What would happen if gifted services were eliminated? Would this better serve gifted children?
A recent article recommends not just finding a less controversial term, but eliminating the concept completely. The authors contend that budget-strapped school districts waste too much of their limited funding for gifted education on identifying students, leaving next to nothing for providing an education. They also claim that many gifted programs are still not serving the needs of advanced learners, that teachers can use differentiated instruction to address this problem, and that a label of gifted is unnecessary since all children deserve an education consistent with their learning needs.
What do you think?
The authors’ emphasis on meeting the needs of all students is commendable, and their critique of the current delivery of gifted services is certainly valid. Yet, their recommendation carries certain assumptions that pose serious consequences for gifted children:
1. It assumes that high ability (gifted) learners will be easily identified by classroom teachers. We know that gifted students (particularly those who are from low-income families, from a racial minority, are underachievers, or who are twice-exceptional learners) are underidentified. Many teachers have little education or training in gifted education, hold stereotypical views toward gifted children and their families, and don’t understand the depth of their academic needs. If many gifted children are not being identified despite efforts and regulations in many states, how would elimination of the gifted label benefit these children’s academic needs?
2. It assumes classroom teachers will readily focus on gifted students’ learning needs. In spite of regulations in many states, gifted students are still underserved. Most school districts focus on the needs of struggling students, and little time is available for gifted students. Most teachers devote their energies to those who appear to be struggling the most. For example, a 2011 Fordham Institute report found that when teachers were asked where they would direct their energy if they had time available for individualized attention, 80% claimed that they would attend to their struggling students, whereas only 5% stated that their advanced learners would receive attention.
3. It implies that diagnostic terms are unnecessary. The label or "diagnosis" of giftedness follows from an evaluation conducted by a psychologist or school psychologist. Regardless of whether the diagnosis is depression, a learning disability, or gifted intellectual abilities, the purpose of any label or diagnosis is to provide clear, understandable information that is consistent, easily communicated, and will aid teachers or therapists in their work with the child. Although the term “gifted” incites controversy, why is identifying individuals whose intellectual abilities are 5% above the norm considered unnecessary? Would these authors also recommend eliminating other diagnostic terms, such as those used to identify individuals with learning disabilities or special education needs?
In fact, while the authors claim to support NAGC, their opinions are not consistent with the organization's goals. The NAGC's 2012-2013 State of the Nation in Gifted Education report clearly supports widespread availability of gifted services:
"NAGC urges lawmakers and education leaders to develop a comprehensive state strategy that removes barriers and expands access for more students to a full range of high quality gifted education services, including:In yet another paper, the NAGC states their position:
• training in gifted education for all teachers and school leaders
• state policy allowing a wide range of acceleration options
• following gifted and talented students as a separate population in
student achievement accountability measures"
"The National Association for Gifted Children recommends that gifted education services, including identification, educational programming and support services, and teacher training be mandated by legislation in all states and funded at appropriate levels."The authors also, unfortunately, convey the misconception that giftedness cannot be defined and that it carries an aura of status that excludes others. They state: "'gifted' is an educationally nondescript concept, yet it also connotes an endowment that some students receive while others do not." While some school districts waffle on definitions of what constitutes a gifted program, gifted intellectual functioning can be identified (with some exceptions) by an IQ of 130 or greater. And to imply that the label of giftedness is an "endowment" fuels stereotypes that instill bitterness and misinform the public about gifted students' intellectual and social/emotional traits.
The authors conclude their article with the following: "By focusing less on the child's label and more on the child's needs, we will better serve those students in our schools" These lofty goals would be wonderful in an ideal world. But parents of gifted children, and most educators and psychologists working with gifted individuals recognize that this utopia does not exist.
Retaining a label that identifies gifted abilities safeguards the precious few services these children currently receive and ensures their future accessibility. Eliminating identification is a shortsighted solution and creates a dangerous precedent that could set gifted education back for decades. Improving and enhancing learning for all children is critical; eliminating identification of gifted children will not aid in this process.