ERIC Identifier: ED308060
Publication Date: 1989-04-00
Author: Luhman, Anna - Fundis, Ronald
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Building Academically Strong Gifted Programs in Rural Schools.
RURAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS face a substantial task as they try to build strong
programs for their most academically talented students. Recent reports indicate,
however, that such programs can be developed in rural schools (for example,
Luhman & Fundis, 1987). The aim of this Digest is to help rural
practitioners understand the relevant issues and the available alternatives as
they seek to improve the academic quality of gifted programs.
CHARACTERISTICS OF RURAL SCHOOLS
Rural schools carry out
their missions among unique opportunities and constraints. Among the constraints
there are higher costs, a shortage of resource materials, and sparse population.
In addition, the small size of rural schools means that differentiation of staff
and students--on the urban model--is made more difficult. Staff must fill
multiple roles, and each exceptionality (such as gifted education) is often
represented by only a few students in each school.
The notable strengths of rural schools, however, include lower
student-teacher ratios, greater opportunity for and expectation of student
participation in a variety of activities, and more holistic relationships among
students and teachers (Nachtigal, 1982).
Educators concerned with the design and implementation of academically strong
gifted programs can accommodate these features of rural schools by asking:
-- for what academic outcomes should we plan?
-- what programs can help us realize these outcomes?
-- how can we best use available resources to implement our programs?
-- how can we evaluate student outcomes and program operation to win
the support we need?
Although there is some dispute among
experts about what gifted programs should include, the premise of this Digest is
that programs for gifted students should address substantive academic goals,
whatever their instructional or curricular design. Among the academic goals that
such programs might include are the following (Howley, 1986):
-- bringing gifted students' achievement (on individually-administered
achievement tests) into closer proximity to their potential,
-- ensuring that gifted students in outlying schools are identified and
provided appropriate services, and
-- providing better access to advanced courses for academically
talented high school students.
Such goals can be realized in a comprehensive program (see, for example, Cox,
Daniel & Boston, 1985) or they may be addressed in programs that follow a
single model, for example: (1) acceleration with a focus on academic learning
(Stanley, Luhman & Fundis), (2) cognitive process (Bloom, Guilford,
Renzulli), and (3) career education (L. Fox, Van Tassel-Baska). Comprehensive
programs address all three models simultaneously (Cox et al., 1985).
REALIZING THE GOALS:
PROGRAM CONCERNS IN RURAL CONTEXT
Implementing programs to realize such goals as those suggested above,
however, requires sensitive work with rural parents, other rural teachers and
administrators, and with institutions other than the local school district.
For example, some rural parents will think that acceleration may harm their
children socially, or that it will make participation in sports impossible. Some
rural educators may feel--as a corollary to their need to fill multiple
roles--that they must provide all direct services to students.
This latter view leads educators to deny the special needs of gifted
students. For example, in 1972 Sydney Marland, U.S. Commissioner of Education at
the time, reported to Congress that most principals believed their schools did
not have any gifted students (Marland, 1972). Moreover, recent studies show that
many rural teachers believe that gifted students do not need special programs
(Anderson & Kleinsasser, 1987). Both views, though erroneous, are persistent
(Gallagher, 1985), especially in rural areas (Anderson & Kleinsasser, 1987).
A stable staff, operating an effective academic program, is probably the key
to dealing with such misconceptions (Howley, Howley & Pendarvis, 1986). Such
a staff can help make two points to parents, teachers, and administrators;
first, that gifted students are at-risk without special arrangements and,
second, that gifted programs produce good results.
RESOLVING PROGRAM CONCERNS
According to Cox and colleagues
(1985), comprehensive programs serve gifted students best. Rural schools,
however, often lack the resources needed to establish a comprehensive program
(Anderson & Kleinsasser, 1987).
In rural school districts, therefore, program development is probably best
carried out step-by-step over a period of time, expanding toward
comprehensiveness from a single-model base (Howley et al., 1986). Because
substantial research has shown that acceleration is both cost-effective and
instructionally effective, it is reasonable to begin program development in
rural areas with the academic/acceleration model (Howley, 1986). Helping able
youth move at their natural pace from kindergarten through professional school
is far more effective than setting up holding operations to keep students
age-in-grade-in-subject (Stanley, 1986).
Progress towards academic goals is not difficult to measure, and the
literature suggests that academically-based programs that provide for
acceleration stand a good chance of success. Their success can help win
supporters for gifted education, and a successful start can allow a program to
become more comprehensive over time, while providing academically relevant
FEATURES OF SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS
For elementary students,
acceleration can be accomplished within the school itself through a wide variety
of means (see Gallagher, 1985). For secondary students, part-time or full-time
early college entrance using recognized program models is helpful. Such programs
include the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (Stanley's model at Johns
Hopkins University and elsewhere) or College Studies for the Gifted (Luhman and
Fundis's program at Fort Hays State University and elsewhere).
Rural educators, especially, should note that the latter program (established
and directed by the authors of this Digest) is a validated program of the
National Diffusion Network, and it is BASED IN A RURAL AREA. Training and
technical assistance to implement this model is available through the National
Although the successful alternatives just discussed are effective, they are
not common in practice (Cox et al., 1985). Pull-out enrichment programs are a
much more common (though more expensive and less effective) delivery system than
acceleration (for example, Cox et al., 1985; Howley, 1986; Oglesby &
Gallagher, 1983). The ineffectiveness of pull-out programs, however, can be
ascribed to the extensive use of academically irrelevant activities, not to the
fact that they remove children from regular classes (Stanley, 1986). Pull-out
enrichment CAN BE IMPROVED to provide a stronger academic program (Howley et
Other program concerns are important, too. Among these are issues of
definition (who will be served and how will they be identified?); of learning
environment (in which settings and by whom will services be delivered?); and
parental involvement (what procedures will the program use to involve and
educate parents?). Because they address such concerns, special education
procedures (as outlined in Public Law 94-142), may help. Protection in
assessment, parental involvement, and due process rights are the important
features that need to be considered in resolving these concerns, especially when
gifted programs are not administered according to the provisions of PL 94-142
(Howley et al., 1986).
COLLABORATION, NETWORKING, AND USING
Communicating and collaborating with colleagues who work in a
variety of settings (that is, "networking") can open up new opportunities for
teachers and administrators to share resources, develop programs, and to serve
students better. Networking can also help relieve the sense of isolation and
lonely struggle that rural educators--particularly teachers of the gifted--often
report they feel.
Collaboration with colleges and universities can give students access to
libraries, laboratories, performing arts programs, and advanced academic
opportunities. College Studies for the Gifted, mentioned previously, is one
model that capitalizes on such a relationship to provide gifted students in a
rural area not only advanced academic opportunities, but a supportive social
climate as well (Luhman & Fundis, 1987).
Electronic media, computer networks, and telecommunications can all serve as
a vehicle to enrich curriculum--especially in mathematics, sciences, the
performing arts, and foreign languages. Rural educators concerned with gifted
students have the chance to help pioneer the use of technology to help all the
students in their schools.
Rural educators who are concerned with gifted programs can also access the
resources of the National Diffusion Network (National Dissemination Study Group,
1988), the ERIC network (including ERIC/CRESS and the ERIC Clearinghouse on
Handicapped and Gifted), the 9 Regional Educational Laboratories, and the 20
national research and development centers. To learn more about these programs,
call the U.S. Department of Education at 800/424-1616 and ask for a copy of
"Institutional Projects Funded by the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement (OERI)." The new Office of Gifted and Talented, U.S. Department of
Education, is another resource. For more information write: United States
Department of Education, OERI, Gifted and Talented Programs, Room 504, 555 New
Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20208-5643.
The development of academically strong programs
for gifted students in rural schools is steady work. By focusing on meaningful
academic goals, building support, and making wise use of available resources,
gifted programs can thrive in rural schools.
Anderson, M., & Kleinsasser, A. (1987,
November). WILL IT PLAY IN RURAL AMERICA? STAFF DEVELOPMENT REALITIES. Paper presented at the National Association for Gifted Children. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 289 648).
Cox, J., Daniel, N., & Boston, B. (1985). EDUCATING ABLE LEARNERS. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Gallagher, J. (1985). TEACHING THE GIFTED CHILD (3rd. ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Howley, A., Howley, C., & Pendarvis, E. (1986). TEACHING GIFTED CHILDREN: PRINCIPLES AND STRATEGIES. Boston: Little, Brown.
Howley, C. (1986). INTELLECTUALLY GIFTED STUDENTS: ISSUES AND POLICY IMPLICATIONS. Charleston, WV: Appalachia Educational Laboratory. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 296 569).
Luhman, A., & Fundis, R. (1987). COLLEGE STUDIES FOR THE GIFTED: AN ACADEMIC APPROACH FOR THE GIFTED, TALENTED, AND CREATIVE STUDENT. Hays, KS: Fort Hays State University. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 308 997).
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Oglesby, K., & Gallagher, J. (1983). Teacher-pupil ratios, instructional time, and expenditure estimates for three administrative strategies for educating gifted students. GIFTED CHILD QUARTERLY, 27(2), 57-63.
Stanley, J. (1986, April). THE URGENT NEED FOR AN ACADEMIC FOCUS. Paper presented at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco, CA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 277 205).