What to Make of This?

When the Label Is ‘Gifted,’ The Debate Is Heated

Two schools in Maryland have maintained their assessment practices and their acceleration programs, but have stopped the practice of formally identifying kids as “gifted.”

Is this a good thing? Focusing on appropriate academic adjustments for individuals rather than focusing on classifying groups of students sounds like a good thing.

Are there dubious motives?

Within the school system, the gifted label is increasingly viewed as a liability, chiefly because it is seen as inequitable. White and Asian American students are twice as likely to be labeled gifted as Hispanic and black students. The share of students identified as gifted varies — widely and largely inexplicably — among schools with similar demographics and test scores. In 2005, an alliance of groups called the Equity in Education Coalition began lobbying school officials to abolish the label, saying it bestowed unfair advantages upon designated students.

Are we to understand that the policy exists to make those not designated as gifted (or, more likely, their parents) feel better? If so, I would have some concerns about its implementation. In any case, it would seem that the problem is with more with the schools’ IDing practices, and not with the terminology. If officials are biased in doling out the gifted label, are they going to be more reasonable when assessing who gets particular services (“unfair advantages” like appropriate curricula) under an informal/secret gifted label?

I appreciate the efforts of gifted advocates — teachers and parents — who are in there trying to work this out, but I am happy not to have my kids’ education jerked around as advocates and districts tussle over what they can do without pissing off some other faction. BDTD, Fool Me Once, etc. Even after a lackluster week, I’m happy to be homeschooling.



Filed under Gifted Ed, In the News, Learning Styles, Why Homeschool?

5 responses to “What to Make of This?

  1. I just don’t know what to do about this. Public schools just don’t seem capable, for political reasons and other reasons, to meet the needs of gifted kids.

  2. I wrote a really long reply and then, luckily for you, my connection broke. So here are the main points.

    – I think a lot of the problem is with the term “gifted”. People don’t understand what that means. They are terrified another kid is going to get “unfair advantages” over their kid simply because they’re smarter. But gifted isn’t about learning better, it’s about learning *differently*. I’ll bet if a different term was used or it was put in with “special needs” there would be fewer problems.

    – I agree with you that this seems also to be a problem with identification. The schools need to have a better understanding of cultural issues surrounding giftedness. In my country, Maori concepts are worked into the official definition – so you get kids who are gifted at leadership, or orating, or spiritually gifted. I really like the last one!

  3. Jen

    In my opinion, at least here in the US, the problem with the “gifted” label is parental ego and political correctness.

    My son taught himself to read at 2 1/2. Not only did it never occur to me to teach a 2 year old to read, but at the time, I had a newborn, my husband was gone 3 weeks a month for work, and I had post-partum depression. My main goal was getting through each day with all of us still in one piece. Somehow, he started reading. And as soon as the parents of “developmentally normal” children in my playgroup found out, it became a big issue with them. I was “pushing” him. I had to be the best and smartest. I was always “showing off.” (Bad playgroup for me… we didn’t last long after that).

    I learned to spend his preschool years hiding the fact that he was so far ahead. Even in some of our homeschooling groups, I was accused of “pushing” when discussion turned to the things we were doing.

    I looked at our school options the winter before kindergarten, and couldn’t figure out how anything would work. He is several grades ahead academically… but he’s a 6 year old boy in every other way (socially, emotionally, morally, physically). And I want him to be a kid. So, we are homeschooling… and I love it (even when we, too, have lackluster weeks).

    Every gifted kid is so very different. Kids on the other end of the spectrum (the ones identified as “special needs” with lower than average IQ’s) seem to get IEPs and specialized educations. Their parents get sympathy and understanding.

    But the higher than average IQs get more of the same, more worksheets, etc. Even though their brains work differently… perhaps as differently (though not in the same way) as the kids identified as “special needs.” And their parents get accused of hogging valuable resources.

    I think it’s because people equate the word “gifted” with “better.” If I say my son is gifted, somehow I am saying your kid is not as good as mine. Doesn’t make any sense. We don’t do that with anything else. (No one questions their own sense of self worth when they see another kid excel in music, art or sports).

    So maybe it is a vocabulary issue. But I think ego plays a big part too.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  4. I live in Montgomery County and have been blogging extensively on gifted issues here — including the recent labeling brouhaha (http://themorechild.wordpress.com). It’s gnarly. Close to 40% of kids in the district are identified as GT. There is huge pressure to close the achievement gap, so what better way to do so than hide it by abolishing the label. The new mantra is “services not labels” but those who have been around the block here know that the services are pretty thin.

  5. In theory the approach sounds like it could work. But most people’s definition of “gifted” looks more like a bright kid, a grade level or two ahead in a particular subject(s). In certain districts this would be the norm and what needs to be done is make the curriculum more challenging. However, HG+ kids would not be challenged in such a system because they learn differently not just faster.

    It may be like you write, if it is not indicated there is less of a responsibility to ensure that their educational needs are met.

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