Folks, To quote my colleague Jim Galloway, I have “gone fishing” this week. (I have actually gone hiking.)
I will have no computer access, but am posting some great stuff in advance, including this essay by Gyimah Whitaker, president of the Georgia Association for Gifted Children, and Ann Robinson, president of the National Association for Gifted Children. It runs on the Monday education op-ed page.
I will be back online on the 19th.
By Gyimah Whitaker and Ann Robinson
Children across Georgia are now back to school. For some students, the return to school felt like a burden, a necessary chore they have to slog through every day, but not for the reasons you might expect.
Rather than viewing school as an unhappy departure from carefree summer days, many of the most disinterested students in a classroom are also the high-ability children who spend the bulk of their school days going unchallenged and largely ignored.
Our nation’s education system has a long history of disregarding the needs of gifted and talented students, a neglect that threatens the ability of our state and nation to compete in an increasingly competitive world.
From being regularly outperformed by global counterparts on standardized tests to needing to import a growing number of workers in math and science fields, it is clear decades of neglect are causing the country real harm.
The core problem is that our nation lacks a comprehensive gifted education strategy.
With little to no federal influence and funding, the burden falls to states and local districts. The result is a patchwork of regulations and policies, producing pockets of success few and far between.
Without strong and stable infrastructure, these programs are extremely vulnerable during challenging financial times like this, where educations budgets are being slashed significantly.
Georgia is better than most states at serving gifted students, and yet it still falls short of where it should be.
While the state provides some funding to support gifted learners, the reality is that in many corners of the state – particularly systems in poorer and rural areas – these services are bare-bones or nonexistent.
The absence of any focus on gifted students through the Investing in Educational Excellence and within charter schools jeopardizes the protections that are now in place and that have been in the works for the past 50 years.
Despite decades of dire predictions now coming true, our law – and policymakers have been largely apathetic.
The impact of this complacency is visible throughout much of our national education system, which focuses primarily on preventing struggling students from failing by setting proficiency as a primary goal.
While it is vital to ensure that all students are accomplishing baseline concepts and skills, the programs and funding currently available encourage educators and administrators to focus almost exclusively on students who struggle to get by while ignoring those seeking more academic challenge.
The solution to this problem is comprehensive reform that recognizes our nation has an obligation to invest in our most promising students and that our long-term stability and prosperity depends on reigniting this commitment to excellence.
At its core, this solution must begin with an unflinching commitment to identify all students who are gifted regardless of what they look like, how much money their parents earn or whether they live in Hahira or Atlanta.
Educators must cast a wide net for talent and must begin this search at the earliest possible levels to ensure those students who are gifted receive the supports they need from day one.
The solution must recognize the fundamental truth that quality gifted instruction depends on qualified teachers who have received specialized training to meet the unique needs of gifted students.
Very few states, Georgia included, require all teachers to have any training in gifted education. This must change through a combination of revisions to state licensure laws and collaboration with our colleges of education to develop and offer gifted-education focused courses for all of our future teachers.
It is important to note that low-cost and creative answers can be deployed to address parts of the problem.
For example, here in Georgia, current state policy does not permit early entrance into kindergarten, potentially stunting the growth of our youngest minds.
The state can abolish this restriction and align Georgia with most other states by allowing local districts to use tests and other measures to determine if a child is ready for kindergarten.
Similarly, Georgia can amend its policy that requires students to be age 16 or in the 11th grade before they can take college courses for high school credit to permit similar opportunities for younger students.
And if our education policymakers and lawmakers are truly interested in excellence, it is essential that they ensure every single IE2 partnership contract and charter include service and supports for our most promising students.
Failure to invest in our gifted learners is a failure to invest in our future.
Let’s hope the start of next school year will be brighter for our most promising students.