High Achievers

Scott J. Peters

Gifted education has an identity problem.

If you ask many people, gifted programs exist because “gifted” students have unique needs. But what does this mean? And what is the overall purpose of K–12 gifted education? Even within the gifted education community, the actual outcomes of “gifted” programs are too often unclear, leading to charges of ineffectiveness at best and outright discrimination at worst.

Competing priorities

In one sense, gifted services exist to develop advanced abilities—to provide interventions to those students who need them in order to develop excellence. Some students have unmet academic needs, that’s where gifted education kicks in. Makes sense, right? However, the kids served in gifted programs are disproportionally from white, Asian, and higher-income families. This is a problem for political and advocacy reasons, but also because the majority of American students now come from low-income or racial/ethnic minority families. If the U.S. educational system can’t develop the talents of African American, Latino, or low-income students, what good is it?

In gifted education, there is often tension between two implied goals: developing excellence and promoting equity. In a recent Gifted Child Quarterly article, my colleague Kenneth Engerrand and I tried to come up with a way

  • Elite public academies like Boston Latin, Stuyvesant High School, and San Francisco’s Lowell High School have long been acclaimed for the top-flight academics they offer to applicants who pass their rigorous entrance exams. Lately, however, they’ve been receiving some unwanted attention: Many now argue that the schools’ admissions practices should be altered to cultivate student populations that more closely reflect the demographics of their host cities. Of course, the issue of race and selective schools isn’t a new one, but it has recently burned so hot that people have begun losing their jobs. PBS’s Newshour, in collaboration with Education Week, has a fine roundup of the debate. One point that’s beyond dispute, however, is that major urban K–8 systems need to do a much better job preparing students of color to enter our best high schools. This objective may call for enhanced gifted-and-talented programming, more funding for magnet schools, and a commitment to a form of academic tracking in the early years. Whatever the ingredients, the aim should be higher-achieving kids.
  • Education Week’s terrific coverage has actually earned double honors this week, as we hasten to recommend that you check out their special package
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M. René Islas and Del Siegle

Earlier this month, the Department of Education released new data exposing the uneven suspension rates and limited learning opportunities faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Secretary John King is right in saying that the American education system is guilty of "systemic failure" in educating children of poverty and color.

As if locking students out of class through suspension weren’t bad enough, data from the federally funded National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) reveals an even more hidden and wicked form of marginalization: the exclusion of poor and minority students from advanced academic programs. According to the NCRGE research, it is virtually impossible— a less than 1 percent chance—for low-income, minority English language learners to be served in gifted and talented programs.    

We are optimistic about the true motivations of our nation's educators, and we hope that the narrowing of opportunities for disadvantaged students was inadvertent. It is high time that we rally to implement programs that recognize, support, and develop the talent of children from all backgrounds so that they achieve their full potential.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Del Siegle is the director and principal investigator of the University of Connecticut's National...

Thomas P. Hébert

During my first year at the University of South Carolina, I often purchased a morning cup of coffee in the university’s student union. Early one morning, I spotted a young man dressed in a business suit and bow tie carrying on an animated conversation with a group of undergraduates. I had regularly encountered the young gentleman—with his ubiquitous bow tie—as I traveled across campus. Eventually I learned he was Chase Mizzell, a leader in the university’s student government. As an avid reader of the school’s daily newspaper, I was able to follow this charismatic young man’s political career.

In reading the Daily Gamecock, I discovered that Chase was an Honors College student from Folly Beach, South Carolina, and a sophomore enrolled in the international business program. I learned that during his freshman year, he was having lunch in the restaurant in the Honors Residence Hall and noticed extra food being carried away at the end of the lunch shift. He asked food service employees what became of the leftovers and discovered that they were thrown away. Chase knew immediately that he wanted to change that. Realizing that the city of Columbia faced the challenges of a growing homeless population, Chase began...

  • We here at Fordham are really jazzed about the potential of high-quality career and technical education (CTE). Like, really couldn’t be more jazzed—we’ve written blog posts about it, held sumptuously catered events celebrating it, and even published a groundbreaking study about how CTE makes students more likely to enroll in college and earn a decent wage. But there’s nothing in life like the power of an object lesson, so here’s one for you: In Kentucky, where officials have added incentives for schools to prioritize career readiness to the state accountability procedures, we’re starting to see a blossoming CTE sector that benefits students and businesses alike. As one rural teacher puts it, referring to a local manufacturing boomlet, “These are good jobs, and any student who wants a job can get one.” When’s the last time you heard that?
  • A recent report on gifted and talented education in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., has stirred up some strife that was eminently avoidable. Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland have proposed measures to diversify the local gifted programs, in which white and Asian students are (as is often the case) disproportionately enrolled. That’s left the parents of those students
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Michael H. Miller

Students at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology produce the highest SAT and ACT scores in the nation. All of the students take at least one Advanced Placement exam, with 97 percent of them scoring well enough to receive college credit. But those high scores don’t come without intellectual cost. In taking preparatory courses for the SAT and ACT, or in preparing for the myriad AP and state tests, students often default to formulaic writing. In doing so, there is an inevitable closing of the mind; the traditional essay becomes the only acceptable mode of response, and oversimplified, superficial, and binary answers are the result.

The good news is that creative writing and standardized testing are not mutually exclusive. By encouraging students to consider multiple genre possibilities in responding to writing prompts, teachers can lead students toward more complex and creative thinking.

An early autumn harvest of five-paragraph nonfiction

In September, our English department gave each eleventh-grade student in the school sixty minutes to respond to the following Virginia End-of-Course (EOC) Writing Test prompt: “Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘Determine never to be idle….It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.’ Do we accomplish...

Kathryn Haydon

In my work with hundreds of families, I have observed one common truth: Parents are the experts on their own children, especially when it comes to giftedness. Parents often observe certain characteristics in their children and view them as positive traits—until those same characteristics are regarded negatively in school. Though there may be outside pressure not to accept a “gifted” or “highly creative” label, sometimes that designation is the one thing that can save a child from being misinterpreted and misidentified.

Recognizing the highly creative child

Sometimes it’s not easy for highly creative children to “comply” with a regular curriculum, even at the preschool age. They are wired to explore, experiment, build, imagine, and create. If forced at a young age into a diet heavy on rote learning and directed work, they may struggle. It’s not that these children can’t do the work. It’s that the work does not engage their depth of thinking, their ability to make connections, or their desire to contribute original ideas. Their needs are so much more complex than what a traditional classroom can meet, especially if they want to voraciously pursue knowledge on their own.

Creative traits in action

So that you may see...

Sally C. Krisel

If you had a magic wand and could change one thing to ensure the availability of great gifted education services for students in your community, what would it be? A state mandate? More funding? A wide array of service requirements based on what we know about giftedness and best practices for promoting the development of high-ability learners?

In the absence of a magic wand, I might suggest that the next best thing is a robust state policy related to gifted education. Gifted education policies provide a framework for identification, services, teacher preparedness, accountability for student learning, and program evaluation. Together, these elements should define comprehensive, equitable opportunities for high-achieving and high-potential students. A coherent set of state policies not only define issues and practices that are essential to the delivery of high-quality programs for gifted students; they also provide parents, teachers, and other gifted education advocates with leverage to demand appropriate services for gifted and talented students in their communities. Well-crafted state policies also serve as tools for local policy development, assisting boards of education, educational leaders, and parent advocates as they seek to improve their own policies.

In my career as a gifted education professional at the classroom, district,...

M. René Islas and Joy Lawson Davis

It is disheartening that, in 2016, the recognition of gifted students of color may be more dependent on the race of their teachers than their demonstrated abilities. But for those of us in the trenches of gifted education, it is clear that students’ race or socioeconomic status far too often dictate whether they will be identified and served as gifted learners. Of students enrolled in gifted programs, only 9 percent are black, whereas more than 60 percent are white. This is unacceptable.

For decades, our nation has done a poor job of prioritizing the identification of gifted students across the board. As the 2015 State of the States in Gifted Education highlighted, too few teachers receive any substantive preparation in working with gifted students before entering the classroom, and professional development support focused on gifted education strategies is minimal. If few teachers are trained to recognize the signs of giftedness, high-ability students are at a disadvantage. This is particularly true of black and Hispanic students and those of modest means, who may lack the academic and psycho-social supports to aggressively pursue the necessary services.

This study raises some interesting findings about the value of a teaching corps that reflects the diversity of...

Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D.

The following text is an excerpt from Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color, an Urban Institute report authored by Ronald F. Ferguson of Harvard University. The report proposes ways to improve the educational outcomes of boys and men of color by altering conditions in homes, schools, and communities to create “person-environment fits” that better foster achievement. Dr. Ferguson’s strategies for accomplishing this span from birth to adulthood, and concern everything from preschool nurturing to respect outside of the classroom during the school years.

In the report, Dr. Ferguson splits these strategies into three sections, one of which he calls “disproportionality and bias.”

Ferguson defines bias as the absence of neutrality. He distinguishes three types of neutrality: equal application of criteria (for example, the test scores and grades required to qualify for a particular placement is the same for students of different groups); equal quality of options (for example, the quality of instruction is the same in different tracks); and equal quality of access (in this case, the criteria are biased insofar as they do not treat equally qualified people equally). He uses these distinctions to put several issues in perspective, including tracking...