Remaining Vigilant

Of all the new gifted learner provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act, I'm especially drawn to the language that specifically permits school districts to use Title I funds to identify and serve low-income gifted students.  This new language overturns U.S. Department of Education policy that prohibited such use of the funds and provides gifted education advocates the opportunity to advocate locally to ensure these students have access to challenging coursework and to districtwide gifted education programs and services.  After all, we want that for all high-ability students, right?  If so, what are we doing to make that a reality?

The recent Office for Civil Rights (OCR) report Delivering Justice, which summarizes the work of OCR in 2015, provides 3 illustrative examples of districts found to have discriminated against Black and Hispanic students in accessing honors, AP, and IB programs and in identifying students for the gifted education program.  The brief narratives list several of the barriers to equal opportunity for students of color: limited access to foundation courses; effects of student achievement in lower grades on placement in middle and high school; and advanced course prerequisites that were not widely known. The reports also briefly lists the steps being taken to address the underrepresentation of these students in courses that foster college and career readiness. Steps such as reviewing potential barriers to increased student participation, establishing equity initiatives in middle and high school, counseling and peer mentoring, monitoring implementation of district policies, and surveying students, families, and staff to gather information that could help the district equalize access to its most rigorous courses. 

At the same time we are advocating for all schools to offer advanced learner services – many for the first time – we must also be sure that gifted students in schools that already offer such services have an opportunity to participate.  We do not need to wait for an OCR investigation to do the necessary oversight.

If we truly believe that gifted children are found in every population and that there are gifted education programs and services that will meet their learning needs, it is our responsibility as gifted education professionals and advocates, to raise awareness about student ability and ask questions about policies, practices, and assumptions that skew against those students.

New federal law will help increase teacher learning about the nature and needs of gifted students, including those from underrepresented populations, and will help expand gifted education services for low-income gifted students, but as the OCR report illustrates, there is more housekeeping to do with the programs and services already in place.