration and education plan. Blah. Not worth it. (not to mention that each year the teachers change, and you have to retrain them….)

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