Can Holding Back the Gifted Be a True 'Race to the Top'?

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To the Editor:

Wouldn’t a mandate for states to have an acceleration policy for gifted students be a perfect add-on to the U.S. Department of Education’s draft criteria for awarding Race to the Top funds (“Rich Prize, Restrictive Guidelines,” Aug. 12, 2009)? The 2004 report “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students” compiles all the research needed to support such an action.

While I understand the Education Department’s concern over the nation’s lackluster K-12 results, and its corresponding emphases in its reform criteria, it seems simple to me that this relatively cheap curricular accommodation should also be included among the Race to the Top requirements. To ignore our best students while others catch up is no way to increase student achievement.

The assessment of gifted students via age-determined tests allows their underachievement to be called a success under too many accountability systems. As the 2008 Thomas B. Fordham Institute report “High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB” makes clear, there have been minimal gains among children at the top, while the lowest performers have made greater progress over the past decade.

The exclusion of gifted students from a law now bearing the phrase “no child left behind,” the lack of protection for these students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the scarcity of gifted education in many states, the pittance of funding for gifted students, and their vulnerability to being seen as good test scorers not requiring growth—surely these have not been part of any race to the top.

This race might better be described as a car wreck of our best young minds, a stalling of the most energized thinkers while others get fueled, a detour of the quickest so the slowest can near, or the junking of those who would best compete. We must stop the derailing of our best and brightest, and let them race as fast as they can go.

Diane Hanfmann
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Vol. 29, Issue 01, Page 29

Published in Print: August 26, 2009, as Can Holding Back the Gifted Be a True 'Race to the Top'?
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