Point of View

A looming setback for some of the state's best students

April 19, 2011 

— In the absence of federal legislation for gifted education, North Carolina is fortunate to have a funded mandate to both identify and serve gifted students in public schools. It's a smart investment in nurturing the young minds who will drive innovation in our state far into the future.

But now, the state House of Representatives' education subcommittee is proposing to repeal the two most important sections of the state's gifted education law, 115C-150.6 and 115C-150.7, Article 9B, of North Carolina's General Statutes. These form the cornerstone for gifted education in our state and provide the only mechanism to support our most advanced students and ensure they are appropriately identified and served.

And strangely, this isn't about money, it's about accountability. If these key portions of North Carolina's gifted education law were repealed, the state still would be providing funding for gifted programs but without the accountability to ensure the funds are being used properly.

It was only two years ago, in compliance with this law and as a result of an audit by the state Auditor's Office, that the state Board of Education approved new, academically/intellectually gifted (AIG) program standards. These standards serve as a statewide framework to ensure all school systems in North Carolina - whether high-wealth or low-wealth, urban or rural - develop and implement comprehensive and thoughtful AIG programs.

During the summer of 2010, school systems across the state developed their local plans and detailed how they were addressing the new program standards. This process monitors and supports the development of quality and effective local AIG programs and safeguards the rights of gifted children. But these plans haven't even been given enough time to prove their effectiveness.

If portions of the gifted education law were dismantled now, these AIG program standards would no longer be enforced and school systems would no longer be held accountable for identifying and serving gifted students. The forward-looking AIG practices that many school systems are now implementing would be obliterated.

This wouldn't be a huge blow to large, well-funded districts, but gifted children in rural and underserved areas who need these policies the most would suffer the greatest losses by the dissolution of this law.

If these changes are adopted, it is likely that struggling school systems would choose to abandon gifted education efforts in favor of meeting federal education requirements and mandates. As a result, progress towards identifying and serving students who have traditionally been underrepresented in programs for the gifted would be stalled. And potential talent in our state would certainly be lost.

Our legislators should ensure that we narrow disparities across the state in identifying and serving gifted students, not create and widen those disparities. With approximately 160,000 gifted K-12 students currently being served in AIG programs and with many more gifted students yet to be identified, we must continue to impose the requirements of sections 115C-150.6 and 115C-150.7 on school systems or the educational needs of gifted students across North Carolina will go unmet.

We need to identify and develop our most talented and motivated students, for they will become the next generation of innovators. Article 9B must remain intact to ensure that all gifted children, regardless of their zip code, are able to fulfill their potential.

Kristen R. Stephens is an assistant professor of education at Duke University and president of the N.C. Association for the Gifted and Talented.

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