Gifted and Talented Programs Don’t Work For Disadvantaged Students—Some Districts Aim To Change That

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Gifted and Talented Programs have become an institution of our educational system. Where there’s a school system with a select group of highly-achieving kids, there is usually a special program designed to challenge them. Often started after a push from parents of gifted children, these programs are said to offer a place for quick-studies to thrive.

But are they really necessary? Do children with high achievement scores actually benefit from being set apart from their peers and being offered different learning opportunities? And what about the students who aren’t included?

Unfortunately, studies find these programs tend to favor white and Asian students.

Responding to outrage over the lack of diversity in New York City’s selective schools that cater to the gifted and talented, Mayor Bill de Blasio created a task force to examine how they could do better. The School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) examined the state of New York City’s programming for gifted-and-talented students versus their traditional educational offerings. They released a comprehensive report last week. The recommendations in the SDAG report have raised a lot of eyebrows. 

“Simply put, there are better ways to educate advanced learners than most of the current ‘Screened’ and Gifted and Talented programs, which segregate students by race and socioeconomic status,” reports the SDAG. 

The report continues by recommending an overhaul to the current structure, stating “it is imperative to resource the creation and development of new research-based programs that serve all children; recognizing that all children can learn, that learning together improves learning and that we have new models and opportunities to nurture, support, invest in and develop talent and motivation in all students, including those students whose talents and interests are often unrecognized and whose development has not received sufficient investment.” The newly structured classes would offer all students academic challenges.

New York City isn’t the only place considering these changes.

At least one district in Maryland is getting rid of standard high school classes in core subjects like English, science, and social studies. Instead, only honors courses will be offered for all students. According to Forbes, “Educators [in Maryland’s Montgomery County] are concerned that the district’s increasing numbers of disadvantaged students—students of color, English language learners and those from low-income families—are ending up in standard classes, while white and Asian students are overrepresented in honors classes.”

In short, all students—including gifted and talented learners—are better served when educated together, in a diverse learning environment. A recent article published by The Learning Lab, a non-profit funded by the Overdeck Foundation that studies science-based learning tools and programs, addresses the inequities in our current Gifted and Talented Programs. The author, Benjamin Keep, says, “Gifted programs are another way that we provide resources to students with advantages instead of providing resources to students with disadvantages.”

Keep was once a gifted and talented student himself, and reflects on being part of this program. “I was in gifted programs throughout elementary and middle school. For us, it was like recess: we played games, solved mysteries, worked on logic puzzles.”

He discusses the fact that these programs are limited in scope because they still must keep students within the boundaries of their current testing level, but are often a place for more free learning experiences. “Free intellectual time can be a wonderful thing. But to the extent that it can be, it’s something that all students could likely benefit from.”

Keep’s thoughts bring us back to the original complaints regarding Gifted and Talented programs. Are they offering a needed service to a select few? And if so, shouldn’t we be making sure that these stimulated, high-level learning opportunities are available to all? In the United States, all children have a right to an education. We owe it to our children to offer that same quality of education to all of them regardless of age, race, economic background and even their latest test scores.

Jessica Watson is a freelance writer, author and the blogger behind Four Plus an Angel. Mom to five kids, four in her arms and one in her heart, she tries hard to enjoy them every moment but sometimes dreams of a week alone with a pile of her favorite books. "Four Plus an Angel" -