To be Young, Gifted, and in Reno

My attitude toward public education in America usually vacillates between anger and despair. Despite spending more money per pupil than any other major country, American public schools progressively dumb down our kids, as revealed in international comparisons on standardized tests. The longer our students attend public schools, the lower their ranking compared to other nations. Lower grades of primary schools score well, but by the end of high school, American students rank near the bottom.

Public schools are, frankly, mostly run for the benefit of the teacher unions, dedicated to the notions that we are never spending enough money, that class size must be small (meaning more dues—paying union members), and that parents should defer to 'professionals' in curriculum and other decisions affecting the classroom. It is enough to give many thoughtful observers genuine worries.   

But occasionally, the genius of the American political system comes through with a winner in public education. Local control and federalism allow a certain degree of experimentation, and the unions and educrats sometimes fail to extinguish positive innovations. Such an example seems to be flourishing in Reno, Nevada.

According to this article in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, a philanthropic couple has provided the energy and money to establish a new school for extraordinarily gifted children within a public school system, and so far it seems to be working well.

Jan and Bob Davidson donated $15 million last year to create the Davidson Academy of Nevada, a one—of—a—kind public school for "profoundly gifted" children. The Davidsons have long championed the idea that our educational system should do as much to push gifted students ahead as guarantee that those with the least ability don't get left behind.

"We've always been very passionate about education, (and felt) that this was a population that nobody was serving," Jan Davidson said of the kind of students who will be attending the academy....

The Davidsons are residents of Incline Village, on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful, and one of the wealthiest, places in America, just across the state line from California's high tax environment. They made a fortune in the software industry, publishing programs like Math Blaster, which helped a generation of kids learn math, so they have done well by doing good for quite some time. They are no strangers to philanthropy, either, having previously awarded many scholarships for gifted children to attend schools where their talents might flourish.

However, establishing a 'super—magnet' school within the public schools required no less than a special act of the Nevada Legislature, creating a special category of public school allowed to

both admit or deny students based on their academic achievement and to have its students learn at whatever pace suits them best.

The Bonanza reports that many of the families of students at the Davidson Academy have moved to Reno and Nevada to enroll their children. Fortunately, the booming Reno economy is able to provide jobs, and the cost of living is not excessive. Equally fortunately, Nevada's legislature, housed in the nearby small town of Carson City, was able to tolerate such legislation. I have visited the Nevada State Capitol, and noticed the extremely personaized flavor of the place. Though Nevada's population has skyrocketed, the Capitol feels like a place where individuals count.

I am profoundly grateful to the Davidsons for showing this leadership. America is a country where geniuses, from any origin, are able to make a difference. Unlike Europe, Japan, China, and South Korea, for instance, our society tolerates, even supports, non—conformists with ideas and energy. With our freedom, genius can flourish here, if it is not prematurely crushed by deadly education.

Admission to the Davidson Academy is highly competitive, and one must be a top—scorer to qualify. This makes sense, but it is not the whole story of what we need to do.

Another aspect of America that I love is that we are a country of second and third, and even fourth, chances. If you don't demonstrate your talents early, there are multiple routes for you to eventually find your way to make a contribution. Late bloomers, or people whose talents are not readily demonstrated on tests, can also manifest genius and make a huge contribution to our lives. Non—geniuses, in even larger numbers, thrive and excel, too.

I wish Davidson Academy all the best, and I hope it becomes a widely imitated model. But I also hope that other innovations will be able to find a place in our publicly—funded system. Innovations in discovering ways for all sorts of talents to flourish. Since acts of state legislatures are difficult to obtain (ask any lobbyist!), public funding of charter schools and private schools via vouchers will encourage more such experimentation.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.

My attitude toward public education in America usually vacillates between anger and despair. Despite spending more money per pupil than any other major country, American public schools progressively dumb down our kids, as revealed in international comparisons on standardized tests. The longer our students attend public schools, the lower their ranking compared to other nations. Lower grades of primary schools score well, but by the end of high school, American students rank near the bottom.

Public schools are, frankly, mostly run for the benefit of the teacher unions, dedicated to the notions that we are never spending enough money, that class size must be small (meaning more dues—paying union members), and that parents should defer to 'professionals' in curriculum and other decisions affecting the classroom. It is enough to give many thoughtful observers genuine worries.   

But occasionally, the genius of the American political system comes through with a winner in public education. Local control and federalism allow a certain degree of experimentation, and the unions and educrats sometimes fail to extinguish positive innovations. Such an example seems to be flourishing in Reno, Nevada.

According to this article in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, a philanthropic couple has provided the energy and money to establish a new school for extraordinarily gifted children within a public school system, and so far it seems to be working well.

Jan and Bob Davidson donated $15 million last year to create the Davidson Academy of Nevada, a one—of—a—kind public school for "profoundly gifted" children. The Davidsons have long championed the idea that our educational system should do as much to push gifted students ahead as guarantee that those with the least ability don't get left behind.

"We've always been very passionate about education, (and felt) that this was a population that nobody was serving," Jan Davidson said of the kind of students who will be attending the academy....

The Davidsons are residents of Incline Village, on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful, and one of the wealthiest, places in America, just across the state line from California's high tax environment. They made a fortune in the software industry, publishing programs like Math Blaster, which helped a generation of kids learn math, so they have done well by doing good for quite some time. They are no strangers to philanthropy, either, having previously awarded many scholarships for gifted children to attend schools where their talents might flourish.

However, establishing a 'super—magnet' school within the public schools required no less than a special act of the Nevada Legislature, creating a special category of public school allowed to

both admit or deny students based on their academic achievement and to have its students learn at whatever pace suits them best.

The Bonanza reports that many of the families of students at the Davidson Academy have moved to Reno and Nevada to enroll their children. Fortunately, the booming Reno economy is able to provide jobs, and the cost of living is not excessive. Equally fortunately, Nevada's legislature, housed in the nearby small town of Carson City, was able to tolerate such legislation. I have visited the Nevada State Capitol, and noticed the extremely personaized flavor of the place. Though Nevada's population has skyrocketed, the Capitol feels like a place where individuals count.

I am profoundly grateful to the Davidsons for showing this leadership. America is a country where geniuses, from any origin, are able to make a difference. Unlike Europe, Japan, China, and South Korea, for instance, our society tolerates, even supports, non—conformists with ideas and energy. With our freedom, genius can flourish here, if it is not prematurely crushed by deadly education.

Admission to the Davidson Academy is highly competitive, and one must be a top—scorer to qualify. This makes sense, but it is not the whole story of what we need to do.

Another aspect of America that I love is that we are a country of second and third, and even fourth, chances. If you don't demonstrate your talents early, there are multiple routes for you to eventually find your way to make a contribution. Late bloomers, or people whose talents are not readily demonstrated on tests, can also manifest genius and make a huge contribution to our lives. Non—geniuses, in even larger numbers, thrive and excel, too.

I wish Davidson Academy all the best, and I hope it becomes a widely imitated model. But I also hope that other innovations will be able to find a place in our publicly—funded system. Innovations in discovering ways for all sorts of talents to flourish. Since acts of state legislatures are difficult to obtain (ask any lobbyist!), public funding of charter schools and private schools via vouchers will encourage more such experimentation.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.