Posted in education, schools

My thoughts on normal grade-skipping

Despite a preponderance of evidence showing that skipping a grade is overwhelmingly beneficial for very bright and capable students, when done for the right reasons and within a supportive school, this once-common practice has very much fallen out of fashion in the U.S. over the last few decades. Why might that be?

Many schools now have a much better range of options for gifted students. Whereas once the answer to a precocious kid who was felt bored and unchallenged was to skip her or him ahead a grade or two, now teachers and administrators are more likely to:

1. Switch the student to a gifted track. These students are all the same grade level, but much more advanced than the rest of their peers.

2. Provide different or extra assignments, like longer and more detailed research papers or additional, more complicated math problems.

3. Group students according to ability, interest, and strength. Not to the creepy extreme of Sudbury’s “age-mixing magic,” but within maybe a range of two to four years.

4. Make small groups within the class, so students of similar abilities and talents can work together.

5. Enroll the student in classes at a local college.

6. Provide enrichment programs; i.e., extracurricular activities, classes with advanced study, tutoring, and/or the ability to pursue hobbies and special interests.

7. Enroll the student in AP classes (in the U.S. and Canada). Some students take so many APs, they’re able to enter university with sophomore standing.

8. Recommend another school with more options for gifted students, like a college prep school or a progressive school where students have great leeway in choosing their own course of study and assignments.

9. Skipping a grade level in certain subjects. I went right to English 8 Honors in junior high and was always in an English class with peers of the same grade. In other schools, advanced students can take classes with a higher grade in those subjects.

Alas, not all schools offer or know about those kinds of options, and advanced students are left feeling bored and unchallenged. Many people were punished for being too advanced, like using cursive before they were supposed to know it and reading several grade levels up; got in trouble for reading or working on extra math problems after finishing an assignment way ahead of time; and had teachers and principals who refused to believe they could possibly be more advanced than their age.

But when these very bright students are skipped ahead, and have the maturity to match their intellect, they shine, and feel challenged and productive for the first time ever.

However, in other cases, students may not benefit from skipping, or there are more cons than pros in this particular case. Why might a bright student choose to remain at age-matched grade level?

1. Being very close with a friend group. Moving up a grade or two means separation and moving in different worlds. It’s natural to want to stay together with close friends, particularly if they’ve been together for years.

2. Being lucky enough to attend a great school with lots of options for gifted students, or where everyone is taught in a more advanced way.

3. The risk of missing out on very important foundational skills or entire classes. E.g., maybe the school offers a year or two of Esperanto for its proven benefits in acquiring other languages, or the grade skipped includes long division, cursive, the first year of foreign language, or geometry.

4. Not wanting to miss the experience of a popular and/or renowned teacher in that grade.

5. Being involved with an extracurricular you don’t want to say goodbye to even one year earlier than you have to.

6. Having a special love for certain subjects you want as many years as possible with.

7. Just wanting to enjoy the experience of childhood and going to school without being compelled into the adult world early.

8. Going from being the smartest kid in class to struggling with unfamiliar material.

9. Being bullied by or feeling ostracized from older peers.

10. Not being advanced in every subject. I was initially taking earth science, a high school-level course, in eighth grade, but had to be switched into physical science fairly quickly because I was failing so badly. Meanwhile I was taking English 9 Honors without a problem.

11. Not being able to handle an increased workload. This can be particularly challenging if the student missed the year when homework began to be assigned or gradually became more rigorous and frequent.

Skipping seems to work best in elementary school, when the knowledge gaps are smaller and easier to catch up. Many experts also recommend starting kindergarten a year early, going right into first grade, or skipping at the start of a new school level (e.g., seventh or ninth grade) to avoid being seen as the odd one out in an established peer group.

Ultimately, it all comes down to what feels right for this particular child in those particular circumstances. It’s not a one size fits all issue.

Posted in education, schools

Why I oppose radical academic acceleration

We’ve probably all known kids who were very advanced academically. Maybe we were one of those kids. Though the practice has quite declined over the last few decades, research shows that skipping one grade, sometimes even two, holds more positives than negatives when done for the right reasons, with the right students.

But skipping three or more grades and starting college when all the rest of your peers are just entering junior high? I strongly oppose this practice, and roll my eyes so hard when everyone squees all over an alleged child prodigy who was rushed through school and out of childhood.

It’s one thing to skip a single grade, particularly in elementary school, when knowledge gaps aren’t too wide and are easy to catch up on. As is entering kindergarten a year early or starting school at first grade. Skipping THREE grades or more, however, is a lazy, short-sighted solution to a complex problem.

Grade-skipping has fallen out of fashion because we have better options for teaching advanced students now. Enrichment programs. Extra or different assignments. Grouping students by ability instead of grade level (within reason). Small groups within a class. Skipping a grade level in certain subjects. AP classes. Taking classes at a local college.

Additionally, most kids aren’t consistently advanced. A STEM whiz often flounders in the liberal arts, and vice versa. Going from fifth grade to ninth grade level work in those weaker subjects will only increase the problems.

There’s an awful book called The Brainy Bunch: The Harding Family’s Method to College Ready by Age Twelve, by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding. All ten of their kids were rushed through homeschooling curriculum and into college as preteens. Even other homeschoolers have called their method out as nonsense!

Mr. and Mrs. Harding believe education is all about joining the workforce ASAP, not love of learning, developing intellectually and cognitively, discovering a passion for certain topics, or taking time to master subjects. They decided their kids had mastered a subject once the homeschool workbook was finished (after zooming through it!), and they immediately started a new workbook. In other words, fudging transcripts and tricking colleges into accepting them. They even snuck their kids into tests underage!

They also taught their kids with the end goal of taking the SAT or ACT at all of ten years old, and refused to let them participate in any activities or read books not related to college.

What are you supposed to do with yourself after graduating college in your mid-teens? Or getting a master’s at all of eighteen? A lot of these alleged child prodigies spend their time collecting advanced degrees, since child labor is kind of illegal these days. And it takes a lot of money to attend university for 10+ years. A Ph.D. for a grown adult in a single subject is expensive and time-consuming enough.

Even when you’re legally old enough to work, how many law firms or hospitals want to hire a 19-year-old kid with no experience? When you dig deeper, you discover none of them went to prestigious, well-known schools, and that their only job is degree-collecting.

The Hardings are also Quiverfull fundamentalists, and among their works cited is the infamous To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl, which advocates beating babies and has been linked to child abuse and murder.

No child, not even the most academically precocious and mature, is ready in any way for college at 12 years old. Even 15 or 16 is too young. Fourteen was the average age historically because education was structured far differently. Now that we teach children at a level more suited to their cognitive development and have high schools, there’s no need to enter university so young.

Education isn’t just about academia or preparing for the workforce. It’s also about social, emotional, mental, psychological, behavioral development. I shouldn’t have to explain why it’s so inappropriate and potentially dangerous for a 12-year-old to be alone among college-aged adults!

Even in primary or secondary school, many kids who were grade-skipped are subject to bullying or ignored by their classmates because they’re so much younger and smaller, and don’t have the same interests. An age difference of 3-5 years isn’t a big deal when you’re all adults, but under 18, it’s a yawning chasm.

Childhood only comes this way once, and then never again. It seems morally wrong to rush children through school at lightning speed and into college by age 12 just so you can brag about them, be on the news, and get ass-pats.