Gifted Education: Let’s Put the Scalpel Away

  • They can learn on their own.
  • They don’t need extra help like those struggling kids 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. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have heard these comments from the general public, but what I really found disturbing was ignorance, disregard, and even disdain for gifted students on the part of other teachers, building principals, and school board members.

In an interview with Matthew Jaskol, David Pierce posed the question, Are gifted students now an underserved population? With no one else in the room beside my cat, I found myself responding, 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. What’s more is that while this is a problem in suburban schools, it’s huge in urban and rural settings. When budgets are trimmed, and cuts must be made, gifted programs are often one of the first to go under the scalpel.

According to data cited from the US Department of Education, in 2011-12 there were approximately 3.2 million students in public schools in gifted and talented programs; that translates to approximately 6.4% of the entire student enrollment. That number actually declined since 2006, when 6.7% of students were enrolled in gifted and talented programs. There does not appear to be a significant lack of gender equity amongst this group, but there is a glaring lack of equity when it comes to race/ethnicity. While 13% of these 3.2 million students were listed as Asian and 7.6% as White, students categorized as Hispanic or Black were enrolled in gifted programs on a much smaller scale, at 4.6% and 3.6% respectively. This lack of equity suggests that we as a nation have much work to do before we can look our students in the eye and know we provided each one with an excellent educational experience tailored to meet their specific needs.

One state, however, appears to be moving in the right direction. Effective July 1, 2018, all public schools in the state of Illinois must have systems in place to (1) identify gifted learners, and (2) advance or accommodate those students academically. Known as the Accelerated Placement Act, this is an important step toward providing appropriate educational experiences for those students who are often overlooked and left to learn on their own. However, it remains to be seen whether the Act has been sufficiently funded for essentials including testing, instruction, teacher training, and family involvement. It’s one thing to issue a mandate; it’s quite another to provide school districts with the support they need to achieve a successful outcome.

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (