I just recently read an article that asked the question, “Are gifted students now an underserved population?” While it was generally well-written and I have no conflict with the author, I found myself saying in response: Well of course they are–they always have been.
As a former teacher of the gifted I am very aware of how the needs of talented, precocious students have been overlooked and ignored over the years. I could understand the general public not understanding G/T students but what I really found disturbing was ignorance, disregard, and even disdain for them on the part of other teachers, building principals, and school board members. “They can learn on their own!” “They don’t need extra help like those struggling learners do.” “They can go to that gifted class, but they’d better make up all that work while they’re out of my classroom!” Those are all statements I vividly recall hearing, and my students heard them as well.
What’s more is that while this is a problem in suburban schools, it’s huge in urban and rural settings. Even to this day there are few programs designed to identify and provide services to meet the educational, emotional, and social needs of gifted students. The author in this article talked about one-on-one mentoring and this is great–in fact I facilitated something similar with seventh and eighth graders–but very few schools are able to put the wheels of something like this in motion. For one thing, many rural areas in particular have very few individuals who could serve as mentors in specialized fields. While it’s true that technology has helped to make our world much smaller, it’s also true that many rural areas still struggle with securing high-speed connectivity or don’t have current, operable hardware–assuming of course that the school district has enough money to fund a highly qualified teacher of the gifted in the first place. When budgets are trimmed and cuts have to be made, it’s been my observation that gifted programs are often one of the first to go under the scalpel.
In addition to being able to understand this issue through the lens of a regular classroom teacher as well as a gifted facilitator, I can see it through the eyes of a gifted student growing up in a rural area. For me, there was no support–no gifted program, no accelerated classes, no mentoring. Instead, I recall the high school school counselor arranging for me to tutor struggling students, and I even helped him collect and analyze data for his master’s thesis. By the time I had completed 10th grade, there were no other classes for me to take. That left me with one option: To quit school, which I did upon my 16th birthday. Two days later I took my General Equivalency Diploma test and earned my GED in lieu of a high school diploma. Two weeks after that I started college. Was that really the best path for me to take? No. Do I wish I had had other options available to me? Of course. I understand the frustration of having educational needs that are not being met, and it infuriates me that this pattern continues even to this day.
When are we as a nation going to recognize that ALL students deserve an excellent education? When are we going to give up on the notion that some students can teach themselves? Why must we keep choosing which students to serve and which programs to fund? This is the United State of America–we can and must do better.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.