Educational Options for Highly Gifted Students


Parent Comments

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©2004 Mary Codd
all rights reserved


Many parents have tried more than one type of schooling option in an effort to find the right academic fit for their child. In the vast majority of cases, parents felt a change of schools was necessary for their child because the child wasn't receiving appropriate accommodations for his or her advanced academic needs due to the child's giftedness. "They did not understand my child's extreme needs..." In some cases, parents felt that the school culture was unacceptable. They mentioned teasing, and bullying by other students because their child was different from the norm. "Bored bored bored. Teased. And tortured." They even described some instances of teachers that were hostile to their child. "AP teacher this year was hell-bent on "proving" the child not-so-good in math."

A few parents decided to move their child due to special needs related to learning disabilities (LDs). Although the questionnaire didn't ask about learning disabilities, parents mentioned seven children that had learning disabilities in sections on the questionnaire reserved for comments. In two of these cases parents said their child received accommodations for LDs. In the other cases the learning disabilities were undiagnosed and went unrecognized by the school, or if diagnosed, the school refused to provide accomodations for the child's LDs. One parent who reported her child received accommodations for his LDs felt the school situation was partially successful and did not make a change. However, the other six parents in this group tried, on average, three schooling options for each child.

In total, thirty-two of the 109 children are still in their original school placement. Some people have tried as many as five different options, depending upon the success of the current placement and their child's changing needs.

The vast majority of people (97) chose public or private school as a first option. Of those, 54 chose public school and 43 chose private school.

The Options

Public School:
Only 15 of the 54 people who chose public school as a first option stayed with it. None of these 15 people felt public school was a successful environment for their child, and 4 felt it was totally unsuccessful. Of the 75 ratings on the success/lack of success with public school placements, only 5 were rated as successful. 30 were rated as partially successful, and 40 were rated as unsuccessful.

Of the 88 public schools children attended, 66 were considered regular public school by parents, 16 were magnet schools and 6 were charter schools. In general magnet schools and charter schools didn't do much better than regular public schools. Even though several of these schools were supposed to be designed for gifted children, they were not at an advanced enough level to meet the needs of the students in the survey who attended them. Only one selective admission public high school for gifted students, one Montessori charter school and one Montessori magnet school were described as meeting highly gifted children's needs.

Private School:
Only 7 of the 43 people who chose private school as a first option stayed with the original school. Four of those 7 felt the private school was successful for their child, and the 3 parents that expressed only partial satisfaction said the school was doing it's best. Of the 61 comments on the success/lack of success with private school placements, 21 were rated as successful, 23 partially successful, and 17 unsuccessful.

Homeschool was chosen by 66 people, but it was only the first choice in 10 cases out of 109 first choices. All 10 of the people who chose homeschooling as their first choice have stayed with it. The other 56 people who tried homeschooling, tried public and/or private schools first. Comments about homeschooling were overwhelmingly positive. Fifty-five people judged it to be successful for their child, 6 said it was partially successful and only 3 felt that homeschooling was unsuccessful. Fifty-two homeschooled children were involved with a homeschool group, and 24 were in some kind of homeschool co-operative.

A parent of an eleven year old who felt homeschooling was not successful said, "Her abilities are way beyond mine at this point and she craves specialized teachers- which although we have three tutors now it is not enough." It might be time for this parent to investigate college classes, since twelve years old is the average age that children in this survey started taking colleges classes.

Additional Educational Resources:
Distance learning was used frequently, with 79 options checked by parents. The single most popular distance learning program, checked 32 times, was Stanford's EPGY program. Summer programs and early college both online classes and on campus classes were also popular options for meeting the academic needs of highly gifted children who are often ready for the pace and rigor of college classes at a young age.


Clearly no educational option was an unqualified success with all the children. In fact, a placement that worked well initially often lasted only for a year or two before parents needed to find a different situation for their child.

In rare cases public schools were fairly successful in meeting the needs of highly gifted students, but these were not traditional public schools. They were either specifically for highly gifted children, or were Montessori schools were the children were encouraged to learn at their own pace. Public and private school gifted programs were no guarantee of a good fit for the highly gifted child, because most were designed to meet the needs of moderately gifted children. As a whole private schools seemed to be more willing to try various accomodations for highly gifted students, although a few private schools let parents know that if they didn't like the school's offerings they could go elsewhere.

Homeschooling received the most positive comments by a wide margin over public school and private school. None of the homeschoolers used a packaged curriculum exclusively. Instead, most homeschooling families chose a flexible form of homeschooling that could change as their child's needs changed, and utilized a variety of resources including tutors, mentors, online classes and co-operative learning with other homeschoolers. In addition, some families that homeschooled enrolled their child in school part-time for social reasons or for classes they didn't want to teach at home.

Other homeschooling families used a year or two of public high school, or as little as semester, as a transition before moving on to early college. Generally, in the cases where public high school was employed for a period of time, it wasn't planned as a short transition phase. Once enrolled in high school, families and students often found that the classes lacked depth and were still too slow for the highly gifted student's optimal pace of learning, even when the student was significantly younger than high school age.

According to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, an organization that serves the needs of highly gifted children, at any given time, roughly one-third of the families they serve homeschool. Among the families in this survey, over half (60) are homeschooling, 29 are using public school, and 19 are in private school. (These numbers indicate their current placement, or the final schooling option they used prior to their child entering college fulltime.)

The high percentage of homeschoolers in this survey may not be representative of all families of highly gifted children. It is possible that families homeschooling highly gifted children are more likely to use the Internet email discussion groups where this survey was announced, than the families who are successfully using public and private schools to meet their children's academic needs. It is also possible that the families who took the time to contribute information for this survey have had an unusually difficult time finding the right educational fit for their child in public and private schools. Personally, I don't believe the latter is the case. In the past five years I have participated in online email support groups and conferences for families with gifted children, and the comments in this survey seem to be representative of those online discussions.

In any case, it is evident from all of the parents' responses that educating a highly gifted child in a manner that addresses their asynchronies and meets their academic, social, and emotional needs can be a challenging endeavor.