Opinion
Education Opinion

Re-Gifted: The Prickly Politics of the Academically Able

By Nancy Flanagan — December 05, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Writing a blog about education for the gifted pretty much guarantees a lot of attention. If you follow the party line (We’re ignoring our most talented kids!), the piece will be widely distributed and praised. If you come at the issue from a different perspective--well, see comments on “Cheating the Gifted?” below.

This was not my first column on how we deal with bright kids in traditional school settings. And the arguments have not changed significantly, since I started thinking and writing about the issue, shortly after I earned a masters degree in gifted education.

Let me be clear. Yes, there are genuinely gifted students. Yes, they do have unique pedagogical and emotional needs-- I spent several years trying to find optimal curricular and instructional strategies to address those needs. And no, I don’t think the gifted will do just fine left to their own devices, because they’re smart.

The blog wasn’t about that. It was about the political utility of these arguments to advance other agendas, in a post-NCLB era: The argument that test scores scientifically measure potential value to society. The argument that tracking should return in full force, because it appears to give bright kids a 6-point advantage on those same tests. And the odious argument that we’ve been taking from the rich and giving to the undeserving poor, neglecting our best and brightest in the process.

These are morally contentious policy issues: allocation of scarce communal resources for greatest good and accurate identification of who represents best use of these resources. Honestly, I have never met a parent who said “Well, nobody in my family is gifted, but I fully support a special teacher, classroom, budget and field trips for the gifted kids. Because those kids are going to be the leaders of tomorrow--not my children.”

We all espouse fairness and equity, and we all believe our own children have gifts to offer the world. So I’m deeply suspicious of talking ed-heads who utilize a kind of modified “shock doctrine” to impact school practice and policy: We’re in crisis! We don’t have enough resources to serve all kids well, plus a decade of trying to close the achievement gap hasn’t worked, so let’s focus on the top tier. There is plenty of vocal parent advocacy for the gifted (evidence below). If those parents can be convinced that traditional public schools are voluntarily ignoring their children’s needs--well, score one for the privatization movement.

Accountability and privilege are thus inextricably bound into the national discourse about the gifted. Good teachers who employ differentiated instruction, recognizing and challenging bright students, now find themselves penned in by standardized test-prep curricula, as rigid, data-bound accountability trumps their responsiveness to individual needs.

I fully agree that we’re losing the potential contributions of exceptionally capable children, especially in low-achieving schools. My point was that we shouldn’t automatically blame their teachers, who are the first and most cost-effective line of defense in uncovering and addressing the needs of the gifted. Before we start developing rationales for which kids “deserve” special attention and programming, let’s take a critical look at federal lawmaking and “reforms” which increasingly identify and separate winners and losers in public education.

All kids deserve an education tailored to their unique needs. It’s not just gifted children who are “bored” in school. When kids get open-ended assignments, rich and relevant curriculum and targeted coaching from their teachers, they all benefit. When we address a range of student talents--not just what shows up in intelligence/achievement testing--society benefits.

There’s a lot more to say about the parameters of who, precisely, is “gifted” and what effective programming for gifted kids looks like. There are reasons why these issues aren’t settled after decades of heated dispute. But that’s another blog.

The leaders and skills we need will come from all strata of ability and promise. Pitting one group against another is a mistake and ethically damaging. We need to invest in serving diverse students well, for the simple reason that we need them all.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP