Published in Volume 1, chapter 2, of A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, these are the common reasons why acceleration is not accepted in America.
Author: Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. & Gross, M.
Publications: Excerpt from A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students
Publisher: University of Iowa College of Education Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development
Volume: Vol. 1
Reason #1: Teachers lack familiarity with acceleration. Educators in most schools are unfamiliar with the research evidence on acceleration’s benefits.
Response: A primary goal of this report is to eliminate this barrier This comprehensive two-volume report brings together extensive research on acceleration, and the report is available to all schools at no cost.
Reason #2: Confidence about acceleration isn’t running high. K-12 educators may know about acceleration as an intervention, but they don’t feel confident in using this option.
Response: We respect that educators make decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their students. The overwhelming evidence about the many academic and social advantages of acceleration should make educators confident enough to consider acceleration.
Reason #3: Acceleration runs counter to personal beliefs. When personal beliefs conflict with research evidence, personal beliefs win out almost every time.
Response: This report invites introspection and dialogue between educators and parents, asking them to reevaluate their beliefs concerning acceleration.
Reason #4: Age trumps everything else. For many educators, age — not readiness — has become the primary determinant for grade placement.
Response: The notion that age equates to grade is out of tune with what we know about individual differences. Research reveals that gifted students are more academically and emotionally advanced than their typical age-mates. Therefore, it makes more sense to think about readiness, rather than age, as the main determinant for grade placement.
Reason #5: Safe is better than sorry. Most teachers see non-acceleration as the safer option–they feel that doing nothing is not harmful.
Response: Doing nothing is not the same as “do no harm”. Choosing not to accelerate is itself an intervention. The evidence indicates that when children’s academic and social needs are not met, the result is boredom and disengagement from school.
Reason #6: Acceleration is not taught in Colleges of Education. These organizations, which train teachers, do not prepare teachers and administrators to make decisions about acceleration.
Response: Abundant research material is available, yet professors in Colleges of Education do not present it to future teachers. This report will help inform them. We know that faculty respect research and we hope that they will infuse this information into their course content.
Reason #7: It’s bad to push kids. Teachers and parents see acceleration as hurrying children through childhood.
Response: Acceleration is allowing a student to move at an appropriate pace. By worrying about hurrying, a chance is missed to match the enthusiastic, passionate, bright child who has the ability to move ahead with the right curriculum. They ignore the bright student’s rage to learn.
Reason #8: New friends are hard to make. Educators fear that children who are accelerated will not adjust well socially to the new class.
Response: Social adjustment in a school setting is a complicated issue. Some accelerated children do not adjust easily or immediately. Children who have felt out of place with students of their own age may need time to develop social confidence. Although the evidence on social success in accelerated setting is not clear-cut as the evidence on academic success, it is still much more positive than negative. Acceleration broadens the friendship group. Many gifted children gravitate to older children, so making friends becomes easier.
Reason #9: Individual kids are less important than equal opportunity for all. Individual differences have been sacrificed in political battles and culture wars about schooling.
Response: When educators confuse equity with sameness, they want all students to have the same curriculum at the same time. This is a violation of equal opportunity. When it comes to acceleration, the majority of children do not need it. In fact, it would be a disadvantage for them both academically and socially. But for the children who need it, acceleration is their best chance for an appropriate, challenging education. We know a lot about assessing ability and creating programming tailored to accommodate individual differences. The cornerstone of education is the flexibility to recognize the needs of the individual child. This flexibility is sometimes lost, however, when political and cultural pressures homogenize the learning needs of individuals and we pretend that there are no meaningful learning differences. Closing our eyes to children’s educational differences is neither democratic nor helpful. Every classroom teacher knows that children have distinct academic and social needs. Acceleration is a respectful recognition of individual differences as well as a means for addressing them.
Reason #10: It will upset other kids. Teachers sometimes fear that accelerating a child will diminish the self-esteem of other students.
Response: This is an important issue. Whatever we do in schools should be based on a respect and concern for all students. In fact, this level of sensitivity is one of the things that makes America special. However, kids are used to seeing age-peers progress at different rates in many settings such as sports and music. In school, the idea of accelerating one or two children is not likely to negatively affect the class.
Reason #11: There will be gaps in the child’s knowledge. Teachers are concerned that accelerated students will have gaps in their understanding of concepts.
Response: We accelerate students because they are well ahead of their age-peers in their academic development and knowledge. Gifted students are swift learners and any gaps quickly disappear.
Reason #12: Disasters are memorable. Unsuccessful cases of acceleration exist, but the numbers have been exaggerated as have the reasons for lack of success.
Response: Good news doesn’t make the news. Bad news, on the other hand, sells papers and travels fast in communities. People will repeat stories or greatly exaggerate the situation about an unsuccessful acceleration, even without first-hand knowledge. Researchers acknowledge that acceleration is not perfect and some situations may be less than ideal, but such cases frequently stem from incomplete planning or negative attitudes. We need to respect that even an intervention that is very positive is not fail-safe. A few poor decisions do not negate the importance of considering acceleration as an option. Excellent planning can minimize failures.
The bottom line: Acceleration works. It must be included in the conversation about how to educate a highly capable child. It is time we stopped deceiving ourselves and our children.
The full two-volume report can be downloaded at http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/.
©2004 A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.