Posted by: ACFE Inc | April 9, 2013

Gifted Doesn’t Equal Segregation

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.

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