This opinion article by guest writer Joann P. DiGennaro argues that gifted education is necessary for a successful public education system.
On Feb. 16, three San Francisco school board members were unceremoniously expelled from their seats in a landslide (more than 70%) recall election. A few issues were involved, but one major factor in the removal was their attempt to replace merit-based admissions with a lottery at the district’s extremely prestigious Lowell High School.
The recall is encouraging, because it shows that even in a racially diverse and famously liberal city, the vast majority of voters recognize that proper education for high achievers is a higher priority than presenting a superficial appearance of equity through a ham-handed balancing of ethnic percentages.
Consider that, according to a poll released by the Institute for Educational Advancement in 2019, at least 64% of Democrats, 67% of independents, and 61% of Republicans say federal funding for gifted students needs to be increased. It can be deduced that voters of all stripes generally reject the premise that gifted education must be sacrificed at the altar of equity.
It is long past time for all education policymakers to acknowledge some simple realities, as most of the general public has. Children of the same age are often in vastly different places academically. Accelerating everyone and accelerating no one are non-solutions that maximize students’ average distance from their learning ideal.
The necessity for differentiation is obvious to everyone when it comes to students that are behind the curve—remedial education is understood to be essential—why is this not obvious when it comes to students who are ahead? A related question, to which the answer is painfully obvious: What is the percentage of students that should stop learning and languish in classes where they already know the material?
Gifted education may not be identical to mainstream education, but it is imperative for the same reason: to educate children to their potential. The only fundamental difference between ceasing gifted education and ceasing all education is the number of children affected. This is why efforts to homogenize education are guaranteed to produce poor results. Nonetheless, such efforts have been seriously pursued at an accelerating rate, in New York City, San Francisco, and other locales, as well as the commonwealth of Virginia, where the Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) was expected to keep all students on the same narrow math path for nearly their entire journey through public school.
VMPI has apparently been sidelined, but this does not remove all concern. Nobody should be interested in watching the Virginia Department of Education toy with defaulting on its responsibilities to students, especially the students with the greatest potential for creating technological and economic growth.
Gifted education can take many forms, but it does not have to be complicated, controversial or expensive, and generally it is not. Allowing students to accelerate in a subject can be as simple as walking into a seventh grade classroom instead of a sixth grade classroom for an hour a day. Furthermore, the observation that gifted schools cost money is as irrelevant as it is true. All schools cost money. Should all schools be closed?
Deep blue New York City rejected mayoral candidates who were interested in eliminating gifted schools, instead electing Eric Adams, who proposed expanding the number of selective high schools. In fact, the misguided and unpopular efforts in San Francisco, New York City and Virginia have all failed with the same end result: anti-gifted politicians were replaced.
Hopefully this provides a lesson for present and future elected officials. Instead of threatening gifted education, how about scaling it up and giving it the serious attention it deserves? As for parents and other concerned citizens, the next time gifted education comes under attack, you know what to do.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Virginian-Pilot on March 12, 2022, and is reproduced here with the consent of the author, Joann P. DiGennaro.
DiGennaro is president of the Center for Excellence in Education, a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in McLean that nurtures careers of excellence and leadership in STEM for academically talented high school and college students. The center sponsors the Research Science Institute, the USA Biolympiad, STEM Lyceums, and the Teacher Enrichment Program.
Interested in our take on the value of gifted education programs? Check out our article Should We Get Rid of Gifted Education?