To the Editor:
The recent Commentary by James R. Delisle demands counterpoints from career educators like myself who have devoted their lives to students who are gifted and to preparing teachers to meet the needs of those students.
In the two previous Commentaries that I have written for Education Week, in 2005 and in 2012, I have called for greater attention to the needs of gifted students in this nation. My comments then and now derive from a 40-year career serving those needs, first as a public school teacher and coordinator of programs for the gifted, and more recently as a teacher-educator.
In that context, I take strong exception to Mr. Delisle’s Commentary.
First of all, differentiation does work when teachers receive adequate instruction in both the philosophy and pedagogy of gifted education. The classroom teacher is the first line of defense for gifted youngsters because that teacher meets the child first and must provide for all students in the classroom. Providing sound differentiation strategies for classroom teachers ensures that students receive what they need at the point of contact.
Second, Mr. Delisle’s premise that homogeneous grouping is the key to school success may have merit, but does not reflect the current educational environment, nor is that environment poised to change in the near future. Do we really want to return to tracking policies that inherently exclude youngsters based on narrow identification guidelines that may be culturally and developmentally flawed?
Finally, the Commentary returns the conversation to the longstanding identification conundrum that has troubled the education community. Who is the gifted child? How and when will we identify that person? Who will be left out from that process?
We must train all teachers to meet the needs of all their students because the classroom teacher is truly the first line of defense.
Frances R. Spielhagen
Professor of Education
Director, Center for Adolescent Research and Development
Mount Saint Mary College
A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2015 edition of Education Week as All Teachers Must Be Trained To Teach All Students