America’s future depends on gifted students

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  • Should public schools have gifted education programs? "Unequivocally yes" @rickhess99 writes

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  • In @nytimes Room for Debate @rickhess99 argues in favor of gifted ed programs

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  • In the NCLB era, funding for gifted ed has declined at the federal level, & 14 states do not fund at all

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Should public schools have separate gifted education programs? The answer is unequivocally yes, though a puritanical fascination with “closing the achievement gap” has made it harder and harder to say so. Some children are clearly gifted in ways that others are not, and schools exist to provide the resources and instruction that can nurture those gifts. More prosaically, it’s worth noting that the students with special gifts may be those most likely to one day develop miraculous cures, produce inspiring works, invent technological marvels and improve the lives of all Americans.

Insisting that gifted children will “be fine” if we cut these programs is a disservice to these children and a horrific waste of an invaluable natural resource. Indeed, everything we know about brain plasticity, human development and how excellence is the result of copious disciplined practice teaches that we’re putting much at risk when we simply hope that overburdened classroom teachers can provide the teaching and learning that gifted children need. Anyone who has watched a teacher labor to “differentiate” instruction in a classroom that encompasses both math prodigies and English language learners knows it’s unreasonable to expect most teachers to do this well.

Unfortunately, since No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, we’ve seen gifted program suffer a long era of benign neglect amid the rush of attention to race- and income-based “achievement gaps.” The National Association for Gifted Children reports that 14 states provided no funding at all to local districts for gifted education. In a widely cited Fordham Institute report, pollsters Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett found that most teachers feel pressured to focus their attention on the lowest-achieving students, with 81 percent saying “struggling students” are most likely to get one-on-one attention. While federal K-12 spending has roughly doubled since 2002, funding for gifted education has declined from $11.25 million in 2002 (less than one tenth of 1 percent of federal K-12 spending that year) to $5 million in 2014.

If schools were focused on helping every student reach their potential, gifted programs might seem an unnecessary perk. But in an era where gifted children have been neglected in a well-intended but monomaniacal push to lift the reading and math scores of struggling students, these programs offer a crucial haven for those on whose frail shoulders the future of 21st America may ultimately ride.

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Frederick M.
Hess

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