Giving kids what they need when they need it

By Deborah L. Ruf and Kathy Hara

On September 27 and 28, leaders concerned about this country’s state of education came together at Rockefeller Plaza for the Education Nation Summit. Education Nation came to the Summit seeking “to engage the public, through thoughtful dialogue, in pursuit of the shared goal of providing every American with an opportunity to pursue the best education in the world.” Urgency was the name of the game. “Our workforce,” they say in their mission statement, “is largely unprepared for today’s rapidly changing marketplace and we face stiff competition from abroad. Forty years ago, our students were first. As other countries have gained ground in educating their students, America’s public schools have stalled. Among 30 developed nations, we rank 24th in Math, 17th in Science and 10th in Literacy.” We need to find workable solutions.

We know, of course, that these are very complex issues and there are no simple and easy answers. And yet . . .

In order to look ahead, we think we should also be looking back. Back to the model of the one room schoolhouse. In our minds, the ideal educational setup is where the elementary, junior and senior high schools are either all in one building or in buildings adjacent to each other, so that every student can get to the class where what they are ready to learn is already being taught. Grouping, tracking, or whatever you want to call it, works. We just forgot that it works in our misguided notion that everyone must get the exact same education, whether or not it fits each child’s needs.

Sex Differences Call For Different Educational Treatments

By Deborah L. Ruf with Kathy Hara

I often point out that grouping children by age for instruction makes as little pedagogical sense as grouping them by height. Well, assuming boys and girls learn equally well under the same conditions doesn’t make much sense, either - it ignores clear-cut biological differences between the sexes, and that leads to problems for each.

Unfortunately, political correctness has blurred the very real differences between the ways boys and girls respond to typical classrooms. In my private consultancy, I am constantly reminded that women—mothers—really do need some information on what boys are like and what they need in order to grow into well-adjusted, good men. For starters, I highly recommend the very readable book What Could He Be Thinking: How a Man’s Mind Really Works by Michael Gurian.

Here are several of the most important differences between boys and girls that I have noticed:

Those familiar with the structure of the brain note that the part that interconnects the two hemispheres of the brain, the corpus callosum, is, on average, about 25% smaller in males than in females. This seems to lead to males thinking mostly in their left hemispheres while females think across and back and forth with both. As a result, males tend to specialize and focus on what interests them, and gifted boys end up being mini-specialists on what interests them by the time they start school. Gifted females, on the other hand, tend to be high-level generalists and multi-taskers - natural managers.

Student IQs and Teacher Evaluations

By Deborah L. Ruf and Kathy Hara

How do we encourage our best teachers and cull out the worst of them? What is the best and most fair way of doing that? And then how much difference will that actually make in what our children learn? These are questions that dominate popular discussions of how our schools are doing.

A recent article in the New York Times discusses the use of the “value added model” in evaluating teachers (Formula to Grade Teachers’ Skill Gains Acceptance, and Critics, by Sam Dillon, August 31, 2010). This method includes tracking test scores of students over the course of several years. Were Johnny’s scores in the 80th percentile this year, when he scored 70% last year? Then his teacher must be doing a great job and deserves a bonus. What about little Mary? Her scores were the same, so no “value added.” Deservedly so or not, teachers across the country are losing their jobs if their students aren’t keeping up.

The Other Achievement Gap, Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog entry, we discussed intellectual differences in the population of the United States. Now let’s discuss some educational approaches that will benefit all levels.

We cast aside good approaches to educating every person to the best of his or her ability when we can’t accept that people are innately different from one another from the get-go. We further cripple our efforts when we shame people for doing their best at important occupations that are not considered prestigious (e.g., the trades, services, labor). Indeed, one result of our current emphasis on making all students “college ready” is that we are overlooking legitimate, needed job training for individuals whose abilities, regardless of their education, will never make them college ready. Less than one-quarter of the American population has the kind of reasoning and learning abilities that lend themselves to college-level training. Rather than a college degree to earn a good living, we should adjust how we pay people for work they are able to do and give them the training they need to do it well.

The Other Achievement Gap, Part 1

How can we better encourage and reinforce the most entrepreneurial and talented among us? We can start by changing the ways we set up schools and the ways we address the very different learning abilities and needs of the students in them.

The well-known “achievement gap” refers to the difference in the average academic performance between our highest and lowest achieving population groups. Closing that gap has led us to focus our attention on students who are struggling with fundamental achievement. As little progress is made to close these gaps, it seems we refuse to explore anything beyond external influences as probable causes for our failures. We rarely speak of individual differences in ability. I recently attended a symposium where speakers repeatedly reminded us that “just because we don’t like what the research is telling us does not mean it is bad research.”

Welcome to TalentIgniter!

Welcome to! After more than a year of setting up and refining this unique assessment tool, we are so excited to at last be "live."

The heart and hallmark of TalentIgniter, and our first product, is the Ruf Estimates™ of Levels of Gifted Online Assessment. This is the result of many, many years of Dr. Ruf’s research, experience and work, and there is nothing else like it.

This inventory, which parents complete online from their own records of their children's early development, gives an estimate of where a child fits intellectually compared to others the same age. It gives parents an idea of the eventual tested IQ range, intellectual strengths and weaknesses, and then what a child like this needs in order to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally - at home and at school. The Ruf Estimates™ Developmental Milestones information is from birth to age six (although, for exceptionally bright youngsters, it can be done as early as age 3). The whole idea is to arm parents with important information before they choose a school, before their child starts underachieving or having any problems in school. One size does not fit all, so parents need to know what their own children need and how their own children are likely to fare in school.  Dr. Ruf has always been concerned about empowering parents to make more of their own decisions regarding their children’s educations, and helping them educate themselves is the first step in that process.

Our long range goal at TalentIgniter is to provide a "cradle to grave" site which will offer tools to help both children and adults make the most of their innate abilities. Soon we will be adding tools and resources about personality differences, gender differences, Ruf Estimates™ for adults, and much more. 

Our low introductory price of $45 for The Ruf Estimates™ Online Assessment is available until October 1.

Please take a look at TalentIgniter. Once you’ve looked at our Home page, we suggest you click on the Ruf Estimates tab and read How Smart Is My Child? Using the Ruf Estimates™ of Levels of Gifted.

Thank you for visiting TalentIgniter. Please let us know what you think by sending a note to

Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Kathy Hara

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