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In Defense Of Gifted Education

I hope you’ve enjoyed Edjacent designer Doug Wren’s recent multipart blog series, Put Students First. Seek Growth. Be Open to Change. As you may have seen in the final installment, Doug revealed the name of the district featured in his original article along with a series of calls to action for the district to increase equity, particularly in the district’s gifted school.

My sons, ages 7 and 9, both attend the gifted school featured in the article. As an advocate for gifted education and for the unique needs of gifted learners, nothing is more personal to me than the quality and accountability of the school my sons attend. I applaud Doug’s efforts to not only raise awareness about critical issues, but also for posing solutions that could potentially make a wonderful program even better.

What I have learned from working with gifted children, personally and professionally, is that gifted programs are essential for the growth and development of exceptional learners, particularly those who lack the coping skills to navigate life with challenging qualities such as high sensitivity, deep thinking, social immaturity, an extreme sense of justice, and emotional volatility. Like the needs of any subgroup of learners, gifted learner needs are unique to the child, but there are patterns and common challenges that gifted programs can attend to.

I came late to gifted education as an educator, well into my career. Gifted education was virtually nonexistent in my first teaching setting, so much so that I worried about interviewing for a gifted resource teacher position for fear of losing my job to lack of funding. Then I moved from a small, rural community in Pennsylvania with less than 3,000 students to Virginia Beach with a citywide school system of 70,000 students. The vastness of the Virginia Beach gifted program is impressive and intimidating compared to what I was used to. The comprehensive plan for gifted education was robust, clear, and compelling. It still is.

As high-profile stories of “rebranding” gifted programs continue to emerge in the national news, I am starting to worry. Are gifted programs often unequal and elitist? Yes. Do we have work to do to improve the distribution of resources for all gifted students? Certainly. Does this mean we should abandon gifted education? Absolutely not.

I strongly believe it is our civic duty to scrutinize and critique public school programs, which are designed to serve the public and can always improve. Doug’s blog series is a great example of the high standards we should hold any program to. I hope educators like Doug continue to speak up about what we can do to improve our institutions and provide our children with the best possible education.

I also fear that we might overcorrect. Gifted programs are elitist and unequal? Get rid of them! Isn’t high-quality instruction important for ALL children?

That is not the answer!

Gifted programs are essential. Our current execution of gifted programs is flawed. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water on this. We need to hold our systems accountable for exceptional programs that meet the needs of all children. The solution is not to get rid of the programs. The solution is to fix them.

For ideas on how we can improve our gifted programs, one system at a time, Doug lays out a great case for some immediate and necessary action steps. In the meantime, let’s keep supporting and holding our systems accountable for the programs our kids deserve.


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