Why Gifted Education?
Keeping a child who can do sixth-grade work in a second-grade classroom is not saving that student’s childhood but is instead robbing that child of the desire to learn. – Ellen Winner, Gifted Children: Myths and Realities
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. – William Butler Yeats
According to the National Association for Gifted Children and other experts, about 5 to 7 percent of children are gifted. In the Rochester Community Schools, this would be up to 1,000 students. But even with this large number of students, gifted children and the need for gifted education is little understood and often overlooked. Gifted education is essentially non-existent in our elementary schools, limited in our middle schools, and present as honors and AP classes in our high schools.
I want examine why advanced and gifted education is necessary in our schools to make students college-ready, career-ready, and life-ready.
Two of the most important qualities our school system can help instill is a love for learning and the ability to overcome adversity. That requires an appropriate level of instruction, academics that stimulate the intellect, and a pace appropriate to the learner. How would typical students fare if they were placed a year or two behind their grade level? They might ace all the exams, but they would be bored, not learn, not develop study skills, and wouldn’t fit in. According to The Marland Report on gifted children in 1972, “because the majority of gifted children’s school adjustment problems occur between kindergarten and fourth grade, about half of gifted children became ‘mental dropouts’ at around 10 years of age.”
Our children are sent to school to learn. To learn, the material must be new. Most people only learn how to swim once. You wouldn’t put someone who knows how to swim in a beginners class no matter his age. And once you’ve learned the front crawl, you want to move on to other strokes like the butterfly. Spending time swimming laps while your classmates are still figuring out side breathing is time spent not learning. The classroom is no different. Some children are ahead of classmates their age in academics. Re-learning the material makes no sense for them. Some children learn much quicker than others. Giving them additional worksheets (swimming laps) will not teach them more. We need to focus on what material is academically aligned, not age aligned.
More importantly, our children are sent to school to learn how to learn. To do this, the material must be appropriately aligned and paced to the child. When much of the material is review or the pace is too slow, the students do not learn as much as they should or could. They do not acquire necessary skills in how to study, how to learn, and how to work hard to achieve a goal. Not having those skills will harm them in their careers and lives more than any lack of knowledge. A person who never has a challenge is a person who never really succeeds.
Often there are concerns about how gifted education will affect a student socially. Will a child accelerated a grade or put in an advanced cluster group be out of place in the classroom? In the vast majority of cases, placing a child with his intellectual peers helps him fit in socially by not sticking out so much. Being with other advanced peers allows a gifted child to understand his uniqueness better. Students appropriately placed into gifted programs are much less disruptive in the classroom as their minds remain occupied. In addition, overcoming obstacles and earning success improves self esteem more than easy accomplishments.
Gifted education helps keep advanced learners engaged in school. In 1991, the dropout rate for gifted students was estimated at 18-25 percent, far exceeding the U.S. dropout rate of 12.1 percent at that time. Two major factors were lacking or inappropriate gifted education and poor social adjustment. Both are improved by gifted education. Not having gifted education is leaving gifted children behind.
Gifted education is needed to provide academically aligned education for advanced students, to teach gifted students skills needed in their careers and lives, to meet their social and emotional needs, and to keep them engaged in school so they don’t drop out. It is important that this group of students not be overlooked in the schools simply because they can “get by” without much assistance.
Gifted Education is Equal Education
Public schools are supposed to meet the needs of all learners, not just the average learner. This has long been the purpose of public schools and is reflected in the mandate to educate special needs students. We understand that curriculum must be appropriately paced and at the level the student can understand, yet still promote learning by presenting new knowledge and stretching the student’s skills. This is true of any student and many public schools have done a great job of doing this with both the average and special needs learners.
The question that should be asked regarding each student is “Is he learning?” This is a much more important question than “Can he pass the material?” or “Will he ace the test?” Education is only equal if each student is learning. Placing a typical third grade student into a sixth grade classroom or a typical six grade student into a third grade class does not result in learning and is unfair to the student whose academic level is asynchronous to the rest of his classmates. While gifted children in a standard classroom often ace the exams, they are not learning at the pace they should be.
Children come in all sizes and all abilities. To provide the same education to all students is as fair as providing size medium pads to all the football players. They will fit many players, but the larger kids will be cramped and the smaller kids will be weighed down and the performance of both will suffer. Your football players will be most effective with equipment tailored to that player.
Gifted Education is Not Elite Education
We live an egalitarian society. Egalitarianism can take two forms. The first, egalitarianism of opportunity, is that all people are equal in fundamental worth and social standing. Skin color, intelligence, or wealth does not give you additional political or civil rights. The second form, egalitarianism of results, is the redistribution of assets to compensate for differences in abilities and effectiveness. Each person gets the same.
The United States was set up to be egalitarian in opportunity and founded on statements like “All men are created equal.” Unions are often set up to be egalitarian in results, where pay and job retention are not based on abilities and effectiveness. This accounts in part for the bias against gifted education in many public schools. To achieve equality of results, not only must additional resources be expended to raise up those struggling, but resources must be reduced to bring down those who are excelling. This egalitarianism of results is contradictory to egalitarianism of opportunity.
Public schools have become an unusual mix of egalitarianism of opportunity and egalitarianism of results. Egalitarianism of results rules in academics and teacher pay. Egalitarianism of opportunity exists in athletics, student politics, and social life. Star athletes are not benched until everyone else catches up. Students do not take turns being class president. Friends are not redistributed from popular kids to outcasts. In contrast, gifted students are often do not receive academic stimulation until the rest of the class catches up, are not called on when they know the answer, and asked to mentor students who are behind.
What parents of gifted students desire is a change from egalitarianism of results to egalitarianism of opportunity. Let our children also struggle to achieve a grade. Let our children also learn new things at a pace appropriate to them. Let our children have a curriculum that fits them. Respect the individual differences in learning for all students.
Having Gifted Education Can Be Inexpensive
There are many types of gifted education or acceleration. Many are very inexpensive to implement. Early admission, grade-skipping, or partial acceleration are essentially free. Other options such as magnet classrooms or magnet schools can have initial start-up costs with teacher training or redistricting to open up space at a school. However, the costs after that are similar to a standard classroom or school and funds are just shifted with the students instead of added. Pull-out programs can also be fairly inexpensive, adding 1/2 to 1 teaching resource per school.
Other forms of acceleration such as curriculum compacting, telescoping, or mentors can be more expensive as they can require additional teaching resources. While schools often are compensated for special needs children, they are not compensated for resources spent on gifted students. These forms of gifted education may be too costly for many schools.
Not Having Gifted Education Can Be Expensive
Gifted children who are not accelerated can create additional costs for school districts and society. Bored children can become turned off to learning or be troublemakers. Gifted students who are not in accelerated programs drop out at higher rates, have more psychological problems, and more often become underachievers. Many gifted students, particularly girls, hide their giftedness so that they can fit in. Gifted students in gifted programs have better self-esteem and have an easier time making friends.
Not having gifted education in a school district also often results in parents of gifted children removing from those schools for other options: local public schools of choice, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, parochial schools, and home schooling. Each time a student leaves, their funding leaves too. Many school districts are reducing services because of falling enrollment. A good gifted and talented program will attract students who will bring their funding with them.
Gifted Education Benefits Everyone
Many times people look at the resources devoted to gifted students and ask why their student who gets average grades doesn’t get added resources. First, in many gifted and talented programs, gifted students do not get additional resources, but the same amount of resources allocated differently. Second, when gifted students are pulled-out of the regular classroom either through pull-out programs or magnet schools, other students can benefit. With pull-out programs, the gifted students may be sent to another room for a few hours a week. This means that the classroom teacher has fewer students to instruct and more time can be dedicated to the rest of the class. With grade-skipping, partial acceleration, and magnet schools, the teachers in the standard classrooms have a narrower range of students to teach to and do not have to spend as much time with differentiation.
Pulling out the gifted and advanced students also allows other students to answer more questions and to gain self-esteem by becoming top performers. Athletic teams understand this and often have freshman and junior varsity teams as greater participation, more interaction with the coach, and the chance to be a star help the athletes gain skills they would not if they were playing on a team with the varsity players.
Gifted programs have also created many of the innovations seen in the regular classroom that have improved academics. Problem-based curriculum, literature-based reading, and self-directed learning were all born in the gifted classroom. These adaptations, meant to challenge gifted students, have moved to other classrooms because of their effectiveness.
Why is Advanced and Gifted Education Necessary?
- It is equal and fair learning conditions for advanced and gifted students.
- It meets the unique needs of gifted children
- It helps gifted students to achieve their potential
- It aids other students in achieving their potential
- It is inexpensive compared to the results of not having gifted education