Education Letter to the Editor

Educating the Gifted

October 12, 2004 6 min read
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Today’s gifted students are at a disadvantage because their academic and emotional needs are not being met (“Report Urges Acceleration for Gifted Students,” Sept. 29, 2004).

Gifted students given a steady diet of grade-level curriculum learn to coast. When they finally get more challenging content, they may balk because they have not developed needed study skills and habits. Their effort level has been so low that they lose confidence in their ability and may think they are no longer gifted. A too-easy curriculum has given them the idea that being gifted means that learning is “easy.” They are often bored in school because their intellect is not being engaged, and they become frustrated with the slow pace of learning. They may daydream or have behavior problems.

If fairness is the issue, then it is only fair that each student be given appropriate-level curricula. One size does not fit all. If we can provide for our slowest students, then we must also provide appropriately for our fastest learners. Accelerated classes in flexible grouping, or subject- and grade-skipping, should be available to all highly capable students.

Unfortunately, the federal No Child Left Behind legislation is leaving gifted students behind because it causes school systems to focus on the struggling students and to assume that the bright ones will make it on their own. This is certainly not the case. Research indicates that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent of dropouts test in the gifted range.

Without appropriate challenge, gifted students will continue to achieve far below their capabilities, and our nation will be the weaker for it.

Letty Rayneri

Dougherty County School System

Albany, Ga.

To the Editor:

Gifted children are our most neglected special-needs group. Policymakers feel that because these children are gifted, they will get the services they need. They fail to realize that gifted students and their parents often need help with handling their social and emotional development. Gifted children will gravitate, for example, to older children as their friends. So the premise that we are hurting them by placing them with children not their age is wrong. We are hurting them more by making them sit in classrooms where they must wait for everyone else to catch up to them.

Parents of gifted children often don’t realize how badly the services for the gifted are in our school systems. If they did realize it, they would rise up and demand that their child’s special need be addressed.

Renee C. Hagan

Heritage Hills Baptist Church

Conyers, Ga.

To the Editor:

I am not an educator; I am the parent of an academically gifted child who is very interested in education issues.

Ironically, in this “no child left behind” world, our best and brightest are often given the scraps off the educational table. And then we lament the fact that America lags behind other countries educationally, and that we have to recruit people from other nations to fill jobs that require strong scientific and technical abilities.

We must develop our best minds or continue to be embarrassed.

Paula Green

Pomona, Calif.

To the Editor:

Gifted and talented students are being held back because of a lack of proper training for today’s teachers. Many teachers do not have the skills of “differentiated instruction of curriculum,” and don’t understand how frustrating it is to be in a class with boring instructional methods. Data show that there are very few states with trained gifted-and-talented teachers.

The No Child Left Behind law has placed much emphasis on bringing our “regular” population of students up to par. In the process, though, we have forgotten about our high-achieving students.

The funding and resources in many school districts have been diverted from great gifted-and-talented activities, such as speech and debate classes and Academic Decathlon, and put into low-level, canned programs such as online reading courses. These will do nothing for higher-achieving students, yet they funnel away valuable resources from programs that would benefit them.

So many gifted students are forced to deal with low-level, remedial coursework, rather than getting the help they deserve to enhance the knowledge and talent they already possess.

Richard Donaghey

Navajo Pine High School

Gallup-McKinley County Schools

Navajo, N.M.

To the Editor:

All too many teachers, administrators, and policymakers seem to value order more than encouraging kids to reach their potential. Minimum competency as a goal fits well with the need for order. The No Child Left Behind Act is simply another chapter in the neglect of the needs of gifted children.

It is all well and good to say that there will be horizontal enrichment, but the 4th grader who is reading at the 12th grade level has already done everything that reading instruction was supposed to accomplish. The 5th grader who is comfortable with the quadratic equation is often well beyond the teacher. Some school systems work hard to make individual adjustments, but the resources for those adjustments come from the individual district and parents.

We are not going to do away with grade levels as the common educational structure in this country, and I believe that leads to the need for some form of acceleration for gifted children. Opening the possibility for that acceleration for all gifted kids will require some additional resources. Public support, instead of parental support, for distance education programs, such as Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (http://www-epgy.stanford. edu/), might be a place to start, but there should be initiatives that are not distance-education-dependent as well.

R. L. Erion

South Dakota State University

Brookings, S.D.

To the Editor:

Whether gifted or disabled, a child who thinks and performs outside the norms (or should I say, “targets of instruction”) is challenged by the typical school delivery design, as well as the curriculum. Generally, schools simply are not designed to accommodate the needs of students at either end of the spectrum (let alone the needs of those who combine elements of both).

Interestingly, it seems as though much of what is being challenged is not a skills set or knowledge set, but a mind-set. The disposition and belief system of teachers, administrators, policymakers, and parents play such a significant role in this process. Evidence to suggest any direction that may better serve those with giftedness is either ignored, dismissed, marginalized, or embraced, depending on the predisposition of those involved. This is where the real challenge lies.

I am a professor in teacher education, and we have resistance as well as acceptance of teaching all students and meeting their social, instructional, and emotional needs. Some of the resisters see it as inconsequential, or even elitist, to provide special instruction or curriculum to any students (teaching outside the “target areas” of the middle). Is it really elitist to challenge and teach students so that they are truly engaged and motivated?

Donny Lee

Harding University

Searcy, Ark.

To the Editor:

In regard to your article on gifted students, I do not believe that general educators “often resist making adaptations for their smartest students,” as you paraphrase a finding of the recent report. As the director of gifted education for a district serving more than 800 gifted students, I find that teachers are willing to make accommodations once they have the necessary training, resources, support, and time.

The problem for gifted learners is not resistance on the part of teachers. The problem is that most undergraduate programs do not address the need for accommodations for gifted students. The problem is that most states do not mandate gifted programs, nor do they provide the funding necessary for professional development related to gifted learners. The problem is that federal mandates address students who are not meeting state standards, but ignore students who come to school having already mastered state standards.

And finally, the problem is that with the limited funding available for education, most districts are forced to focus their resources, support, and time on the students noted in the federal mandates.

C. Greene

McLean County Unit District No. 5

Normal, Ill.


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