Facing Bias Against Gifted Education

Programs and Students Need Advocates in Times of Funding Questions

People involved in gifted education – whether they are the teachers, the students, the parents, or the administrators – should actively promote gifted programming.

In times of financial difficulty, hungry eyes look at each line of the district budget, questioning if the school really needs to spend money on field trips, if the school really needs to have so many guest speakers, and eventually, someone will ask if the school really needs to fund gifted education. The argument may include these points:

  • gifted kids should be getting modified, advanced work in the regular classroom
  • gifted kids don’t need a special class, they can shine where they are
  • gifted programs are elitist because everyone is gifted in one way or another

What they are really saying is that the money for gifted education could go into the general fund, and it would then be used to benefit everyone, including the gifted kids. This type of reasoning is backed by what appears to be a growing example of bias against gifted education.

Are Gifted Kids Receiving Advanced Work in the Regular Classroom?

In addition to the number of gifted programs being threatened by budget cuts, there are news stories showing a lack of understanding of the needs of gifted children. For example, on December 11, 2009, Laura Clark of The Daily Mail reported, in an article titled “State Schools Admit They Do Not Push Gifted Pupils Because They Don’t Want to Promote ‘Elitism,” that according to a Buckingham University study of gifted education in England, “Many teachers are not convinced of the importance of providing more challenging tasks for their gifted and talented pupils.”

Should gifted students be getting advanced work in the regular classroom? Yes. Are they? Not according to this study.

Before making any budget cuts in gifted education, schools should look at the assignments given in classrooms. How often are the assignments modified to be more challenging? How often are those modifications required and not optional?

Do Gifted Students Need Special Classes?

To understand why schools need gifted education, look no further than Dan Ben-Canaan’s op-ed in Global Times. In “Don’t Force Gifted Kids into An Unnatural School Environment” Ben-Canaan says, “‘Gifted students are of no significance to society because their numbers are few … such people’s contribution to the whole is minimal if any. Gifted students will not raise the national level of knowledge, and these ‘freaks of nature’ should not be pushed into a special position without any practical merit.”

The idea that someone openly measures the value of a gifted child based on the potential to contribute to society and questions serving “freaks of nature” illustrates the clear need for gifted education. Not everyone is intellectually gifted, in the same way, that not everyone is athletically gifted. Mr. Ben-Canaan’s article highlights the bias against gifted students: if they are so gifted, why don’t they do something dazzling? The answer is that without gifted education:

  • they will have far fewer opportunities to sparkle
  • they have far fewer opportunities to work with students of similar thinking patterns
  • they will have far fewer opportunities to be mentored by teachers trained in gifted education

Are Gifted Programs Elitist?

When people accuse gifted programming of elitism, what they often mean is that a child they consider gifted has not been included. On February 18, 2009, young Hannah Workman caused a stir when she wrote a letter to the editor of The Florida Times-Union saying that she did not qualify for her school’s gifted program, but she learned that, “In the state of Florida, children who are considered low income are expected to score lower than a child in a middle-income family.” If Miss Workman’s letter is accurate, there is a huge, unjustified disparity in how children are placed in her district. Clay County, Florida’s district did not respond to requests about their programming.

Most schools do have an evaluation balancing tool that considers student background when looking at border-line scores. This step comes from the desire to be more inclusive and more aware of disenfranchised students. The placement tests are norm-referenced for a specific population, and students – particularly those moving in from non-English speaking countries – need additional evaluation tools.

The idea that students should receive fewer services as a cost-cutting measure is distasteful enough, but choosing a specific group of students to be excluded smacks of bias and, to a degree, discrimination. If those involved in gifted education highlight the importance of the program, the benefits of the program to children, and the needs of gifted kids that are met through gifted programming, then those hungry, cost-cutting eyes will see gifted ed on the budget, recognize its importance, and look for something else to cut.