Thursday / April 25

What Does Fair Look Like for Gifted Education?

What does fair look like for gifted education?

The school systems in the United States have spent a lot of time and energy making sure things are equal. In today’s day and age of “everyone gets a trophy and don’t single any one out because it makes others feel bad,” what has happened is we are not treating students fairly. This is especially true with gifted students.

A lot of people equate equality and fairness as one and the same, but they could not be further from one another. Equality is all about treating everyone the same. In certain aspects of education, equality is valuable. For instance, discipline should be equal. If two students violate the same school rule, you cannot punish them differently. When you are grading two students, if they both put the same answer you have to reward them with an equal number of points even if one of the students guessed.

However, if you apply that same equality of consistency and sameness to a child’s education, what ends up happening is you try to lift up the one end while at the same time bringing down the other. In essence this is what teaching to the middle is, and it is something many teachers do in order to create equality in their classroom. Everyone gets the same assignment, and everyone has the same amount of time to work on it. This certainly seems equal but it is most definitely not fair.

The reason why this is not fair is because as much as we would love to think of all children starting in the same place (being equal in other words) they are not. A student with a school ability index (SAI) of 80, one who is at 100, and one who scored a 130, are going to be able to tackle an assignment at different levels of understanding with some being able to take it to a higher level of thinking than others. There is a wide discrepancy in the intelligence, abilities, and effort of children. This wide range is very difficult for a teacher to meet the various needs of all the different levels of learners in the classroom. The further apart abilities are in the classroom, the bigger the level of unfairness because teachers are not meeting the needs of any individual student; they are instead meeting the needs of the children in the middle.

By identifying a child as gifted, it is not as though you are accusing other students of not being gifted, but that is how some educators see it. They believe that all children are gifted in their own way and to a certain extent that is true. But by definition of educational giftedness, some qualify and most do not.

Opponents of gifted education do not want to single anyone out for being able to achieve at a higher level because that might make the student who, at no fault of his own, has a learning disability and is not able to achieve at that level, feel bad about himself. So what ends up happening is because we do not want a gifted student to get too far ahead of those who are struggling, we actually ask him to slow down and work at the pace the rest of the class is working at. Hardly seems fair.

This would be like all the kids in the class running a footrace. You start everyone at the same starting line in order to maintain equality. You encourage those who are falling behind to speed up while at the same time preventing those whose natural ability is to run really fast to do so, instead of letting everyone else catch up. Anyone who has taught students for any number of years knows there are staggered starting lines in this educational race. Some are fifty feet behind the starting point while others might be thirty feet ahead of it. With this in mind the goal should not be for everyone to finish the race at the same time; the goal should be to allow the students to run as fast as they are able and to see how far they can get. They might all finish in different places, which is not equal, but they will go as far as their ability allows them to, which is fair.

What does fair look like for gifted education? In a perfect world, the number of dollars allocated to teachers, services, and resources would be the same for all students and districts, this being equal. We know this is not the reality. For every $1 spent on gifted, there are hundreds if not thousands of dollars being spent on special education students. This is neither equal nor fair. I am certainly not suggesting that we take money away from the special education students to provide it for the gifted students, but there are some states that allocate zero dollars for gifted programming.

There are those who will make the argument that gifted programming is elitist and somewhat discriminatory because those students from higher social economic communities tend to be identified more often than those from less affluent homes. To a certain extent there are flaws with the testing that determines a student as gifted because those students exposed to a higher vocabulary or those given outside learning opportunities by their parents have an advantage. But that is on us as educators to come up with better ways to identify gifted students or to supplement the identification by using assessments such as the Naglieri, which is a non-verbal test. It is not the student who should be punished for the system they are merely a part of. Again, not very fair.

The fair thing to do would be to require all states and districts to allocate funds for gifted students in order to provide services. How these services look and are delivered do not need to be equal; they can be decided by that district based upon the needs of their gifted population. That would be the fair thing to do. Gifted students deserve a fair education because all kids deserve it.

Written by

Todd Stanley is the author of 7 teacher education books, including Creating Life-Long Learners: Using Project-Based Management to Teach 21st Century Skills. He has been a classroom teacher for the past 18 years and was a National Board Certified teacher. He helped create a gifted academy for grades 5-8 where they employ inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and performance-based assessment. He is currently the gifted service coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife, Nicki, and two daughters, Anna and Abby.

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