Education is a great equalizer, yet our nation does not consistently support advanced students, especially low-income, and racial and language minority students. Too often, these students are drastically under-challenged in school, leading to boredom, underachievement and incalculable amounts of lost potential.
Research is clear that the academic needs of gifted and talented students are rarely met in regular classrooms. Furthermore, we know giftedness exists in all populations, but studies by researchers at several major universities and at the National Research Center on Gifted Education show that students who are poor, English learners and from minority groups are rarely identified for and served in gifted and talented programs. So we do not meet the needs of most gifted students, and when we make an attempt, we often miss our disadvantaged students.
To help address this unacceptable situation, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) launched its strategic plan to change minds, change policies and change practices. The Giftedness Knows No Boundaries campaign aims to increase public awareness of the different needs of academically talented children and the many ways those needs can and should be met.
It’s critical we call attention to and shine a light on our brightest children. Giftedness Knows No Boundaries has generated a national conversation and, most important, action. The reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act pays significant attention to advanced learning. The law requires states and districts to more clearly report on the annual performance gains of high-performing students and clarified that federal education funding can be used to promote teacher professional development on gifted education and support programming for talented students in low-income communities. In addition, several states and school districts have made important policy changes to increase opportunities for all talented students to receive a rigorous, challenging education.
At the same time, gifted programs have been under attack, especially in urban districts, where critics argue that eliminating advanced programs is the best path to achieve greater equity. In other words, if a program is not serving enough low-income or Native American students, the critics propose eliminating the services entirely. An advisory group in New York City recently proposed elimination of the city’s gifted programs based on this flawed logic, and cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles have eliminated some advanced programs for similar reasons.
But equal lack of opportunity is a strange approach to equity. We need to expand availability and access, not eliminate services. Researchers and educators have identified and implemented a range of pro-equity strategies that provide opportunity to all students, including the use of universal screening using local norms, use of flexible ability grouping, and culturally responsive teaching and assessment strategies. The research is clear: This is a solvable problem!
This week, NAGC will host its 66th Annual Convention in Albuquerque. This event is an opportunity to celebrate the progress the field has made and to recommit policymakers, educators, parents and others to take our support of gifted students to the next level by identifying and serving all talented students – regardless of class, race or ZIP code. The convention program is full of sessions focused on the reality that giftedness knows no boundaries!
With a renewed commitment and targeted interventions, we can ensure all gifted and talented students are identified and provided a more enriched educational experience that helps them reach for their personal best. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Jonathan Plucker is the Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University.