June 1, 2021


Eliminating Gifted Programs Won’t Make Education Fair

By: Cooper Conway

Recently equity-minded education reformers in New York City have been trying to curtail “gifted and talented programs,” saying they “do not condone a program model that is predicated on the discriminatory idea of giftedness.” California’s Department of Education, the city of Seattle’s School Board, and others have expressed similar sentiments focusing on how discriminatory policies — like “gifted and talented” programs — will only exacerbate inequality in education. 

But getting rid of gifted and talented programs is a bad idea. The result would be an even larger divide between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. Cutting access to gifted education programs won’t level the playing field; it will only tilt the game in favor of the wealthy.

Families that can afford to, will switch schools in order to ensure that their children are still challenged in the classroom. It should come as no surprise that families with financial means will go and find educational opportunities for their children if they feel that their child is losing a formative part of their school day.  However, students from families without financial means, don’t have the luxury to leave public schools entirely when they are lacking suitable resources.  

Students from wealthier families, if they decide to stay in public schools after gifted learning programs disappear, will also have other options to supplement learning, like enrolling in private after-school tutoring. They will find ways to stay ahead. 

By cutting gifted programs, the top students from low-income backgrounds will lose out. They will be stuck attending classes that don’t stimulate their brains, and unable to access supplemental education. That isn’t equitable.

Reformer’s advocacy of cutting gifted programs is a failure to recognize that every child learns differently. Public schools are more than capable of providing different educational experiences for different children. Look at the success of special needs education. Special needs programs provide many different pathways for children who may fall behind in a traditional classroom for a variety of reasons. For example, many children and their families work with schools to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). IEP’s set goals for the child’s learning needs provides support to help meet those goals, such as finding the right classroom for the child to learn in, access to a special education teacher, and language and behavior management support.

Gifted students and special needs students both come with their unique set of challenges but both are vulnerable to missing out on their full potential in the traditional classroom. We should want to meet the needs of all students and the more specialized the education, the better, whether it’s an advanced student or a student who needs more attention.  

If advocates of equity are bothered by anything with “gifted and talented programs,” it should be their names. The program’s names might insinuate not every child has gifts; instead, they should be rebranded as “accelerated learning programs” or another name that avoids implying that only certain children are gifted. In addition, equity-minded education reformers could also identify problems within the gifted programs instead of canceling them altogether. 

For example, gifted programs notoriously have a problem identifying the students who are fit for their programs, usually resulting in racial disparities. Reformers could advocate for solutions that better identify which children who are advanced by changing current admittance approaches, considering that students are admitted mainly based on standardized testing performance.

Eliminating advanced learning opportunities will only hurt bright students from low socio-economic classes. Advocates earnest about fostering equity in education should be encouraging accelerated learning programs instead of ending them. Accelerated learning programs provide opportunities for the highest performing students no matter their background. The children will also be given a chance to grow at their own rate instead of being forced to stagnate at a lower level of learning. Education reformers should recognize this reality and not stifle learning for anyone, but especially not those seeking to advance at a faster rate.