June 13, 2006

Grade-skipping.

That's the old-fashioned alternative to "accelerated" classes and "tracking" for the "gifted." It's making a comeback.

There's some real justice to it. If you can do more work earlier, aren't you entitled to finish the task -- in this case, high school -- earlier? Why should you be burdened with additional work? It's like what I hate most about a 9 to 5 job: You don't get off early for getting a lot done.

I remember when grade-skipping went out of fashion. It was right around the time when I was in grade school. My mother told me later that they wanted me to skip, and she was adamantly against it. I was outraged that I wasn't asked and that I was stuck with a whole extra year of sitting in a classroom. She knew better. She had been skipped back in the old days, during the Depression. (She went to college at 16.) Based on her experience, she felt sure she knew skipping was bad.

Now, I know I wouldn't exist if she hadn't been skipped! She would not have graduated from college when she did and gone on to the situation in which she met my father. But you can't make a list of all the things that set the stage for your conception and count them as good. This is especially clear in my case: My parents met in the Army in WWII. Still, I regretted not skipping! The whole explanation was a social one, as if life will be so wonderful if only you're surrounded by kids your own age.

So now, some experts are saying go ahead and skip kids again.

It is stunningly efficient. You don't have to set up special classes for the quicker students, and the students themselves have their time saved. And I like that idea that these students are just going faster, replacing the idea that they are gifted, belonging in a separate room, on a separate track. "Gifted" sounds preening and even rather religious. It sounds as though there's something wrong with giving the student credit for achievement.

Getting to go faster because you're actually getting the work done faster has a more egalitarian feel to it. All kids can understand the concept, which is similar to the idea that if you finish your homework an hour early, you can do whatever you want for an hour. It's a nice incentive. Imagine if kids were told: If you finish your homework an hour early, we'll give you an extra hour's worth of homework. So letting the quick kids finish early ought to inspire the other kids to try to get their work done fast. Wouldn't that be better than for them to see those kids given harder work?

UPDATE: Lawprof Tung Yin, who did skip, says maybe it's different for boys. He notes that he was originally one of the younger kids in his class so he was really young after the skip. That was also true of my mother, and one of the reasons I was especially upset with her judgment was that I was always one of the oldest kids. I would have just taken a normal place among the youngest unskipped kids, which probably would have been a nice advantage for a girl.

49 comments:

TWM said...

My wife and I have been lucky because all three of our boys are "gifted," or "faster" if that is the new word, and it would be great if they would allow them to finish up early.

Unfortunately, in our public school at least, they seem more concerned with slowing them down to the pace of the slowest kid in the class lest they bruise his or her self-esteem.

Such is our public education system.

Al Maviva said...

I could have used some grade skipping. My teachers generally thought I suffered from a terrible learning disability. I didn't - but when you're reading at a 12th grade level in 4th grade, the "see spot run" level stuff bores you to tears, and basically it is just about impossible to engage.

I didn't really start getting good grades until after I'd knocked out my freshman college curriculum. After that, the stuff got interesting. The didn't have "gifted" classes or grade skipping when I went to school in the late 70s, early 80s. It was teh suck.

Pogo said...

What a stunning reversal. Coerced egalitarianism never worked very well in schools, and caused many smart kids to waste time doing busy work (or providing unpaid tutoring for their classmates).

In contrast, schools have rarely been terribly squeamish over the self-esteem problems when promoting Freshman basketballers onto the varsity squad. (What? It makes the Senior benchwarmers feel sad? Them's the breaks!)

Is merit making a comeback? Is Hard America going to be revisiting schools?

Balfegor said...

Unfortunately, in our public school at least, they seem more concerned with slowing them down to the pace of the slowest kid in the class lest they bruise his or her self-esteem.

I skipped one grade in a private school and one grade in a public school, and my experience was actually that it was much easier to skip in a public school than private -- they were larger, and didn't care as much.

And specifically re:
pace of the slowest kid in the class lest they bruise his or her self-esteem.

That would have been kind of hard in my public school. There was a huge achievement variation. Some people entered taking mostly AP's, others entered having to take remedial Maths and English. The parents (of the privileged) wouldn't have stood for it. And the school didn't have any real ideological commitment on the issue -- the school didn't have any institutional commitments at all I could discern. As above, they didn't care all that much. Benign apathy.

John Jenkins said...

(1) "Skipping" is a fancy way of saying: "our classes are designed for the lowest common denominator and that's not you."

(2) More people should be doing it than are, because the actual educational content of school is pretty damned low at this point.

(3) Why weren't they doing this when I was a kid? (instead of 2 hours a week with some G&T teacher in the library)

TWM said...

balfegor,

So my choices are a school that doesn't care one way or the other or a school that slows bright ones down so they don't bruise the egos of the slower ones.

Sigh, both suck when you think on it.

HaloJonesFan said...

The problem is that schooling invariably assumes that age = intelligence. Not that this is a bad assumption, but it often leads to ridiculous situations, on both ends of the spectrum.

Really--the solution, as with all educational problems, is personalized instruction, but that's not something that the current "cattle herd" system is set up to do. (Yes, I know about home-schooling, but that seems to be as much about indoctrinating children into the Cult Of Jesus as it does anything else.)

rafinlay said...

The more complicated problem occurs when a student is "faster" in one subject area, but not in another. Maybe we should separate math from language from science from physical so someone can skip in just one segment....

Dave said...

Someone I knew in elementary school skipped a couple of grades and then decided to go to high school for six years rather than graduate early, so that he could take all its AP courses.

He then graduated college in one and a half years and was in grad school by his 21st birthday.

Scott W. Somerville said...

Here's where homeschooling is so FAR ahead of the competition. I myself skipped two grades (1st and 8th) and repeated one (9th--because I went from an appalling West Virginia public school to a fancy East Coast prep school on a full scholarship). I can't imagine how I could have survived school if I HADN'T skipped (West Virginia schools should be skipped altother, not just one grade at a time!), but I never overcame the social challengesg for a fat geek who was two years too young until I went off to Exeter.

Suffice it to say we're homeschooling our own... and my 15 year old daughter (who has already finished enough high school credits to graduate) has never experienced the pain I did.

SteveR said...

One thing that works against the concept is schools get funding based on attendance.

But I agree that there should be incentives for efficient learning, "education" is not just a function of age and time. Nothing is so unfair as to be assigned more work to fill up the time because you are faster at it.

MadisonMan said...

Yes, I know about home-schooling, but that seems to be as much about indoctrinating children into the Cult Of Jesus as it does anything else.

I think that may have been true a while ago. It was certainly true in my own family -- relatives of the wife homeschooled their 5 so as not to expose them to them evil homosexuals. It may still be true in parts of the country. But I don't think that's the main reason anymore.

The people I know who homeschool are just committed parents who think they can give their kids a better education. In one case, I'm sure it's true. In another, I'm not. I also know people who, if they had to homeschool, would probably kill their children.

Troy said...

Tuition goes up every year. The sooner my kids start college the cheaper it will be and an extra year or 2 of earning potential wouldn't hurt either. Younger out of grad school. I liked my high school experience, but in retrospect I could've started university a year or two sooner.

SteveR said...

As a parent who homeschooled for seven years, I would agree with MM. To have the opinion that its just about religion is to be uninformed.

John Mosby said...

But our entire society is geared toward the high-school-till-18, college-till-22 model. Driver licensing, voting, drinking ages, ages of consent and criminal responsibility, are all roughly built around the idea that most Americans will be dependent on their parents until the early/mid 20's. We don't have a place for someone who demonstrates mastery of the prescribed body of knowledge before that age.

What does a 15-year-old high school grad do? Work? Probably not - how many jobs require "own transportation?" - hard to provide when you're too young to drive. Go to college? Probably, although this assumes that the kid is not only smart, but also academically oriented - not necessarily the same thing. How many colleges will take a 15-year-old in the dorms? Would you let a 15-year-old daughter live in Harvard Yard, or attend a Big 10 school with weekly frat parties? I bet that most kids who graduate high school more than a year early wind up going to local colleges as day students. Nothing wrong with that in itself - just that the high-performing kid has been "rewarded" with a narrower band of college choices than her plodding age-cohort-mates.

Similarly, what does a 19- or 20-year-old college grad do? Work in a profession where social drinking is an accepted way to do business? Kind of hard to take a client out when you get carded at the door. A lot of these kids wind up in grad school because nowhere else makes sense for them.

Skipping grades actually does not wind up rewarding the kid with faster completion, because they wind up staying in school about the same amount of time - just with more pieces of paper at the end.

JM

rmc said...

Yeah, I was a potential skipper, too, in a small, one room-per-grade Catholic school that had more heart than resources. They found things to keep me busy and engaged, after my parents refused the offer to skip me. Sometimes that meant helping the slower kids (but only in ways that made it fun for me) and often the teachers gave me cool things to read on my own. I did fine, although I can't say what public school experiences were like.

There's a pair of elephants in the classroom here that only Scott has alluded to: puberty and driving. I think the biggest reason to keep a kid with age-peers would be to avoid the awkwardness (self- & other-induced) that would come when your classmates get those "promotions" years before you do. Many people probably manage that lag OK, but I think it could make for some significant problems that would have to be weighed against the non-skipping consequences.

Kev said...

"Maybe we should separate math from language from science from physical so someone can skip in just one segment...."

I got to experience this as a kid in suburban St. Louis. I had learned to read when I was three years old (lots of moves across the country, Dad drove, Mom got bored and taught me to read), so I got to leave my class and go to the next grade up when it was time for reading. When we moved to Houston, the accelerated classes were in place, so I stayed with my class all day.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

There are good and bad factors in the idea of skipping grades. The good, of course, is that you will be (hopefully)taking classes that challenge, instead of bore. The bad is the social aspect as JM has said.

I was skipped 2 grades and my brother was skipped 3 way back in the 1960s. It wasn't a social problem for me as girls generally mature emotionally sooner than boys. In addition there is no stigma in dating a younger girl. My brother on the other hand, had a terrible time in high school as he was 3 years younger than the girls in his class. Graduating at the age of 15, he was unable to drive. So his "mommy" had to take him to college where he was in classrooms with much older returning Vietnam Vets. Consequently he dropped out of college.

Had the schools been able to (or willing to) provide advanced classes while still keeping him within his age group, I believe that his career path and life would have been much different.

While it may be more efficient for the schools to just skip the students, there are many social and emotional factors that shape or warp a person's future.

Balfegor said...

I bet that most kids who graduate high school more than a year early wind up going to local colleges as day students. Nothing wrong with that in itself - just that the high-performing kid has been "rewarded" with a narrower band of college choices than her plodding age-cohort-mates.

I'm not sure to what extent this is true. Admittedly, after graduating HS two years early, I did end up going to a college all of about four blocks from my house (though I lived in the dorms), and both my parents, after graduating one and two years early, went to a college in the same city they had attended HS, but I am not aware that proximity to family home played any role in the colleges' determinations. One of my siblings is graduating a year early, and is scheduled to attend a good university off in a different state.

I think some schools may have a concern about young students. If you're 12 or 13 or something, I think that's pretty much certain. On the other hand, 15 or 16? Not so consistently. Some may, but most don't seem to have that much of a problem with it.

So his "mommy" had to take him to college where he was in classrooms with much older returning Vietnam Vets.

This was the case for me ages 14-16, when I was in high school, taking classes at the local colleges. I suppose it could be a problem for some under some circumstances, but I never found it much of one.

DAO said...

As others have at least implied, skipping grades without having advanced classes is of little value. I skipped twice, never felt deprived (obviously being relatively tall helped a lot), but still had nothing like the AP classes my kids take.

I survived my early departure for college (1000+ miles away at age 16) but probably would have benefited from more time at home had there been anything for me to do at my pathetic high school.

The real question may be whether public schools can start to offer real challenges for the best students. AP courses are a start but only a start. It seems to happen in a few classes in a few places but too few.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think that a lot of parents don't realize how horrible it can be for kids when they refuse skipping. My parents absolutely refused to skip me when I was in school. (I didn't find that out until adulthood.) By the end of elementary school I viewed school as an endless jail. Sit for six hours in a chair everyday doing nothing. Waiting. An eternal waiting room. Horrible.

And it isn't the school's fault. They tried. They had GT class, and I was often sent to the principal's office to do logic puzzles with him. But that wasn't enough. A public school can't and can't be expected to provide highly individualized curriculum for all different kinds of special cases.

This is one of the reasons I'd like to homeschool. If I homeschool, my kids will be able to work at whatever rate they're capable of whether that's faster or slower than the norm.

vnjagvet said...

Skipping for me was a problem for a few months. I skipped first grade because my mom taught me to read before starting school.

My school work and conduct was pretty bad through the first report period after the "skip" at the beginning of the year. When I arrived home with the bad news, my dad sat down with me and told me he would give me a dollar for each improvement in academic and conduct grades the next report period.

Result: I earned twelve bucks (a veritable fortune in 1946) the next report period.

But Dad was no fool. When he paid me off, he sternly gave me his take on the situation: "Now I know you can do it. There will be no more of this."

And there wasn't any more money for performance. I was expected to achieve in my new grade. When later I encountered problems, Dad was pretty sure it was because I was not applying myself sufficiently, and acted accordingly. He applied the stick, not the carrot.

I was a lot older before I even knew that this was not a normal part of school.

Ann Althouse said...

Freeman: "By the end of elementary school I viewed school as an endless jail. Sit for six hours in a chair everyday doing nothing."

Yes, I felt very deeply wronged for years by the physical imprisonment of school. I have always been able to work on my own for long stretches of time and get a lot done, but to this day, I resist being confined with someone else as the timekeeper. Meetings, movies, docents, plane rides, lectures, sermons, banquets -- you name it. All these things are oppressive.

David said...

Why not have a school system that accomodates different learning speeds, such as Montissori or Direct Instruction? Keep the child socially where they are yet instructionally where they will benefit.

The solution is simple, easy and demonstrated. Of course you need to overthrow the public school oligarchy, but......

John Mosby said...

"Keep the child socially where they are yet instructionally where they will benefit."

Isn't that the problem, though?

How do you teach advanced subjects without requiring the students to have the appropriate social skills (attention span, remaining silent while others talk, avoiding ad hominem attacks on others' positions)?

Can you, for instance, use Sesame Street instructional methodology to teach Algebra II?

To a certain extent, intellectual maturity implies a certain amount of emotional maturity, or at least the ability to fake it.

JM

reader_iam said...

What I never got about the "social issue" problem is that if you're far enough ahead, you often end up a social outcast anyway, to one degree or another. The situation, in some cases, in fact exacerbates that.

So then you end up an outcast AND bored AND not put in a situation to reach your potential.

How the heck is that better?

I won't go through the whole scenario in elementary school, or even later grades, but I will say that I should have taken the opportunity to go to college early. Instead, I kept senior English so that I could graduate formally (as opposed to going for a GED, which, at that time and in that place, was the only option--and it would have been a stupid, given my grade-point average and class-rank), got a late arrival and early dismissal, took (honors) college freshman classes in the mornings and worked in standard teen-ager jobs in the afternoon.

I should have done that my sophomore year in high school--and then started college a year early.

The point of this that there are other alternatives for those tween high school and full-time college.

If a kid can skip, I think he or she should skip. At the tail end, what's so bad about working at MacDonald's or whatever for a while (and saving money for college--not a bad lesson in and of itself)--and taking a a few courses at a local, or semi-local, college or community college, if available, while still at home?

Or, if the kid or his/her parents want him or her to stretch it out, how about 1/2 days at high school and 1/2 days either working or taking college classes, or a combination of the latter?

We can be a lot more creative about this. There has to be better ways than enforced boredom and timewasting in earlier grades.

(I do indeed, however, think there are some issues with skipping at the very earliest of grades--kindergarten, 1st grad--depending on how structured the school is, for, in particular, boys, given the way schooling tends to be approached nowadays. But that's a separate issue and doesn't in and of itself undercut the usefulness of the "skip" option.)

Joan said...

My husband and I weighed the possibility of boredom versus the consequences of immaturity for a long time before we decided to keep our daughter, born in early November, in her age cohort. She had started preschool at 2 (in the 3-year-old class), and we had the option of starting her in kindergarden when she was only 4, soon to be 5.

But her experience in preschool convinced me to wait the year. She wasn't exactly bullied, but the day she came home and told me that "they wouldn't let me make a playdough sculpture" -- they being her classmates, and the sculpture being a free-time activity -- because they wanted her to play something else, I realised that she needed to grow up a little bit more or else she could end up being a doormat, albeit a bright one.

Ability to withstand peer pressure is something that comes with experience. I'm grateful that my kids' charter school works hard to keep the bright kids engaged. My kids are smart but not prodigies, and so far they all love school. I'd like to preserve that attitude as long as possible. If it starts to slip, I'll have to figure out something different, but for now I'm happy that they've stayed in their "regular" grades. Teachers regularly comment on how much the class learns from them.

reader_iam said...

I think some local school are phasing--or have phased--this option out (for budgetary reasons), but for a while, there was a formal arrangement such that students could take courses through the local community college system as part of high school. This permitted access to courses that might suit individual needs and interests (or academic levels) but weren't available in the high school itself. But the kids were still full participating members in their high schools as well.

I think also that some courses were offered on the high school campuses themselves--more "trade" oriented classes, I think, in that case.

This seems to me to be an interesting hybrid, worth exploring, and it could help address some of the legimate downside issues of finishing high school entirely at (too) early of an age. For example, wouldn't this help address the question from a commenter here about whether you'd really want to send your 15-year-old off to college?

The Drill SGT said...

My school provided a compressed course for 1 thirty student classroom. We did 4th,5th and 6th grade material in 2 years.

Later in Junior HS (7-9th grades) I did a compressed 7th-8th grade math course.

The result was that I turned 17 just about the time I graduated. Educationally it was fine. I would have been bored otherwise. Socially it was tough. I was late maturing and was also a year younger than my peers as well. Led to locker room bullying, etc, even in thouse more placid times.

That was Northern CA in the late 50's, early 60's. Normal suburban school. My Mother on the other grew up in the country in something much akin to a 1 room school. She finished HS at 15 and college at 18. That was the middle of WWII and she was eager to become productive.

all in all, I suspect that skipping or other forms of educational acceleration are easier on girls than boys.

Barry said...

This is an important topic to me... public education, especially for how it pertains to "gifted" kids.

My older brother was targeted as "gifted" when he entered kindergarten (at age 4, already a year younger than most), and the school system convinced my parents he should be fast-tracked to enter second grade the next year. At that age, my brother would read the encyclopedias at home for fun. My parents had him taking French lessons after school. He truly was a smart kid.

The social thing became a real problem, though, and I think he still blames skipping grades for some of his problems later in life. Even though he was two grades or so ahead, he was still bored and found it difficult to apply himself. He also had allergies and asthma, so he didn't have the opportunity to participate in athletics as well as other kids - another strike against socialization. He tells me now that in grade school he felt pressured and stigmatized by being trotted out by the superintenant as a protegè when VIPs would visit.

But I think we had a good public school system in Beloit, Wisconsin in the 80s and 90s, at least compared to comments I hear from other places around the country. My brother and I had lots of extra-curricular opportunities beyond sports (theater, music, math and science programs, publications). We made our friends there. And our system created tracks for "faster" kids and "slower" ones, at least in some subject areas, so we were lumped-in with other geeky kids of similar intellect.

In my brother's case, however, I think the social pressures were exacting. He acted out a lot in high school - nearly failing some courses he should have aced simply for not doing the work, and then trying to impress his older peers by throwing parties with alcohol, etc. I think the pressures were still pretty tough in college, and he never completed his degree.

I don't know if the schools wanted to skip me, but maybe my situation was different. Even in grade school, a handful of us were separated into accellerated reading (and eventually math) programs, which kept us busy. We then fell into the faster tracks at jr high and high school. Looking back, I see that there were enough of us of similar ilk that there were stratas of geeks - jock geeks and geeky geeks and slacker geeks - that fit themselves into those groups in the larger school.

There are many reasons for a child's/young adult's success. To succeed, my brother had to fight his physical ailments and the breakup of our family in addition to the pressure of being the last guy to reach puberty in his class (by two years). It's impossible to say what would have happened had he remained in his age-appropriate grade. I don't know the history of the system enough to know if my class (two years after his) was an exception or if the tracks would have already been in place for him to have a similarly good experience like I did.

But I do know that should my own son (who is now nearly 2) be targeted as "faster" than the rest of his peers, skipping will probably be the last option we take. I guess it will depend on if the schools around here seem as good as the ones in my old home town did.

Kev said...

Reader: The community college where I teach has a rather large "concurrent enrollment" program where students can do the things you described. It even helps me in the music classes I teach; the more advanced high school students can get upper-level performance experience while helping us fill out our music groups.

mango said...

I skipped a grade -- I did the first half of first grade and the second half of second grade in the same year, and I'm very glad for it. I was one of the first to double-promote in our district. Since then, it has become very common, and a good number of my friends double-promoted somewhere along the way. It's a little annoying not to be able to drive till you're a senior, or open your own bank account as a freshman in college, but it certainly beats mouldering in classes that are too easy.

Our district now has a program that allows students to start taking classes at one of the high schools in the 6th grade. I was part of the initial group of students about 10 years ago (though we started as 8th graders) and since then, hundreds of middle schoolers have passed through the program. It works far better than you'd think. It also accomodates asynchronous development pretty well, as the students can take very advanced classes in their areas of strength and "normal" classes in other areas. Many of these students end up either skipping 8th grade to move up into the International Baccalaureate program a year earlier. A good number graduate at 16 and do just fine.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Grade-skipping goes to college: I recently heard of a 4-year college that accomplishes its study in about 2 years. The students take a course for a 40 hour week [get ready for the real world!], they move quickly, the school graduates a class each month, and tuition is, essentially, a two year savings PLUS you're in the workforce two years ahead of your age group.

It's called Full Sail College, located in Orlando, FL.

http://www.fullsail.com/

Kathy said...

Yes, I know about home-schooling, but that seems to be as much about indoctrinating children into the Cult Of Jesus as it does anything else.

The number of homeschoolers who are not homeschooling for religious reasons is large and growing. Even many of the religious ones are not about indoctrinating their children. We're religious, but we're homeschooling because we can do a better job than the schools, not because we want more control over religious instruction.


How many colleges will take a 15-year-old in the dorms? Would you let a 15-year-old daughter live in Harvard Yard, or attend a Big 10 school with weekly frat parties?

Actually, many colleges have special programs for young students. Some colleges even have separate dorms or separated areas within the dorms for such students.

Similarly, what does a 19- or 20-year-old college grad do? Work in a profession where social drinking is an accepted way to do business?

I guess we move in different circles. My husband and I don't drink, and we've never had problems in our careers. Many of our relatives don't drink, and it hasn't impaired their professional lives either. I don't think that's a factor that will limit the young graduate, although I don't want to downplay the potential negatives.

While it may be more efficient for the schools to just skip the students, there are many social and emotional factors that shape or warp a person's future.

That's the reason skipping grades fell out of favor, I believe. But now where I live you can't have advanced or tracked classes (other than AP, but that only applies to a few classes in the final years of high school). They may still have gifted and talented programs, but those aren't necessarily helpful; it depends on what they actually consist of.

Lots of homeschoolers take classes at the community college in lieu of taking them at home, once they're in high school. As other commenters mentioned, this is also an option in some public schools.

I think it's fair to say that you would have to look at each public school individually to decide what course to take with a child who moves faster than the pace of the school class. If they offer accelerated programs, that seems like a better option than skipping for most kids, but not all schools have that alternative.

Steven said...

Yeah, there's going to be trouble if you're skipped. But there's also going to be trouble if you're not skipped. When you're a square peg, it doesn't matter which round hole they stuff you in, you won't fit well.

Col. B. Bunny said...

I very much regret that I skipped the 8th grade. The social problems created were much more important than skipping whatever it was that I skipped at age 13. I was a year smaller than other boys in my class, which is a lot to a boy. I couldn't drive when my classmates got their licenses. All the girls were a year older than I.

I had difficulty adjusting to college and dropped out. I did some interesting things after I did but the initial mistake at age 13 had ripples that, as I read the posts by Dust Bunny Queen and Barry, now seem more like large waves in retrospect.

I am smarter than a hitching post but I was sufficiently stimulated by what was offered. There were extracurricular activities I could have participated in that would have been challenging.

Perhaps the real issues have to do with long-term foreign residence up until age 13 and the lack of parental involvement. These factors made a good socialization experience more important than skipping a grade.

I think the consequences of skipping kids can be profound. On balance, I think it is madness to do it to a kid unless the school is simply deficient in every way.

What the heck is the rush?

Pogo said...

Re: "What the heck is the rush?"

Gandhi is quoted with saying "There is more to life than increasing its speed." However, for some students, the lack of intellectual stimulation, no, the sheer boredom of busywork is both painful and wasteful.

The rush is not to get out and get a job, but to satisfy a primal hunger for knowledge.

The social consequences are likely highly variable, with some good outcomes, and some bad. The point is, choice is preferable to lockstep uniformity.

reader_iam said...

I also want to say that I don't think "skipping" is a panacea or right for all (or even most) kids. I just don't think it should be off the table as a hard policy.

And I don't think my own kid is good candidate for skipping, by the way, so it's not about that; for him, other options, at least so far, are better--insofar as they exist (and/or we can afford to pay for them).

Also, by the way, I never managed to be in a public system at the right time to skip, nor one that had any sort of special programs or classes, as they do now. My husband lucked out: he was allowed to skip AND ended up in an excellent system with lots of options (and which permitted "tracking").

The fickle finger of fate, and all of that.

Bruce Hayden said...

We are going to have the social side of the problem until we do more to separate actual grade from age. As long as only a handful of kids jump ahead, and few retake, then there will continue to be social problems.

I remember one poor guy in college. He entered at 15, and the rest of us were 18, as were the women. 15 year old guys are just discovering girls. 18 year old guys are starting to get serious about relationships, sex, etc. And so, he suffered all the way through, getting to where we were as freshman, his senior year.

A friend of mine was put in special ed because she was a bit different. She hated it so much that she vowed to get out as fast as she could, making up that lost year, and skipping two others, to graduate two years early. Unfortuantely, they wouldn't let you start public college that early, so took a year off to learn a trade, before starting college just one year early. As an introverted female, she didn't seem to have nearly the problems that that guy I knew in college had.

Bruce Hayden said...

To some extent, like Ann, I have always done best with long stretches of concentrated effort. Public high school was nearly useless to me for this reason. I was young for my grade anyway, and was a bit behind socially anyway, so despite the subject coming up on several occasions, I am glad that I didn't jump ahead.

Jennifer said...

I skipped kindergarten so I was one of the youngest all the way through school. As a girl, I wouldn't say that it unduly affected me. It was a little embarrassing when I went to college at 17 and was constantly hit up by those "Register to Vote" drives.

My brother, on the other hand, was just pegged as a troublemaker instead of being moved ahead. (I wonder if that happens more often to boys.) But, I have to say that skipping him forward would not likely have done much to help him. He just tends to get bored when his focus is dictated by others.

That said, homeschooling was not an option as either he or my mother would have wound up dead.

I'm not sure there is a solution for every child. But, anything that moves the public school system away from the whole all-kids-MUST-be-equal mindset sounds like a wonderful thing to me.

Balfegor said...

It was a little embarrassing when I went to college at 17 and was constantly hit up by those "Register to Vote" drives.

Haha -- I couldn't drink legally, my first year of law school.

mcg said...

I was in the same boat, Balfegor (for grad school), for which I compensated by drinking more. :(

dave said...

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, spurred by a recent reading of last fall's article "The Prodigy Puzzle" from the NYTimes Magazine.

I didn't skip any grades - if you don't count kindergarten - and I feel like it's done me both good and harm. Intellectually, it was certainly stifling, but I established a certain attitude towards school - something along the lines of 'OK, I have to go here for a while and do things that they tell me how to do, even though I already know how to do them'. Then I'd go home and read things at my level (which was a _huge_ gap).
In some other areas of personal growth - athletics, for example - NOT skipping grades helped me tremendously. I was physically underdeveloped without the gradeskipping, and if I had been a few grades up I never would have been able to have athletic success at the HS and college levels- which helped me grow as a person in ways that books, no matter how complex they were or how young i was, never could.
I'm not sure I can even talk about the social aspect separate from those 2 things - that didn't really 'click' 'til i went to prep school [though that was probably more stunted by a boys Catholic HS than by any grade dilemmas].

it would have been great to have an environment like Exeter's all growing up, where one could pursue things as far as your ability lets you - I'm sure some places like that exist but not in public schools or in most private schools, which are comparably rigid and limited for "gifted" children. {I hate the term 'gifted' but at least its better than some codescending 'people like us' sort of thing, and I don't have a better idea off the top of my head.}

Zach said...

I skipped fifth, but I had been in a first/second split class in first grade, and starting in second (third?) grade, I was taking the higher grade's math and science classes, returning to the lower grade for social studies. The big advantage to that is that the social adjustments weren't as difficult as they could have been, because some of the kids in the advanced grade already knew me.

One aspect of the social adjustment is that it can actually be easier to be the odd one in some ways. I got along better with the older kids than the younger ones, at least partly because as a skipper, I was in some sense a certified "other," and they didn't feel like they had to compete with me the way that the kids in my nominal age group did.

I don't think I'd recommend skipping two grades or more, though. Swapping peer groups more than once is pushing the limit. The socially maladjusted genius is a cliche' because it's so true: if a kid really is a genius (and not just advanced relative to public school pace) social skills will give him a real competitive advantage relative to his peers later in life that learning the same material 12 months early won't.

Funny story: at a barbeque in college, a proud eight year old informed a professor at my table that she had skipped a grade. In the course of the conversation, it turned out that everybody seated at the table (8-10 people) had also skipped.

nina said...

I skipped two grades and began the university as a freshly minted 16 year old. I loved everything about it, even though I had not realized at the time how tough high school in Poland (where I went) would be (mandatory calculus, beginning junior year). But even though the academics were tough there, one difference stands out: if you accelerate kids in Europe, you do not typically lose them when they're done with high school. Here, in the States, it means pushing your young one out the door to college in some distant place at a time when both of you might still benefit from each other's company.

degree said...

i was skipped from second to third grade in the middle of the year, and had a terrible time with multiplication and cursive handwriting. the other students in my classroom tormented me for being different and 'special', and for wearing glasses. i had no idea i was going to be shunned socially or go from an A student to one who was so stupid i barely made it out of fourth grade the following year [although i read on college level and had a huge vocabulary].

i had figured out in kindergarten that school was just a means of social control, and the schools i attended were terrible, and so were the budgets and curricula -- i slogged through public education in the waning years of the baby boom, when everything was worn out, including the teachers.

to me, too, school was like going to jail every day. i was seen as an underachiever with a bad attitude and was tracked into the middle-to-lower academic levels. everyone else in my family has a ph.d., whereas i barely managed to eke out a b.a.

by the time i was in fifth grade i knew that i wouldn't have children, because i could never send anyone i loved to suffer the years of agony i did. even now [at age 48] i still have nightmares about being in school.

my sister, who started school in new york at age four, is very successful. we moved to colorado and i wasn't allowed to start school until i was five. i think if i had started at four i would have had a much better time of it, as i was already reading the hell out of everything and bored to death at home. at least i should not have been skipped in the middle of the year. a better plan would have been for me to learn multiplication and geography and cursive during the summer after second grade and then enter fourth grade without going to third grade at all. my early experiences ruined learning for me for many years.

at least being ahead spared me a year in school, though, so i was able to get out at 17.

one of my favorite memories is being out of fourth grade so long with bronchitis that i was able to read 'travels with charley' and 'in cold blood' blissfully in bed. no one in the family thought capote was strange reading for an eight year old, and i discussed the books with my parents. if not for having educated parents i'd be as witless as all the folks who poke along under the speed limit in the fast lane.

obviously i feel scarred for life by the chain of events started by my being skipped in the middle of the year. maybe schools are different now, though i can't imagine it could be by much. fortunately since i have no children i didn't have to go back and find out.

so please think twice before skipping children to a higher grade, because it's definitely not for everyone.

HaloJonesFan said...

degree: Sadly, it appears that skipping grades has rendered you unable to use the "SHIFT" key.

madisonman / kathy: Check out the "Carnival of Homeschooling". I only need one hand to count the number of bloggers I've seen linked who don't mention daily religious instruction.

Valentine Cawley said...

I live in Singapore, but grew up in London. I was grade skipped and it was a good thing - but too little. I could have - and should have - skipped a few more. Like all of them. School was not a pleasant experience.

I am now the father of a scientific child prodigy, Ainan Celeste Cawley, six. The problem is, although he is capable of dealing with adult science material, Singapore does not allow grade skipping in public schools. We are stuck therefore, unless we homeschool (and it doesn't really want to allow that either - by making it difficult to get permission).

If you live in a country where grade skipping is allowed and have bright kids, I would let them do so. I think it helps them find their niche easier.

Kind regards