From Yvonne Golczewski:
The Need for Equity
Gifted learners can be found in every conceivable demographic population. Contrary to what our media would have us believe, they do not have a stereotypical appearance.
They come in every skin color and are from every culture and economic strata. They can be found anywhere in the world. They can even be found in the special education student population.
Because many gifted students do not fit our preconceived ideas, many are inadvertently overlooked or underserved, leading to underrepresented demographic populations in gifted education programs. Some minority groups of gifted learners, particularly Black, Hispanic American, and Native American, may be underrepresented by as much as 30 to 70%, with an average of 50%.1
According to the report, Mind the (Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K–12 Education, “Reardon (2008) examined the Black-White academic gaps among initially high- and low- achieving students. In a longitudinal study, he found that even though both Black and White students initially had the same reading and math skills when entering kindergarten, Black students tended to fall well behind their White peers in later grades. In addition, the Black-White gaps grew faster among students who were initially above the mean of reading and math skills than those below the mean. Reardon suggests that Black high-achievers may be attending schools with less challenging learning experiences and fewer resources.”2
Another alarming fact is that gifted learners tend to drop out of school at the same rate as non-gifted classmates. Some studies cite between 18-20% of dropouts may be gifted.
Gifted dropouts were generally from a lower socio-economic status family and had little or no access to extracurricular activities, hobbies, and computers.3
Two Underlying Causes
The Need for Training
Some gifted learners, especially from underprivileged backgrounds, do not start school with an advanced bank of knowledge or vocabulary. Some may not speak English or may have a learning disability that hides their intellectual ability. Others may not have been raised in a family that emphasizes education, and therefore lack a strong drive to achieve.
Some may just be very shy and quiet. There are a multitude of reasons why some gifted learners are harder to identify.
Unfortunately, many education programs in universities do not provide the training necessary for teachers to work effectively with gifted learners. Even after graduating, the Fordham Institute found that 58% of teachers have received no professional development focused on teaching academically advanced students in the past few years.4
Educators must receive the training necessary to understand and identify the true traits of gifted learners so they can be recognized in every classroom. This is the first step to repairing the underrepresentation problem.
Once they are identified, educators must be trained in how to meet the educational needs of these students if they are going to help them to reach their potential. A gifted student with an IQ of 130 is just as different from the average student as one with an IQ of 70.
Gifted learners process information differently than the vast majority of other students.
The regular classroom’s curriculum is inappropriate for these students. And, contrary to popular myth and as evidenced by the statistics stated above, they are not teaching themselves or succeeding on their own.
According to the NAGC (National Association of Gifted Children), “teacher training is critical to the success of these students. Just as one would not expect a star athlete to reach his or her potential without the guidance of a coach, the same is true for GT learners. Students with high abilities need gifted education programs and services led by trained educators in order to enable them to make continuous progress in school. Without properly trained teachers, students cannot excel to their highest potential, and often find themselves bored and frustrated in school.”5
Inconsistent Program Availability
There are wide disparities in the availability and quality of gifted programs from district to district and from school to school across the state. Many districts, including Harford County, leave the decisions regarding gifted identification and programs up to individual schools. Some schools effectively identify their gifted and talented students and provide a significant number of appropriate programs while others provide little, if any.
We can be proud that our county’s Prospect Mill Elementary (in 2011) and Halls Cross Roads Elementary (in 2010) won the prestigious EGATE (Excellence in Gifted and Talented Education) award from the Maryland State Department of Education. Only a handful (5-7) of schools in the state met the rigorous criteria for the award. Yet, in many of our schools, gifted children spend their school days working on material they have already mastered in the regular classroom. The disparity is glaring.
Curiously, guidelines and oversight are consistently mandated across the district and the state regarding the identification of special education students and the proper education programs for these and regular classroom students.
This inconsistency is an equity issue. Access to appropriate gifted programs should not depend on where you happen to live. Until this is rectified, underrepresentation of minority and special populations, including English language learners, students living in poverty, and special education students will continue unabated.
Correcting the inequality does not have to be an expensive hardship on schools. There are some budget friendly ways to solve this issue. Online teacher training courses, acceleration methods, and curriculum compacting are just a few. The NAGC provides current, research-supported information about effective training and program options on its website and in its publications. See: http://www.nagc.org/.
As citizens, we need to advocate for ensuring identification and programming quality, consistency, and oversight from our education authorities. How can you help? Attend the HCPS Board of Education meeting this Monday, October 8, 2012 at 6:30pm, to support the GT Citizens’ Advisory committee’s report to the Board. The Board welcomes comments form the public at their public meetings. You can also write to them. Seek out or start parent groups to synergize your efforts. Join MCGATE, the Maryland organization that provides information and support for parents on gifted education issues at http://www.mcgate.org/MCGATE/Welcome.html.
Let us not stand aside quietly and allow this tragedy to continue any longer. We need to do what is right for the children, our society, and the future of our nation.
By Yvonne Golczewski, Harford County parent,
Chair, HCPS Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Gifted Education,
Vice President, Maryland Coalition for Gifted and Talented Education (MCGATE),
Member, MSDE Maryland State Advisory Council for Gifted and Talented Education
1 Ross, P. et al. (1993). National Excellence: a Case for Developing America’s Talent. Washington,DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Programs for the Improvement of Practice.
2 Reardon, S. (2008). Differential growth in the Black-White achievement gap during elementary school among initially high- and low-scoring students. Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice Working Paper 2008-7. Plucker, J., Burroughs, N., Song, R., Mind the (Other) Gap! The Growing Excellence Gap in K–12 Education, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Feb. 2010 (p.2),
3 Myth: Gifted Students Don’t Need Help; They’ll Do Fine On Their Own, National Association for Gifted Children, Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.nagc.org/index2.aspx?id=5064
4 Farkas, S., & Duffet, A. (2008). High-achieving students in the era of NCLB: Results from a national teacher survey (p 53). Washington, DC: Fordham Institute, Retrieved from NAGC website, 9/24/12, Myth: Teachers Challenge All The Students, So Gifted Kids Will Be Fine In The Regular Classroom, http://www.nagc.org/commonmyths.aspx
5 Common Gifted Education Myths, National Association for Gifted Children, Retrieved October 24, 2011, from http://www.nagc.org/commonmyths.aspx