Several days ago, Georgia’s Department of Education released the draft of Every Student Succeeds Act. After reading the draft, I found myself saddened that Georgia will not continue to be a national leader in the services we provide our gifted children.
I am a second-generation teacher of the gifted as well as a second-generation teacher of the gifted endorsement program in Georgia. In elementary school, I taught fourth and fifth grade, and gifted resource classes; in middle school, I have taught regular education, co-taught, and advanced content classes. In addition, I have taught the gifted endorsement classes to teachers in multiple north Georgia districts. My experience has shown me the importance of having well-trained teachers who have learned about the specific intellectual and socio-emotional needs of gifted children and of having a well-planned system for meeting these needs.
Often, people believe that teaching gifted students is easy because they are smart, have high test scores, and learn content on their own. Few realize the unique challenges that accompany education of gifted students; these students often raise complex questions, are intense, desire more in-depth study, and hold themselves and others to extremely high expectations. It is difficult to help gifted students reach their fullest potential–especially in a time when the focus in education has been on raising the performance of lower achieving students. All students should have their needs met in our public schools.
Gifted students are not all the same. Some are overachievers; some are underachievers. Some excel in STEM subjects; some excel in the humanities; some excel in all areas. Some are extroverts; some are introverts. Some are creative; some are logical. Some prefer cooperative group work; some prefer working individually. Some do well on tests; some have test anxiety. There is no mold that all gifted students can fit in; in fact, they are just as complex and different from each other as any other group of students. These differences make it vital for teachers to have training in understanding characteristics as seen in the gifted, the social, affective, and academic needs, as well as to have strategies and skills for meeting these needs. Teachers who work with other specialized populations are required to be highly qualified. True, gifted students in Georgia do not have IEPs like other students with special needs do. Pre-service teachers must complete coursework in special education, however, and require additional certification to serve students with one. It isn’t unreasonable to expect teachers working with gifted students to have basic teacher certification plus the gifted endorsement for the subjects and grades they teach.
Georgia is a diverse state that requires multiple options for meeting the needs of its students. Currently, the Georgia Resource Manual for Gifted Education Services allows flexibility in the ways gifted programs are designed. A variety of nationally accepted models are available for districts to select from when designing the best possible program from the gifted and talented students they serve. Moving away from the requirement of districts selecting from approved model risks the quality of education our gifted and talented students receive. If the state removes the requirement of programs being designed from an approved list of models, will there be a way for the state to monitor and evaluate the successfulness of the program? How will the successfulness of the program be determined? Does the alternative make the best use of resources?
If this draft is approved, Georgia will not be the first state to make similar changes. Ohio changed its gifted requirements, leaving it up to districts to determine training and delivery models for services. The results were shocking. According to “Getting Out of the Way: How De-regulation Has Worked for Gifted Children in Ohio” (2015), identification of gifted students decreased by 8.5% since 2008. In addition, services for gifted have plummeted, licensed gifted staff has decreased, and over half of all districts in 2014 reported that they used some or all gifted formula funding for purposes other than to identify and serve gifted students. By “getting out of the way of districts,” the state of Ohio has essentially limited opportunities for their gifted students–especially those who are economically disadvantaged. This is not what Georgia’s gifted students deserve.
All of Georgia’s students deserve to have their needs met so they can grow and develop into the best possible versions of themselves. I question whether the proposed changes allow this to happen for Georgia’s gifted students.