Chapel Hill: Opinion

Kara Ayock: Gifted education cuts will lead to mediocrity

Last month, CHCCS Superintendent Tom Forcella released his budget proposal for the 2014-15 school year, including over $900,000 in cuts.

Forcella has chosen to make the majority of these cuts ($536,340) to the Gifted Education Program. If similar disproportionate cuts (that will effectively eliminate all services to the 35-plus percent of the district’s students labeled as “gifted”) had been proposed to any other special population (e.g. ESL or EC), the Chapel Hill community would respond with a justified and understandable outrage. The fact that these cuts are being described as “the least painful choice” simply demonstrates the lack of understanding about the special needs of the gifted population, as well as a lack of awareness of the value that Gifted Education Specialists bring to all students in a school.

The label “gifted” is used to describe a person who has specific learning and reasoning abilities and needs. Research shows many gifted students are also highly sensitive, creative, excitable, and extraordinarily inquisitive perfectionists. With an appropriate education, gifted children typically develop into high-achieving adults, solving some of the most challenging problems facing the world.

However, when not properly challenged and engaged, these students will often find ways to distract and disrupt the class or they will become completely disengaged and disinterested in school. Unchallenged gifted students do not develop necessary frustration tolerance and will often become chronic underachievers, giving up easily when eventually faced with difficult tasks. Those who, in elementary school, would test as “proficient” with little effort can easily develop into high school students who test below proficiency. These negative effects are the most profound for those gifted learners who do not come from an affluent background, as after-school and summer enrichment opportunities are often unaffordable.

Because gifted students are typically determined to be “proficient” according to EOG testing, this group already receives the least amount of instructional time of any group of students. Most gifted students spend hours a day reading and completing worksheets on their own, while their peers receive instruction and review. Because of this neglect, many gifted learners are not demonstrating appropriate levels of academic growth from year to year. We would not allow this level of neglect with any other group of students. We should not allow it with this group.

The gifted students’ best hope for “acquiring the knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes to achieve their learning potential” (as stated in the CHCCS mission statement) can be found in the Gifted Education Specialists. These professionals have been trained to understand and provide appropriate services to the gifted population. Fortunately, the type of instruction in which the GES are experts mirrors the type of instruction that is called for in teaching the Common Core curriculum (e.g. teaching critical thinking, advanced problem solving, text referencing, complex questioning, etc.). Therefore, the services that the GESs provide benefit the whole school population.

These specialists are uniquely trained to identify the gifts and talents in each and every student. They build upon these gifts to encourage learners of all levels to stretch and grow. Further cutting the number of GESs (which is already inadequate) will not only negatively impact the 35-plus percent of children who are formally identified as “gifted,” but will also inevitably widen the achievement gap by neglecting the academic needs of those who are unable to afford enrichment activities outside of school. Approving these proposed cuts will actively lead to an epidemic of underachievement and mediocrity, rather than encouraging all CHCCS students to reach their highest potential.

Kara Aycock, M.Ed., is the Carrboro Elementary School parent representative to the Gifted Programming Advisory Committee.