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Gifted education and racial justice

June 10, 2020 1 comment

Racial inequity has been one of the top concerns in the American gifted education community for years. Here in Georgia, we have it better than some, because Georgia law requires that every public school student identified as gifted must be provided with gifted instruction. In other states, that’s not the case, and in some cities — most prominent among them New York City — there aren’t nearly enough spaces in the highly coveted gifted schools for all the children who need gifted instruction. Yet even in Georgia, questions remain about whether the processes used to identify gifted children are fair to minority children.

Today, I share an opinion piece about why access to gifted education is essential to the pursuit of racial justice. This essay, written by Colin Seale, was originally posted on Seale’s web site, thinkLaw, and is posted in full here with permission from the author.

Black Lives Matter. Black Minds Matter, Too:
The Case for Prioritizing Equity in Gifted Education
as an Urgent Racial Justice Issue

by Colin Seale

It is unacceptable that the question of whether Black lives matter is still a question. It is impossible to silence the screams and cries of the fed up after the unspeakable and unjustifiable killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black lives lost to police officers and wannabe police officers. But these screams and tears have echoed in my heart since I was 16 years old. 

This pain started when I was 16 years old because that is when police officers stopped and frisked me around the corner from my home in Brooklyn, NY. I was one of few Black students attending the prestigious Bronx High School of Science (where there are even fewer today) and I was getting ready to start an exciting summer enrichment program the next day. But none of that mattered when I was up against a brick wall being searched and aggressively questioned about where I was coming from and where I was going. It might not sound like much to be questioned about where you are coming from and where you are going. But I was taught that I was free. Yet, I still had to very respectfully justify my movements to angry men as the only way out of the shamefully deadly crime of walking while Black. This moment permanently stripped me of my full humanity. This idea of America, this promise that lit up my family’s eyes in the depths of their dark struggle to immigrate to the United States was betrayed. This firm belief that their American children will be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all will be well if you just do the right thing, was shattered.  

There is something about this notion of an unfulfilled promise that leads me beyond the criminal justice system. As a teacher-by-day, law student-by-night, I was grateful for the incredible volunteer experience of spending time with brilliant young people who were amazing problem solvers, brilliant at thinking on their toes, and born leaders. These mostly Black, Brown, and overwhelmingly poor youth were, without question, the most entrepreneurial, analytical, and persuasive young minds I had ever come across. I could not figure out, however, how these brilliant young minds ended up juvenile detention. My semester as a student attorney for my law school’s juvenile justice clinic showed that we are leaving genius on the table. There are no doubts about the promise these youth showed, but their promise was going unfulfilled. I watched enough commercials for the United Negro College Fund to understand that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Yet, here I stood, seeing brilliant minds needlessly placed in cages. 

This confined brilliance felt familiar. It reminded me of what it felt like to constantly be labeled as having “poor self-control” and to always find myself in some sort of trouble in kindergarten and first grade. These challenges miraculously disappeared when tests for my speech impediment and behavior challenges revealed that I should have been in gifted and talented classes since I was in kindergarten. My part of Brooklyn did not have an elementary school with a gifted program, so I was bussed to a different school as one of twelve students in my grade level with access to this transformational experience. Transformational is not an exaggeration, because the same behaviors that would have eventually landed me in juvenile detention were required in my gifted classroom. Walking around and interacting with my peers was meaningful collaboration, not goofing off. Questioning the teacher was intellectual curiosity, not badgering. Telling the teacher there was a better way to do something was effective advocacy, not willful defiance. I was still, surely, subject to the injustices of a systemically racist school system and society. But my mind was free. 

A free mind gave me the privilege to ask questions. Questions like why did I have to get bussed to a school to have access to rigorous and challenging instruction grounded in critical thinking? And why were there only 12 of us in this program when there were brilliant young minds in every single classroom? Education equity advocates in New York City are outraged at the dismal numbers of Black and Brown students admitted to Bronx Science and the 8 other specialized high schools. But when there are over 400 high schools in New York City, what does it mean, really, when “success” means you make a child like me commute 90 minutes each way from Brooklyn to the Bronx? 

Black lives matter. But if we are to truly live, don’t our brains matter, too? I understand and deeply resonate with the cry of “stop killing us.” But I cannot ever be content with simply having permission to exist. Descartes’ revelation that “I think, therefore I am” speaks to the need that mere survival is not enough. The Notorious B.I.G.’s observation “my mind’s my nine, my pen’s my MAC 10” goes a bit further, speaking to the unquestionable power of a brilliant, expressive mind. The reality is, access to critical thinking matters now more than ever. We need to unlock brilliance any and everywhere it exists. The survival of our world depends on it.  

Unfortunately, the same racial injustices that treat Black lives as unworthy also treat our minds as inferior. My existence in advanced academic programs was inseparable from the broader conversation, then and now, about equity and access in gifted education. The glaring underrepresentation of Black students in gifted education means that at the moment we need critical thinkers more than ever, we are still deciding to treat critical thinking as a luxury good. The critical thinking gap in our education system results in an underclass of students who get taught what to think while the most “elite” students in the most “elite” schools learn how to think. I am sick and tired of seeing Black folks with brilliant minds behind bars. I am even more sick and tired of the more systemic challenge of denying brilliant Black minds access to educational opportunities that keep their minds in cages. 

With the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic estimated to force massive cuts to education budgets nationwide, a compelling case for treating gifted education as an issue of racial justice must be made. The common, but false, belief that gifted learners will be “just fine” already leads school systems to shift resources away from students who subjectively need these resources more. Even before this crisis, Seattle Public Schools eliminated their gifted and talented, and New York City discussed doing the same in the name of equity. This is not equity. 

A racial justice agenda in education must be committed to the full liberation of Black minds. This means that there need to be more, not fewer gifted and talented program opportunities in schools serving high numbers of students who are typically denied access. More, not fewer, advanced academic offerings at all middle and high schools serving large numbers of Black students. Equity means that education systems shift their focus to serving all students to unlocking the excellence of each student. This means that we need to hold several ideas in our heads at the same time.  

First, we must accept that all students have gifts, but not all students are gifted. Second, gifted students and advanced learners exist everywhere and deserve a right to experience an academic challenge every single day. Third, all students can and should benefit from gifted and talented teaching strategies, but gifted learners require services to meet their specific learning needs just like any other exceptional student population. Fourth, gifted education identification practices and service delivery remain deeply problematic across the country and must be improved. Fifth, fighting for equity should never result in an outcome where everyone gets nothing, even if the equity issues are not being resolved rapidly enough. These five considerations must be addressed in concert, so we can stop leaving genius on the table. Racial justice means we stop talking about simply closing achievement gaps and start talking about shattering achievement ceilings.

This is not just about Black students.  It also makes little sense that we have English Language Learners who are thinking in multiple languages, navigating across multiple cultures, and piecing together complex puzzles all day every day. Gifted education representation challenges and the availability of gifted programming for Native American students and students in poverty, everywhere, are additional examples of areas access and equity must be expanded.  

One of the most important moments in our lives is the moment we realize that our unique power, unique qualifications, and the opportunity to take advantage of opportunities put us in a unique position to make a unique difference in our world. It hurts me to the core that so many of our young people will never get to experience this moment based on nothing else but the color of their skin. Black lives matter. But we cannot ever forget that Black minds matter, too.  

Categories: Advocacy and policy

Bill limiting dual enrollment revived in Georgia legislature

January 16, 2020 Leave a comment

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reports that last year’s bill to limit the dual enrollment program is active again in the state legislature, as I predicted would happen when the bill was tabled late in the 2019 session.

The front-page story in today’s paper recaps what we know from last year: participation in dual enrollment has exploded in recent years, and as a result, the program has blown its allocated budget. The state has already shifted some dual enrollment costs to the colleges and universities that provide the classes, and is looking for additional ways to rein in spending.

As you may remember from the 2019 legislative session, the bill (HB 444) would cap the number of hours of dual enrollment classes that the state would pay for. According to the AJC, students enrolling at four-year colleges and universities would be limited to 15 credit hours per semester and 30 credit hours overall. Caps would be higher for students enrolling in technical education classes at technical colleges.

(Note: The version of the bill posted online shows limits of 16 credit hours per semester and 32 total, but perhaps the AJC reporter knows of a change that hasn’t been posted online yet. Last year, a substitute version of the bill written in the House did set the caps at 15 and 30 hours.)

Students could take classes beyond these “covered” limits, but would have to pay for them out of pocket.

Earlier versions of the bill from 2019 would have allowed students to charge additional dual enrollment classes against their future HOPE scholarship allocations; however, that option was removed during committee rewrites last year.

My position is mostly the same as it was when I posted about this last year. From a practical standpoint, I understand why limits are needed to control costs.

I also think it’s reasonable to have limits. I don’t agree with the parents who wrote to me last year to argue that the state should pay for unlimited college classes for high-school students and then turn around and pay for four full years of college under HOPE as well.

A limit of 30 credit hours works out to 10 college courses taken during high school. That ought to be plenty for students at high schools that offer AP classes in most core subjects.

However, for students in high schools that don’t offer many AP classes, 10 dual enrollment classes might not be enough. These students may have an unmet need for more rigorous classes to adequately challenge them, and if they want to get into selective colleges, they also need to keep up with their peers at bigger and better-performing high schools, who routinely take 15 or more AP classes.

That argument may not get much traction in lobbying legislators, though, because this bill also defines the purpose of the dual enrollment program, and it has nothing to do with providing advanced learning options for gifted students.

The purpose of the dual enrollment program shall be to provide qualified high school students with access to rigorous career and academic courses at higher education institutions in order to increase high school graduation rates, prepare a skilled workforce, and to decrease postsecondary students’ time to degree completion.

Georgia HB 444, Lines 19-22 (emphasis added)

State legislators could argue that providing advanced learning options for gifted students isn’t a state responsibility to be handled through dual enrollment, but rather is the responsibility of local public school systems, as mandated by state law. But, as advocates for the gifted, we need to know that school systems can fulfill the requirements of that law by providing gifted high-school students just one gifted or AP class per semester. That’s not enough for students who need the challenge of college-level coursework.

In my opinion, the 30-hour cap should be put in place for students in high schools with robust AP programs. However, I’d like for students in high schools with limited AP options to be able to apply for exemptions from the credit hours caps, or have the option of tapping into their HOPE funds to pay for classes beyond the caps — at least for classes that are in core academic areas (math, science, English / language arts, and social studies).

Step one, though, would be to convince legislators to amend the bill’s language on the purpose of dual enrollment to include serving Georgia’s gifted and advanced learners.

If you want to take action on this bill

The bill is in the Senate Higher Education Committee. That committee is chaired by Lindsey Tippens, who also is listed as the bill’s sponsor in the Senate. The other members of the committee are:

If one of these legislators represents your senate district, start by e-mailing them.

It’s also not too soon to get in touch with members of the Georgia House of Representatives. On that side, the bill would go through the Education Committee. The committee has 24 members, who are listed on the committee’s web page.

Categories: Advocacy and policy

Recommended reading: The need for gifted education in public schools

December 19, 2019 Leave a comment

If you’re a regular reader of news about gifted education, you know there’s widespread concern about the under-representation of minority and economically disadvantaged students in gifted education programs.

One of the most dramatic and talked about developments in gifted education in 2019 was the finding by a panel in New York City that the gifted programs in the city’s public schools were racially and socioeconomically unequal, and the resulting recommendation by that same panel that gifted programs should be eliminated from all public city schools.

In an article in The Atlantic magazine, Andy Smarick — author of Closing America’s High-Achievement Gap — acknowledges the role of public schools in leveling the playing field for all students, yet warns against shortchanging our brightest kids, as often happens in public schools.

He looks at the lack of structure and funding for gifted education in many states. And, like other advocates for gifted education, he points out that if public schools don’t provide gifted education, those who will suffer most will be the economically disadvantaged, who don’t have as many options for enrichment outside of school.

I recommend taking a few minutes to read the full article. Those of us who advocate for gifted children regularly encounter administrators, teachers, and neighbors who undervalue gifted education and even resent resources being allocated to it. Smarick’s article reminds us that gifted kids, like all kids, deserve the chance to be their best.

Article: The Contradiction at the Heart of Public Education

Categories: Advocacy and policy

Update on Dual Enrollment bill

April 11, 2019 Leave a comment

HB 444, which would have created new guidelines and limitations for Georgia’s Dual Enrollment program — see my prior post for details — was tabled in the Georgia Senate and was not passed into law.

The Senate Higher Education Committee had written a substitute version of the bill, which made some noteworthy adjustments to the version that had been passed by the House. Among them:

  • Ninth and tenth graders could take Dual Enrollment classes at four-year colleges and universities, but only online — not in person on the college campuses. (In the House version, freshmen and sophomores would be ineligible for Dual Enrollment.)
  • Dual Enrollment would be capped at 32 semester hours total, with a maximum of 16 semester hours in any one semester. (The House version of the bill would cap the hours at 30.)
  • The Senate’s version eliminated all language about tapping into a student’s HOPE Scholarship allotment to pay for Dual Enrollment courses beyond the cap of 32 total semester hours. Instead, those additional classes — referred to in the bill as “noncovered dual credit courses” — would be paid at the student’s own expense.

Based on feedback I received in response to my prior post, I imagine the gifted community would prefer the eligibility of freshmen and sophomores that’s contained in the Senate version of the bill, even though it provides for online Dual Enrollment classes only.

Where I think parents of gifted kids won’t be happy with the Senate version is the removal of the option to use HOPE funds to pay for Dual Enrollment. Last month, I heard from some parents who were vehemently against the idea of having extra Dual Enrollment hours charged against their HOPE allotment. I’m guessing they’ll be even unhappier with having out-of-pocket payment as the only option for students who complete much of their high-school coursework by taking college courses.

Personally, I saw the use of HOPE funds as a reasonable compromise. While I recognize there are some highly gifted, highly mature students who are more suited to take their high-school classes in a college setting, I don’t think the state of Georgia should be on the hook to pay for more than one college degree for any student.

Those who contacted me seemed to hold the position that for their children, the Dual Enrollment classes weren’t really a college degree program, but rather a substitute high-school education with a level of rigor that wasn’t being provided through their public school. I sympathize with these parents, but I think that battle should be taken to the public schools, which need to offer appropriate education for all students. If a student truly is ready for full-time, college-level work on a college campus at 15 or 16, then yes, they should be allowed to “Move on When Ready,” to use the former name of Dual Enrollment. However, in doing so, they are in fact moving on to college, essentially skipping high school, and under that circumstance, I think it’s completely appropriate that they utilize the HOPE Scholarship as they embark on their college education.

As I wrote in my previous post, the state wants to adjust the Dual Enrollment program because its popularity is busting its allocated budget. For that reason, I’d expect the legislature to take this up again in the 2020 session.

If this is an important issue to you, I suggest you don’t wait until January of next year to give your input. Use the legislative off-season to contact legislators with your opinions and suggestions. This would include the bill’s sponsors, all of whom are listed on the bill’s dedicated page, and members of the House Education Committee and Senate Higher Education Committee. If one of these legislators is your elected representative, start there. If not, I suggest you contact one of the bill’s sponsors with your perspective.


Categories: Advocacy and policy

HB 444 would modify dual enrollment

March 12, 2019 3 comments

Dual enrollment is an important educational option for gifted students, especially those students whose home high schools don’t offer a wide variety of AP or advanced courses, or those who prefer the more serious environment of a college campus.

Students taking part in Georgia’s Dual Enrollment Program take classes at colleges or universities — public or private — at no cost, and earn both high-school credit and college credit for those classes.

HB 444, which passed the Georgia House of Representatives last week and is now in the Georgia Senate’s Higher Education Committee, would make two significant changes to dual enrollment:

  1. Dual enrollment at four-year colleges, whether part of the University System of Georgia or private institutions, would be open only to high-school juniors and seniors. This is a change from existing policy, under which freshmen and sophomores also are eligible. (Under the bill, sophomores could still take classes at the state’s technical colleges.)
  2. The Dual Enrollment Program would pay for a maximum of 30 semester hours (45 quarter hours) of college-level classes per high-school student. Once this cap of “covered” hours is reached, students could take additional dual enrollment classes by either A) paying out of pocket, or B) charging the additional dual enrollment hours against their future HOPE Grant or HOPE Scholarship.

To explain this second point, let’s say a high-school student has participated in dual enrollment since her junior year. By the time she reaches the spring semester of her senior year, she has taken 30 semester hours of classes at Georgia State University, all of which have been paid for by the Georgia Dual Enrollment Program. Now, she wants to take an additional 12 semester hours of classes at GSU. Under HB 444, she could either pay for those classes herself, or she could have them paid for by the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC), in which case the 12 semester hours would be deducted from the maximum credit hours allowed to her under the HOPE program.

The caps on the HOPE Scholarship are a maximum of 127 semester hours or 190 quarter hours. This bill wouldn’t change those caps.

In our example above, the student taking an additional 12 semester hours at GSU could have those classes paid for by GSFC, applying them toward her HOPE allotment. If she goes on to receive a HOPE Scholarship, she would then have 115 semester hours remaining of HOPE Scholarship eligibility.

I contacted a legislative relations staff member with GSFC, who said it’s his interpretation that if a student exceeded the dual enrollment coverage limit, had additional dual enrollment classes paid for through GSFC, and didn’t end up receiving a HOPE Scholarship, they wouldn’t be required to reimburse the money to the state.

As with any legislation, changes to the bill are likely as it works its way through the legislative process.

My opinion? This is a good and necessary bill, crafted in response to an audit of the dual enrollment program that found explosive growth and spending, as well as some abuse of the program. Dual enrollment students taking one or two classes per semester at a college or university won’t bump into the 30-hour cap. Those who do reach the cap can still take additional classes without paying out of pocket by tapping into their future HOPE award.

The purpose of this bill is to keep the Dual Enrollment Program — and the HOPE program — solvent, and that’s crucial to Georgia’s gifted students.

Categories: Advocacy and policy

Online certificate in gifted education for parents as well as teachers

September 12, 2017 2 comments

When Arizona State University asked me to share information about their online graduate certificate program in gifted education, I was reluctant at first. I think of gifted ed certification as something for classroom teachers, and I think most of my readers are parents.

However, the university representative said this program of study would also be useful for parents who homeschool their gifted kids, or for parents who simply want to better understand their children’s learning needs and how to better advocate for their kids within a traditional school setting.

I’m all for parents becoming stronger advocates for their children — and, in time, for the general population of gifted children — so if you want to know more, download the PDF of the Graduate-Certificate-Gifted-Education-Program-Guide. To enroll, you must have a bachelor’s degree. The certification requires five classes and they say it can be completed in two years.

Arizona State U

New blog covers gifted education policy

September 14, 2016 Leave a comment

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the National Association for Gifted Children have joined forces with The High Flyer, a new blog about gifted education policy.

Policy papers are sometimes academic and dry, but I recommend you check this blog out anyway. Why? Because the more you know about what’s happening in gifted education in different states and school systems, the more effective you can be in bringing needed changes to your own school, district, or state, not only for your child, but for all gifted children.

08-05-the-high-flyer-blog-banner-fordham

 

Categories: Advocacy and policy

When academic awards season means hurt feelings for the gifted

May 12, 2016 9 comments

For the metro Atlanta area, May brings the end of the school year, and with that comes academic awards season. It can be a surprisingly difficult and disappointing time for gifted children.

Gifted kids will receive their Principal’s List awards for earning all A’s, but when it comes to those big awards — the special awards that are accompanied by a teacher’s speech about how wonderful the child is — gifted kids often are passed over in favor of students who have struggled through school.

I am all in favor of rewarding hard work in the face of adversity. I am often moved to tears when the teachers describe a child who, for example, started the school year not speaking English and now is reading independently. That child absolutely deserves praise for what they have achieved.

But how do I look into the saddened eyes of my child and explain that although she is at the top of her class academically, is helpful, respectful, responsible and well-behaved, she is never chosen for this standout award?

I try. I compare these awards to what on my sports teams were called the “Coach’s Award” or “Hustle Award,” an award the coach gave to a player who worked hard but who didn’t have the skills to be the best scorer, defender, or all-around athlete. The problem is, at least in my child’s school, there is only one special recognition award per class. So if the award goes to a kid who has struggled to get from the bottom to the middle, it will never go to a child who has consistently been at the top.

The “Crushing Tall Poppies” blog addressed this dilemma in a recent post, “Not the Underdog, Yet, the Underdog.” The author, Celi Trépanier, is a former teacher and a SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) facilitator. She argues that it’s human nature to give additional support and encouragement to children who are struggling, but points out that this can translate to neglect of well-adjusted, high-performing kids in school. She writes:

Cutting down the tall poppies does not level the playing field; it promotes an unfair and inequitable situation. What many seem to forget is gifted children are human and they are children—children who have feelings, who have flaws, and who can also have physical and learning disabilities. Gifted children, like all children, need positive feedback, encouragement, and they need to be nurtured and supported like every other child. When support, encouragement and positive feedback is denied to a gifted child based on the assumption he or she probably does not need anything more, they grow up feeling left out and shunned.

And so we go into awards season, my child hopeful, me filled with the dread of another disappointment, of trying to explain once again why her success isn’t enough to earn her the recognition she craves.

Urge our senators to support gifted research

March 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Would you give ten minutes to support gifted education?

Here’s how: E-mail our U.S. senators in support of continued funding for the Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act.

Javits Act funding supports research into how gifted students learn, and how we can improve teaching methods.

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) have written a letter to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, asking that the 2016 budget continue to fund the Javits Act.

Showing support for Javits funding is crucial, because previous budgets have cut or eliminated it. Although Javits funding was as high as $11 million a year in the early 2000s, it dropped to $7.5 million per year later that decade, and was cut out entirely for the years 2010-2013. In 2014, Congress allocated $5 million to Javits, and in the 2015 budget, thanks to the leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, gifted research was funded at $10 million.

Don’t let Javits funding get slashed or eliminated again in the next budget.

Your letter to our senators can be short and simple. My suggestion:

  1. Open with the call to action: to sign the Grassley-Casey letter in support of Javits funding.
  2. State your connection to gifted education. For example, that you have a gifted child, or you teach gifted children.
  3. Voice your support for research to ensure that gifted children are well served by our schools.
  4. Restate the call to action.

Send an e-mail to U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson

Send an e-mail to U.S. Senator David Perdue

We need to take action on this by March 26, 2015.

Gifted kids are a minority. They need our advocacy.

Categories: Advocacy and policy

Incoming Ga. superintendent seeks student advisers

January 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Here’s a chance for your gifted student to have his or her voice heard, and to advocate for better gifted education in our schools:

[The following is a press release from the Georgia Department of Education]

Superintendent-elect Woods Seeks Student Advisers

MEDIA CONTACT: Matt Cardoza, GaDOE Communications Office, (404) 651-7358, mcardoza@gadoe.org or Meghan Frick, GaDOE Communications Office, (404) 656-5594, mfrick@doe.k12.ga.us

INTERESTED STUDENTS: Ron Culver: rculver@doe.k12.ga.us

Link to application

January 5, 2015 — State School Superintendent-elect Richard Woods is accepting applications for the 2015 Student Advisory Council.

The members of the Student Advisory Council meet three times during the school year with the State School Superintendent to discuss how decisions made at the state level are affecting students throughout Georgia. Members are advisers and act as liaisons between the Department of Education and the students of Georgia. Superintendent-elect Woods will be conducting the meetings, which will also feature various DOE personnel providing further information.

“Meeting with students and getting their advice will be a top priority of mine as State School Superintendent,” said Superintendent-elect Woods. “I am committed to making decisions that are in the best interests of our students, and hearing from them directly is how I can ensure that happens.”

All students in grades 7-12 are eligible to apply. Meetings will be held in February, March and early May (dates are subject to change). Applicants should be able to attend all meetings.

To be eligible for the Council, applications must be received by Friday, January 16, 2014.

 

 

 

Categories: Advocacy and policy