Finding the right school for a gifted learner can be a difficult task. Each school has good qualities, but whether those qualities will work for a particular gifted learner is never a given. Charter schools have been held up as the solution to pretty much every educational ill. But do they serve gifted children’s needs?
Charter school laws, which vary somewhat by state, offer some tempting possibilities for gifted children. Charter schools:
- Are free to teach a specialized curriculum
- May target a certain type of learner within the population
- May not discriminate among applicants
- Tend to be smaller than neighborhood schools
- May require parents to participate in the classroom and in school governance
All of these qualities can be positives for gifted learners. For example, a charter school can use a specific educational philosophy, such as Montessori or Waldorf, which may work well for a gifted learner. A charter school can also offer an academically rigorous curriculum; for example, offering college preparatory classes in an area where the high schools tend not to offer advanced classes. A charter school could theoretically write gifted-friendly practices like classroom differentiation and acceleration into their charters.
The size of a school can also be a positive factor. Gifted learners who exhibit overexcitabilities will benefit from a more intimate environment. A smaller school should have a more approachable, adaptable staff who get to know each individual student.
Finally, schools that include parents in classroom activity and governance tend to be more responsive to each family’s needs. Parents of gifted learners can more effectively advocate for more advanced curriculum, differentiation, and acceleration.
Some of the qualities of charter schools, however, can turn out to be detrimental to the needs of gifted learners. Although a charter school might promote a more advanced curriculum, they are required to serve all the students who register. Also, a school’s “advanced curriculum” might look like more test preparation than the hands-on learning that a student might crave.
Small schools have the handicap of offering fewer choices. If a school has only one teacher per grade, then a gifted learner who finds a poor match in one grade will have no alternatives. Also, small schools that depend on enrollment may be hesitant to allow acceleration. Class sizes are budgeted years in advance, and shifting a student forward may be difficult or impossible.
Finally, classroom parent participation can go either way for gifted learners. Since the parents will largely not be educators themselves, they will bring into the classroom their own ideas of how children learn. An untrained parent might be likely to discipline a gifted learner for behaviors that are not under her control, or might have expectations of “the smart kid” that were formed many years ago in the parent’s own school years.
Parents considering a charter school for their gifted learner should carefully consider what the school has to offer, its flexibility, and whether their child’s needs will be served. Parents should conduct personal interviews with staff about their approach to gifted learners, including school policies on differentiation and acceleration. Finally, make sure that staff and parent-aide training includes sensitivity to the needs of children with special needs.