By Gina Kennedy
According to the National Association for Gifted Children, there are three to five million gifted students in our public schools today, however rarely will you find two school districts in the United States that service these students in a similar way. Best practices and strategies to teach the gifted are likely based on opinion from one set of school district leaders to the next.
The federal government in the United States has failed to provide a single definition of giftedness or provide any guidance or requirements on how to service gifted students at the state or local level. Fourteen states in the United States do not provide any funding for the education of their gifted students.
Three to five million students with the potential to find a cure for cancer, develop a new technology, or even become our next government leaders continue to come up short when priorities are set in national, state or local budgets. Parents of these students are on their own to find an adequate education for their child, or their children become bored and rarely reach their full potential in the public school classroom.
Minority students repeatedly go unidentified in our gifted population. In the midst of trying to get a large amount of students to simply pass a basic state achievement exam—the last concern of district leaders or much less school leaders is how to provide an adequate education for the students who “ace the exam.”
Success in our public school system is now driven by high-stakes testing. Principals who increase test scores are praised, while those who promote programs for gifted students or high achievers are rare and go unnoticed. If we looked instead at individual differences then possibly all learners would be treated with the same diligence. However, testing should never be the driving force for best teaching practices.
As a gifted specialist, teacher and coordinator in several school districts for many years, the attention I’ve seen towards our gifted and high-achieving students has steadily diminished. Many gifted students, especially from single family households and minority backgrounds, have less of a chance to be identified or be provided with opportunities to advance than those who are from more affluent areas. We must consider our poor gifted and talented students. Instead, we are setting bright students up for failure. Many of these students will become bored and appear unmotivated. Some might dropout!
Several studies in the past few years have shown that our most inexperienced teachers are teaching at Title One schools. These teachers are struggling to keep up with the daily demands of classroom behavior management, assessments, paperwork, meetings and providing help to low performing students. Teachers are not encouraged to place a high priority on gifted students; some may not have been prepared to work with advanced learners. Often, the few students with disruptive behaviors receive the greatest amount of attention, while the needs of gifted students are ignored.
Parents yearn for better gifted services for their students. They know the value of reading to their children at an early age, providing their children with educational experiences, and teaching their children important social skills. They do everything right! However, once their children enter public school, they are lost in a sea of sameness. Isn’t it time we consider individual differences? How much longer will we continue to ignore our gifted population?
Gina Kennedy is a Gifted Specialist in a Texas school district deeply committed to her students. I asked her to write about her passion for this area of special education.