Speaking as one of the former "gifted" (from elementary school up to going to a special high school for geeks), I'm not that exercised about explicit programs for the gifted existing. I think that concentrating on making sure that as many kids as possible learn a certain basic skillset should be the main objective for public schools.I'm very taken with this idea, which I came up with just this morning. It reminds me of my motive in taking AP Chem: I absolutely hated chemistry and wanted to place out of it in college, which I did (5 on the AP, baybee). If I had the option of getting out of hated classes by passing some exam, I would be so there - in elementary school, middle school, or high school. It's too bad I could swing that argument only with my 5th grade math teacher, who was a sweet old lady. I would have had a lot fewer problems if I could have placed out of reading, too. In any case, we did this explicitly in the 6th grade gifted class, which took the place of reading class. I can't remember, but the teacher set aside 3-6 weeks in the middle of the year for us to go through the official 6th grade reading book and doing the relevant Georgia Criterion-Referenced Tests. When we finished the work and passed the tests, we got back to what we were doing, which was going over our teacher's masters thesis for Georgia Tech on salt production (no, I'm not joking. I might still have a copy of the paper, too.)
In my elementary school math classes, I was bored out of my gourd from 2nd grade on, having to go over the same damn topics every year because my fellow students wouldn't remember them (or, more likely, didn't understand them the first couple times we did it). I was a self-teacher in math, and could sit down with our textbook and go through it in a couple weeks. So, in 5th grade, I told my math teacher that I knew all the math she was going to teach that year and didn't feel like wasting my time going over that stuff; even better, I was willing to put up or shut up: I asked if I could take the end-of-year test at the beginning of the year. I aced it and didn't have to do math homework or take math tests for the rest of the year -- I used that time period to read books.
Also, I used this lesson when I got to college, doing the credit by exam (just take the course's final for P/F). I got out of stats this way. Also, I got out of 3rd semester calculus by talking to the dept and taking (and acing) the next course in their series.
So here's my idea stemming from that experience: there's a certain curriculum set up grade-by-grade (or maybe unit-by-unit), with tests that can be used to indicate whether the student has mastered the material. If the student can pass that level test, even at the beginning of the year, then they don't have to take that class anymore, or just drop out of the class until that unit is over. Period. No more math for the rest of the year....if they don't want it. Of course, you'd keep doing the test periodically to make sure that they haven't forgotten the material. During math period, the kids who have finished can have fun in some sort of resource room, and the kids can spend their time doing whatever they want. This gives =all= kids the incentive to master material as quickly as possible. If you're forced to go onto the next level immediately, and you're not fond of that subject, then there's the incentive to drag feet. However, if you get out of doing homework and other stuff you don't want to do, and are allowed to do something (educational) you do want to do, then all the better. And the teachers' time is concentrated on the kids needing the most help. Yes, some kids won't be able to meet a "normal" pace, so they can be given =extra= to do when the teacher goes onto the next unit.
Obviously, the subjects I'm thinking of applying this to are grammar, reading, and math. More "facts-heavy" (as opposed to skills-heavy) subjects (e.g. history) would be exempt from such things.
Man, it tempts me to run out and start a charter school based on this, except running a charter school is very hard work. Still, my idea is free to anybody who wants to use it. My only request is to be informed of its use.
Still, part of the problem in public school today is that there are few incentives for the students themselves. There's the threat of getting held back if you can't pass end-of-year exams, but there's few incentives for working harder or getting work done more quickly other than one's own internal drive. And really standing out in knowing everything quickly? Total turnoff, because you're always there in class, annoying the other kids. What was the point in participating in class if you knew all the answers, the teacher knew you knew all the answers, and the other kids also knew you knew all the answers? It's best just to remove the know-it-alls from the situation.
I've heard the dumbass idea that having the more advanced kids mixed in with the regulars gives the kids a role model. You know what would be a real role model? The kids seeing another kid not having to take tests or do homework for the rest of the year. Say this kid spends his time drawing comic books in the resource room instead of the latest worksheet on fractions -- that doodling kid will be an object of envy and a role model for the goal of getting out of doing homework. No, the geeks won't get more popular, likely, but they may get more respect. And an important lesson on incentives is shared all around.