Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

12 September 2008

Schooling Scandal

Clark @ 2:41 PM

Ok, I’m outraged. No kids in our elementary school have qualified for GATE (Gifted & Talented), including my own.  That’s surprising, since we’ve some extremely smart kids.  There are several in each classroom who are selected for special recognition at the end of the year and everything.  The evaluation for GATE is the Otis-Lennon test, a reasonably well-regarded assessment of abstract thinking and reasoning ability.

So what do I find out?  That we’re not teaching the skills that are evaluated by this test!  We’re teaching a bunch of rote things, and not the skills that will be the differentiators in the coming years.  Thanks, NCLU  (No Child Left Untested).

Now, I realize that schools are hurting for money, and it’s a dire mess, politically and practically.  The responsibility goes right on up to the decision makers in DC.  So the school district is forced into playing funny games; apparently, the GATE money is going to teacher training, with the belief that this will help them inculcate these skills in the children.  However, that’s not working.

I don’t know how close my son came (my daughter was only tested yesterday for the first time), as they oddly don’t let us know the results (except not/qualify).  However, teachers are not able to take the time for teaching these skills, and they ought to be. Yes, kids need to learn to read and write and do mathematical reasoning, but they’re only getting science since a group duns money from the parents to add it in, and they’re not getting the early exposure to the reasoning skills in a systematic way.

I’m afraid to think that the school district doesn’t want any kids to pass, because then they’d have to do things for them.  Our curriculum’s broken in serious ways, and our politicians aren’t making it better.  We need to be teaching reasoning skills and abstract problem-solving (even practice for these tests).  Now, I need an action plan.


  1. Clark – I was a GATE teacher for 4 years as well as a GATE student since 1st grade, so let me ask an important question: why do you feel your kids should be in GATE? Honestly, the reason I found many parents were frustrated if their kids didn’t qualify, was because they felt it was some special honor society or something. In other words, they wanted their kids in GATE because it would look good on a resume and it would reflect well upon the parents, similar to their child being accepted into an ivy league school.

    The reality is that most kids who “just barely” missed the qualification standards, were the type of students I liked to call the “Golden Window” kids. These were kids whose IQ’s were certainly higher than the average, so we know they will do well in their academic endeavors. They were also kids who tended to have a strong work ethic, so they didn’t mind doing the hard work and studying to get their good grades. These were kids who tended to have caring, involved parents who taught their kids strong values. In other words, these were kids who were destined for success and achievement! They are the ones who go on to be Eagle Scouts, honor society memebers, magna cum laude, CEOs, Governors, etc. They are the pillars of society.

    Contrast this with kids like my father, whose IQ is so off the charts (6 standard deviations from the norm), that he has a difficult time connecting with “normal” people – he simply doesn’t “fit in”. He dropped out of high school. Today he is a PhD and college professor. I had a student in GATE that taught himself to read at age 2.5 and was reading Mark Twain in kindergarten! He was in remedial reading classes in 3rd grade because he filled in the bubbles in the pattern of a happy face! What do you think a Kindergarten teacher is going to do with a kid like this in her class? How do you think kids like this fit in with their peers? They do what Marilyn Monroe said smart girls do: play dumb. Either that or they struggle with being a “freak” all their lives. GATE classes are supposed to help these kids, not the “Golden Window” kids. I taught GATE kids who were rich and poor; socially adept and socially “retarded”; straight A students and straight F students; clean cut and grunge/goth; pop music fans and Marilyn Manson fans. You get the picture.

    GATE classes are supposed to be an intervention to prevent the most at-risk population in our schools from dropping out, committing white color crimes or suicide (GATE kids are at higher risk for suicide and drop out than all others). Yet these are the students whose creativity and intellectual genius could discover a cure for cancer or the secret to fusion. If your school is failing to provide a quality education, then why would you think the GATE program at the same school will provide that?

    You may be very correct that the school sets the standard so high that no one can pass, so they don’t have to “do something for them.” However, most schools get funding for these types of programs based on enrollment numbers, requiring the school to foot, say 30% of the funding, while the state foots the remaining 70%, for example. So its to their advantage to have the program. Each school district is usually allowed to set the bar at whatever level they want; its variable. So if you really want your kid(s) in GATE, perhaps switch schools or districts.

    Ultimately, you need to know why you want your kids in GATE. Is it because they are at-risk for dropping out or suicide because they are so dramatically different from their peers because they are so extremely intelligent? Or is it because you’d like to see them pushed a little harder, so they can be a part of a perceived “elite” group of students? GATE is supposed to solve the first problem, not latter.

    Sorry for the mini-novel. This is subject about which I have a lot of passion and experience.

    Comment by Richard — 13 September 2008 @ 8:32 PM

  2. Richard, thanks for the thoughtful response. Let me be clear: I don’t mind if my kids aren’t legitimately GATE. I only care that they try their best, and then we’ll welcome what they are able to do. I don’t think they’re off-the-charts, though I reckon they’re probably close to your Golden Window.

    What I really DO mind is that the school isn’t (able to be) teaching the type of reasoning that the GATE test (Otis-Lennon) looks for. I think it’s learnable, and I’d certainly like the kids to be familiar with the logic and format of the test to have the best chance. I also firmly believe that those types of skills that will be the differentiators, individually and societally, going forward. It’s actually a very good school, staffed by talented and caring principal and teachers, being hammered by the political decisions on funding and curriculum.

    So sorry if this seemed a whinge about GATE, it’s really about schools and priorities.

    Comment by Clark — 14 September 2008 @ 6:07 AM

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