As gifted education advocates, when we read the March 20 Washington Post blog post mentioned below, we felt that it needed a reply. Below is the letter to the editor that we sent in response to Wendy Lecker‘s post:
Ms. Lecker’s article, “Do schools for ‘the gifted’ promote segregation?” unfortunately misses its mark. While the article highlights serious and important concerns about ensuring that gifted children from diverse backgrounds have access to appropriate education at their level, regardless of race, national origin, gender, language, disability, or socioeconomic status, it effectively throws the baby out with the bathwater by concluding that all gifted education conducted in a separate environment must be equivalent to racial segregation. She is correct that we must be diligent about ensuring that our talent identification process finds all gifted learners, regardless of their background. However, concerns about increasing diverse children’s access to gifted education do not undermine the truth that we continue to fail our brightest students, and do not negate the fact that numerous studies have shown that grouping and acceleration are successful in addressing the needs of a wide variety of students. On the contrary, research shows that in grouping programs, when accompanied with a substantial adjustment of curriculum, have clear positive effects on all children involved, not just high-ability learners (Kulik, “An Analysis of the Research on Ability Grouping: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives,” 1992). It is important to note that this does not mean permanent groups determined in kindergarten, as Ms. Lecker implies gifted education requires. Instead, effective grouping involves systematic and comprehensive curriculum differentiated across subject and adapted to students’ changing abilities. According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), effective differentiation for gifted children includes flexible enrichment and acceleration allowing “for increasing levels of advanced, abstract, and complex curriculum that respond to the learner’s needs.” In their position statement on grouping, they share that “while it is possible to achieve this level of tailored enrichment in a standard classroom setting, it has proven difficult in practice and it ignores the recognized benefits of grouping children with similar levels of academic strength. Indeed, the research on the many grouping strategies available to educators of these children is long, consistent, and overwhelmingly positive (Rogers, 2006; Tieso, 2003).”
When I finished Ms. Lecker’s article, I couldn’t help but feel a misunderstanding of the goals of gifted education advocacy throughout the piece. While the point of her piece seems to be to equate gifted education with racial segregation, even a brief examination of the goals of gifted legislation contradicts her position. The TALENT Act, introduced in the Senate to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support gifted learners, lists as one of its findings of fact that “the availability of gifted education programs and services to students who require such services is unequal and often relies solely on local resources and leadership, leaving many high-ability students from rural areas or who are English language learners or Hispanic, African-American, or Native American, among others, without access to appropriate services.” This is a flaw in our current educational system that the TALENT Act seeks to correct; in contract, undermining this gifted education advocacy works against equality in education.
The article provides no support that providing gifted students with appropriate education is the same as segregating students based on race. The evocation of racial segregation, in fact, is an emotional appeal that compares apples to oranges. Racial segregation was and is unjust because to discriminate on the basis of race is to make a groundless distinction, because all students deserve the equal opportunity to be able to learn. Providing students of differing abilities with educational opportunities tailored to their strengths and needs merely continues the pursuit of equal education, by allowing children, no matter their ability, to make progress and fulfill their potential. “Gifted only water fountains” mocks the very real struggles that children of all backgrounds face when they attend school daily without learning anything new, without being given the chance to excel and grow.
Increasing an understanding of the necessity for appropriate gifted education is why initiatives such as PA House Resolution 139 and the TALENT Act are so critical. By providing insight and resources to school districts about gifted learners’ needs, we ensure that all students, whether gifted, regular, or special education, in the country, the suburbs, or the inner city, are educated at the level and rate that meets their needs. As educational advocates, parents, and teachers, we all have a responsibility to advocate for equal education opportunities, which does not mean a one-size-fits-all approach. We have tried this tactic in public education, and as a result more and more children are falling by the wayside each day. On the contrary, we must work to ensure that children from all backgrounds have access to education that truly allows them to grow and make progress—regardless of whether they are grades behind or grades ahead of their chronological placement. Otherwise, we consent to be bystanders, watching all our children’s educational needs go ignored.