Current Events in Education

The Dilution of Gifted Programs

by Guest Writer: Kelly Ann Guglietti
Elementary school gifted programs are being diluted. Our society values those students excelling in math and science to lead our country’s future in biological sciences, environmental sciences, medicine and law to name a few disciplines. But why are school systems being allowed to water down gifted programs due to budget constraints? Was gifted education just away to keep gifted students out of the classroom allowing teachers time to concentrate on the less gifted? How was a dedicated gifted program important to have at one time and now it is not?
Elementary school gifted programs are being diluted. Click To Tweet
Back in the 1990s, gifted students were pulled out of their class during math and science blocks. It did help level the playing field for regular classroom teachers. Yes, that was a given. Gifted students were taught math and science at a higher level and accelerated pace. They thrived because they were in a separate class of like-minded students. Most gifted students tend to be more responsible, so they were not pulling others to catch up or waiting for others to “get” the task or lesson. The few that were less responsible did not want to be left out, so they pulled their own weight. Today, many of those students are pursuing master’s degrees, MDs and law degrees.
Gradually, gifted education programs have given way to pull-ins, where the gifted education teacher would work with gifted students within the classroom in the name of inclusion. Gifted students “get” their lessons much faster and at a deeper level, so they are able to have time to apply their knowledge in special activities. Sometimes this happens, but more often than not, there is not enough space to conduct application activities. If there is room, it is distracting to the regular classroom teacher and the rest of her class. The other students wonder why they cannot do some of the “cool” things the gifted students get to do. Gifted teachers and regular classroom teachers have to comply with the limits put upon them or fear being labeled as a non-team player.
Pull-ins seem to be recognized for the problems they created, so there is a pseudo-movement to get gifted students back together – out of their main classroom. School systems have laid off a generation of gifted education teachers and the budget constraints prevent their rehiring. So the solution was to give existing teachers a classroom consisting of a few gifted and a majority of generally high achieving students. Unsuspecting young teachers think, “Hey, this is cool! I get to teach all the smart kids. My life will be much easier now.” However, experienced gifted education teachers know that teacher will soon be thinking she is no better off because the generally high achieving students have to work harder than the gifted students to achieve. They do not see the application of concepts as readily as the gifted students. So instruction is changed to accommodate the majority while diminishing the opportunities of the minority.
School systems have laid off a generation of gifted education teachers Click To Tweet
Some school systems are so strapped for funding, that they only have gifted programs for students in the fifth grade. Hmmm?   These students were treated as general classroom students until their last grade in elementary school? Was their giftedness an unknown before entering fifth grade? Though motivated, are they accustomed to performing at the level a real gifted program requires? Could there be frustration and disenfranchisement towards scholarly programs in the future?
Another trend is for teachers to obtain grants for STEM programs. STEM programs may take the place of math and science and do not address all state science and math standards. STEM sessions seem to be a chance for free play if the teacher is not serious about using them constructively with purpose. The notion is that STEM programs appeal to the senses of brilliant, gifted students and build an interest in technology in the other students. What happens when the novelty is over? How much science is any student really getting? This seems to be the “spatter paint and hope it sticks” way of teaching.
Research finds that gifted students thrive when they are educated with other gifted students. They are highly curious learners. They enjoy collaborating and getting on with the application of their knowledge. Given the attention throughout their education for their giftedness gives credence to their label and motivates them into further scholarly exploration (National Association for Gifted Children). We need those scholars, don’t we?
If giftedness is treated half-heartedly or not at all, gifted students will not feel gifted. Without that feeling, motivation is not guaranteed to be at its highest. Don’t we want to continue to foster curiosity in the brightest of minds to their highest level? Would we want an oncologist, environmental scientist, botanist or criminal lawyer not to be on top of their game because they do not feel the significance of their giftedness? Would breakthroughs in knowledge occur?
My advice to all school districts in the United States is to take a second look at how your gifted programs are being conducted. Are all the gifted students getting their due attention throughout their school career? Are you producing bright minds that challenge themselves to learn further on a continual basis? Will you have confidence in their hands in the future, should you need it?

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