By Elizabeth D. Jones, President and Co-Founder of the Institute for Educational Advancement.
The film Gifted staring Chris Evans and Jenny Slate, released for video next week, introduces audiences to a cute and very precocious young girl, Mary (McKenna Grace), whose advanced intellectual ability and quick verbal banter poses a clear challenge to the adults in her life.
The film opens with Mary entering a new kindergarten mid-year. The young girl’s teacher (Jenny Slate) is immediately struck by the depth and breadth of knowledge her new student possess. It is also clear that Mary has no intention to “fit into” the academic or social environment of a traditional kindergarten classroom.
Fortunately, the teacher recognizes the limits of what her current school can offer. To support Mary, the teacher and principal seek out an alternative option to assist this advanced learner with a more appropriate and rigorous learning environment.
Sadly, in our educational system, this quick response to a clearly gifted child is not the norm—not even close.
It is estimated that there are four to five million gifted students in the United States. Many —especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and traditionally underserved populations —are not identified, much less served. Ignoring the intellectual and personal needs of these young people is not only detrimental to the individual – it is holding back our nation by stifling the growth of our most brilliant human capital.
We live in a nation that invests little to no money in educating gifted students. The lack of services for these students is an issue that has been smoldering for decades. As Chester Finn, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, said, “If we cannot bring ourselves to push smart kids as far as they can go, we will watch and eventually weep as other countries surpass us in producing tomorrow’s inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and scientists.”
Yet when appropriate pace and challenge are offered, the growth in a child’s personal self-worth and intellectual promise is exponential. Research has shown that 82 percent of underachieving gifted students reversed that trend when their needs are met (Baum, Renzulli, & Hebert, 1995b). Evidence demonstrates that when these bright young minds are stimulated to learn, to explore, to discover, to grow – all students profit. Every child benefits from appropriate challenge and advancement. We need to bring back the joy of the “ah-ha” moments – the excitement of learning something new every day.
We know the public wants to help these students. A new poll commissioned by the Institute for Educational Advancement found overwhelming support for policies that improve services for gifted children. The data demonstrated that 90 percent of those surveyed feel it is of the utmost importance to train teachers on how to identify and educate advanced learners. The survey also demonstrated bi-partisan majority support for increasing funding to schools in underserved communities, specifically to support programs for gifted students. Though there is much work to be done, with just a little energy, we can begin to remove the ceiling for our gifted students, improving their lives and the future of America.
Baum, S. M., Renzulli, J. S., & Hebert, T. P. (1995b). Reversing underachievement: Creative productivity as a systematic intervention. Gifted Child Quarterly, 39, 224-235.