North Carolina is the home of many distinguished leaders in gifted and talented education and has been a hotbed of innovation in developing academically and intellectually gifted minds.
While at the U.S. Office of Education, predecessor to the U.S. Department of Education, the late Dr. James Gallagher developed forward-thinking policy that advanced supporting individual education needs of children across the ability, aptitude and achievement spectrum.
Despite these and other distinguished contributions from state leaders, many gifted children are underserved in the state’s elementary and secondary schools. Earlier this year, a joint investigation by The News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer laid out the systemic barriers and nearly insurmountable challenges gifted students from low-income backgrounds face in obtaining access to the services and supports they need to succeed.
These barriers include identification measures that inadvertently favor economically advantaged children, limited opportunities for entry into gifted programs, a lack of early supports to prepare children to reach their potential and a lack of uniformity in administering programs across the state.
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Combined, these impediments paint a picture of grave inequity of opportunity, a picture that extends throughout the nation. According to the most recent federally-funded data, gifted children living in poverty who speak English as a second language and who are from racial and ethnic minority groups are 250 percent less likely to be in gifted programs even when they perform at comparable rates.
The enormity of this statistic and its impact on real lives is staggering. Just imagine the countless number of students whose gifts and talents have been overlooked simply because of the color of their skin, family income, country of origin or the ZIP code in which they live.
The investigative piece shined a spotlight on the many challenges gifted students from disadvantaged settings face in achieving their full potential. Ruby Jones, a school board member from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, noted that some schools only provide “bare bones” opportunities for advanced learners. In a subsequent story, Gov. Roy Cooper recognized that there is “a treasure trove of hidden talent in North Carolina schools who we should be educating better and not overlooking.”
Acknowledging and confronting the problem is a crucial first step. Now we must act.
More than a year ago, the National Association for Gifted Children embarked on a bold approach to change minds, change policies and change practices. The three-point action plan aims to help society fully understand the nature and needs of gifted children, to create supportive environments for their learning and to implement research-based educational practices.
North Carolina can make a difference now for many gifted children by executing effective solutions that ensure equity in access to gifted programs so all children receive the support they need as they reach for their personal best.
In November, North Carolina hosted the 64th annual convention of NAGC, held in conjunction with the North Carolina Association for Gifted & Talented. This gathering brought nearly 2,800 parents, educators, researchers and policymakers to the state to learn and develop solutions for the challenges not only in North Carolina but across the nation. Impressively, it included hundreds of local participants in the Family Day program that focused on helping parents support their children and exposing kids to gifted curriculum.
It is our hope that the convention lit another spark that state and local leaders, parents and teachers can carry forward. By resolving to address these challenges and embracing the right tools and strategies, North Carolina will continue its tradition of leadership in gifted and talented education by fully supporting all gifted children and advancing equitable access to gifted and talented education.
M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.