Gifted education in public schools: Massachusetts vs. Florida perspectives

As a general rule, whatever is sacred in Massachusetts is illegal in Florida and vice versa. In MA, there is no state funding for gifted programs and the typical town-run public school system has no differentiation until 8th or 9th grade. The idea that children of all abilities go through material at a single level, with some bored and some lost, is sacred. In FL, by contrast, county-run school districts are required by state law to offer gifted education beginning in 2nd grade. Parking an academically-inclined student in a grade-level classroom is actually illegal.

A friend and I were chatting about this while on a walk with his dog in Wellesley, Maskachusetts back during my August trip up and down the East Coast. A neighbor walking her own dog joined the conversation and opined that public schools shouldn’t have gifted education because it tended to result in racial segregation, with Black students left behind, for example.

Where had she attended school? Milton Academy ($64,000/year for day students) and then an Ivy League college. Had she sent her own children to the Wellesley Public Schools where they could receive the benefits of sitting in a classroom with a diversity of academic talent if not a diversity of skin color? No. They also went to Milton Academy and then on to the Ivies.

Has the lack of gifted education in Maskachusetts public schools resulted in racial harmony? Let’s check NBC:

At one point, the teen grabbed a bigger stone, threatened the victim with it and called him “boy” and the N-word, according to the police narrative. …

The victim also wrote in his statement that the other juvenile “started laughing and called me George Floyd, obviously making fun of me and showing NO remorse.”

17 thoughts on “Gifted education in public schools: Massachusetts vs. Florida perspectives

  1. I can confirm that the “gifted” education is virtually nil for grades K-8th in our posh public school district in Northern California. They only care about getting the lowest performing students “over the bar.”

    There are AP classes in high school, however.

    It’s interesting that any difference in outcomes is automatically considered biased and/or racist. I cannot believe the SAT has been discarded using this so-called “reasoning.”

    Critical thinking is getting more rare.

  2. I don’t think AP classes existed when I went to public middle school and high school in MA in the late ’70s – early ’80s. They did have what I think was called “tracking” for grades 7 & 8 after some kind of aptitude test was given in the 6th grade. Then students were placed in a level of 1 to 5, for example 7th grade/level 1 or 7-1 and continued through 8th grade, usually at the same level. It was no secret that level 1 was lowest and level 5 highest. The different levels only mixed at recess and lunch. The lower levels were encouraged to go to the vocational school and the higher levels to the high school.

    • In Florida, several coworkers children ended up spending their Jr and Sr high school years attending the local community college full-time rather then the high school, and graduated with their high school class with a HS diploma and an AS or AA degree at 17 or 18 y/o, then on to a 4-year university as a college Jr.

  3. Florida tends to use traditional IQ tests for gifted eligibility, unlike more “holistic” sorting by teachers used in blue states, Gifted is 130, “talented” is 115 to 129, so 1 in 40 kids and 1 in 6 kids respectively.

    But there is an alternative path, literally called “Plan B,” whereby kids In the free lunch program get a 15 IQ point handicap, such that for instance talented becomes gifted,. So even in Florida gifted programs are not all white and Asian.

  4. I think it is questionable whether “gifted” education accomplishes much before the kid is in his or her teens. Kids who are characterized as gifted at young ages typically turn out to be not at all gifted but in fact quite ordinary. In addition the public school system has to aim for the median just like public everything aims to satisfy the median. Rather than paying attention to this nonsense, parents would probably do better figuring out just what their kids are gifted in and arranging a tutor in that subject or subjects for a few hours a week. A couple of hours with a tutor will accomplish way more than sitting in a large classroom with peers, gifted or not, and mediocre teachers — I mean how many public school teachers are really of the caliber to advance truly gifted student?

    • My favorite is if kids are smart, give them side projects that they will not touch in school.

      If they progressively get ahead in specific classes, this just ensures that they get bored in the future.

      If math is too easy, teach them robotics or even something obscure like tax law.

      But being at 10th grade math level in 7th grade is not an advantage, it is simply kicking the can down the road.

    • Viking: Our next door neighbors had exactly the situation you describe: middle schoolers who were at the high school math level. They took high school math classes at the Florida Virtual School (founded in the 1990s) while staying with their peers in the middle school for some other subjects. What about when they got to high school? Florida high school students are entitled to take college classes for free and the state has to buy them the textbooks as well.

      jdc: A teacher doesn’t have to be Wile E. Coyote IQ 207 Super Genius to teach a gifted class. He/she/ze/they can simply give a 2nd grader who is at the 4th grade level in various subjects 4th grade material in those subjects. That teacher doesn’t have to be any smarter than a 4th grade teacher. The challenge for the Florida gifted or mixed-gifted classroom teacher is teaching multiple levels within the same class, not teaching General Relativity.

      Your idea that a child who is at the 6th grade level in math should sit bored through 3rd grade math because he/she/ze/they is in 3rd grade makes you a perfect candidate to live and vote in Maskachusetts!

  5. Surprising the Greenspuns didn’t already head to college, Greenspun being age 60. That was a very old age to be raising school age kids, long ago, but the amount of bread men now have to win before being worth a woman’s time is a lot more than it used to be. Elon is another high profile breadwinner who will be 70 before some of his kids go to college.

    • lion: It was exciting to turn 60 a couple of days ago. Now I have to wait only 20 more years before I am old enough to run for U.S. president!

    • At age 58, my best friend from childhood just had his first child w/ his 33 y/o second wife. My friend’s other two children w/ his first wife are older than wife #2. I recently made is day when I advised him that when he retires from his (second) government job in four years at age 62, the new child will be able to collect SS at about half of what the father collects until age 18.

    • FB: The Chinese have an adoption age limit of 49 (for both parents; being a “single parent” is illegal in China) and a higher average IQ than ours, so I think 49 should be the hard limit. My standard line is “If you think that teenage parenting is bad that’s only because you haven’t seen geriatric parenting.”

    • FB, it is individual. My rule of thumb: have children while you can bench-press 100% of your body weight and multiply 2 digit numbers in your head.
      Ideally you want father’s BMI be low and him be able could bench press 200% + of his body weight and multiple 4-digit numbers without calculator, but it is not required

  6. Gifted programs are about attention seeking and social status. Parents patting themselves on the back for birthing children with good genetics. IQ is largely constant from an early age and not improved by education or hard work nor parenting. It’s a distraction for most students and teachers, focused on those who don’t need help and who won’t benefit materially from it. Not unlike typical Republican ideology. What’s the point in giving a kid a six month or a years head start, in some limited accedemic domains, in the long run?

    • SenorP: If IQ is constant/genetic and it isn’t worth giving children material that challenges their minds because their adult IQ won’t be affected, why not emulate New York/Boston/San Francisco/LA during their first 18 months of coronapanic and eliminate public schools? There would be a huge savings to the taxpayer! (Though, of course, none of the public school employees in the aforementioned cities lost any income while the students were losing an education.)

      Separately, why is the long-term outcome the only measure of whether the Florida state law makes sense? What if above-grade-level children can have a more enjoyable time during their 13 years of public school? Why isn’t that a sufficient reason to refrain from boring them with material far below what they’re ready for? Even if there is no long-term advantage in the job market, I would still prefer a child to be given assignments at his/her/zir/their level simply so the child looks forward to going to school every day and has a good time once there.

    • SenorP i was the one who studied first year college math while in the 6th grade. That was 45 years ago. I can definitely tell that I’m much higher in the food chain now than the rest of my former classmates…. Slowing down for everyone else to catch up felt as cruel punishment. This I highly applaud Florida laws. Hiring tutors may be prohibitively expensive for some parents.

    • Alex Alex: In pointing out that not every family has the resources to pay tutors, you highlight a fundamental divide between Maskachusetts and Florida. In MA, the assumption is that smart children originate only in elite families and, therefore, arranging for private school, tutors, etc. will be straightforward. In FL, however, the smart kids who grow up in working class and middle class homes are considered.

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