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Education Reporter

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A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students, N. Colangelo, S.G. Assouline, M.U.M. Gross, Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, 2004, 67 pp. plus lengthy appendix.

The woeful state of primary and secondary education in America is common knowledge, and the magnitude of the problem has crowded out more specialized concerns regarding education. In this report, educators argue that in addition to raising academic standards for all students, schools should do more to stimulate and challenge the students who demonstrate the aptitude and motivation to move faster than their peers. Acceleration can take many forms, of which the best known are grade-skipping, starting elementary school or college early, and various kinds of ability grouping, including Advanced Placement courses in high school. Different types of acceleration work for different students and are by no means applicable only to child prodigies. More than a million bright, motivated young people benefit every year from acceleration programs. Prominent beneficiaries of acceleration include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

While acceleration offers obvious benefits to both individual students and society at large, its implementation faces obstacles in the education community. Many educators are afraid of the potential negative consequences of acceleration, including excessive academic pressure, isolation from other people of the same age, and inability to fit in with older students. These are legitimate concerns, and ones which this report tends to downplay. However, such problems arise mainly in cases of drastic acceleration, such as grade-skipping. In the more common forms of acceleration, such as honors or Advanced Placement courses, these concerns are minimal.

Acceleration is not for everyone, and it may go against the grain of egalitarian ideals. However, students are used to being grouped by ability in other activities, such as sports, so there is no reason for teachers to treat academics differently. The availability of acceleration options is an important component in any society that recognizes and promotes individual achievement.

Students and society are losers when a district succumbs to pressure, as California's Vista Unified district board did in May, to open honors classes to everyone. Latino families pushed for the change in a packed meeting where a father of a non-honors student complained to the board in Spanish, "All of the students should have the [honors-class] opportunity." (San Diego Union-Tribune, 5-25-05)

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