Jay Mathews’s June 21 column, “Why are American schools slowing down so many bright children?” echoes the question first asked in the seminal work of research on acceleration in gifted education, A Nation Deceived, and repeated eleven years later in A Nation Empowered: why is there such resistance to providing some students with the acceleration they need to be able to learn?
The answer is simple: many educators are ignoring rafts of research in support of the practice of acceleration, instead embracing “conventional wisdom” based on unfounded fears about social-emotional “damage” to accelerated children. It’s harmful and at times frustrating, and more than anything, it’s holding back our brightest students.
While school districts or teams might offer myriad “reasons” to be concerned about accelerating a student, the fact remains that education research overwhelmingly concludes that acceleration done correctly helps students grow. In fact, it supports students not just academically, but socially and psychologically, as well.
The authors of A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered detail twenty different types of acceleration, all of which are supported by decades and volumes of research. While the size of the effects vary by type of acceleration, all grade-based acceleration methods (and several subject-based methods, as well) reflect small-to-moderate positive effects in students’ social-emotional well-being alongside the substantial academic gains one might expect (Rogers, A Nation Empowered, Vol. 2).
Ability-grouping students results in remarkable growth for children who might otherwise stagnate in and disengage from school. In fact, the research of Dr. Karen Rogers, whose synthesis of acceleration effects appears in A Nation Empowered, shows that over a given school year, gifted students grouped with peers of similar ability levels will grow one-and-a-half years at the elementary level, and one-and-a-third years in high school (Rogers, Re-Forming Gifted Education, 2002).
Surely at a time when we repeatedly hear that American schoolchildren are not growing enough academically, such results are both encouraging and exciting — one would expect any method which has students suddenly showing 133-150% of a year’s growth to be immediately embraced and widely adopted by educators and administrators. Sadly, however, acceleration continues to be underused, burdened as it is by “myths of social maladjustment and psychological problems,” despite having these old saws repeatedly refuted by research (Rogers, ibid.).
Giving gifted students the chance to fulfill their potential and make these extraordinary gains does no disservice to other students, but does provide a tremendous opportunity for these students to grow and learn. By continuing to ignore research-based, proven principles that can generate tremendous positive results, we as a nation continue to fail our brightest students and miss out on the remarkable achievements and discoveries of which they are truly capable.