Monday, January 05, 2009

Does the "Gifted" label matter?

I hope everyone had a great holiday break. Gifted Exchange is back and ready for another semester of gifted education news and discussion!

Today's topic: does the gifted label matter?

In Montgomery County, Maryland, parents and school officials are debating that question. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the schools are "erasing" the gifted label that, "sorts second-grade students, like Dr. Seuss's Sneetches, into those who are gifted (the Star-Bellied sort) and those who are not." (You can already tell the reporter has a bit of a chip on his shoulder with that one). Two members of the school board wrote in shortly thereafter and said this was not exactly the case -- the whole matter was still up for discussion. But it's an interesting question either way. Do gifted kids gain anything by being labeled gifted?

On one side, there is the argument that the gifted label doesn't matter. What matters is that kids' needs are met. One of the most effective means of meeting students' needs -- acceleration -- doesn't require any sort of label. You just send a kid to a different grade if he seems to have mastered the material in his current one. Likewise, people become less excited about the gifted label in high school, because such schools are more likely tracked (with honors classes, AP classes and the like) than elementary school. No need to label, you just sign up for the more challenging classes. The Washington Post discusses some districts where there are accelerated programs, but kids are not necessarily labeled as such.

In Montgomery County, a full 40% of students qualify (under the district's definition) for the gifted label. On some level, this starts to seem a bit absurd. Avoiding labels gets rid of the awkwardness of exactly who is gifted or not (is a kid who just needs a little bit of enrichment gifted? Maybe. Is someone who needs 3 full years of acceleration? Probably).

On the other hand, as parents have pointed out, once you've stopped labeling something, it's easy to pretend it doesn't exist. We don't live in a world where kids of differing levels all wind up being challenged to the extent of their abilities. When districts do label kids, then that at least creates pressure to do something for those with the label.

What do you think? Is it important to have a label? Or do you know of districts that meet kids' needs well without it?


Noshua said...

Hi Laura,

My two sisters and I attended Montgomery County public schools, including the intensive gifted programs with separate evaluations that were mentioned in the Wash Post article.

In the article, the administrators at schools rejected the "gifted" label for the reason that it created haves and have nots and was unequally applied across race and class lines. I'd argue that having the "gifted" label opened doors for me and my sisters, especially because we are black women.

Montgomery County is wealthy by US standards, but the southwestern part of the county is much wealthier (and less racially diverse) than the eastern part of the county where we grew up. My mother used our grandmother's address to get us into schools in the southwestern part of the county. She then made sure that we took the tests to get into the gifted programs in that part of the county. As a result, we were around people who thought school was important and took attending an Ivy League university for granted. I believe that made a big difference in our economic and social prospects as adults.

Having attended the best public schools and the best gifted programs available also meant that no one doubted our abilities when we chose to opt out of the public school system and accelerate 4 years. We could have attended the International Baccalaureate or other specialized high school programs for free, but we instead put those hours and efforts toward getting our bachelors' degrees. Having the "gifted" label, especially from a school district like Montgomery County, got us into our accelerated programs with no fuss.

Sure, anyone raised by my mother probably would have done fine :) But for immigrants or people like my parents who made their way into the middle class, gifted programs and "giftedness" rewards the values (intelligence+hard work) that they've passed down and allows their kids to do better.

Anonymous said...

I don't see MCPS trying to make a case that "the label doesn't matter" to the parents of children at the other end of the learning spectrum. Can you imagine the backlash (and rightly so) if that were the case ?

Vidya said...

We should be thinking in terms of educating the children for challenges of global economy of the future. I don't mean just with good math and science focus but also the humanities. That way they are better euipped to compete in such an economy. It doesn't matter if you call that curiculam "gifted" or not.

All the school kids in Asia have much more rigourous science and math curicula than the average US student. There should be no levels of learning in my opinion. Everybody should learned at the current gifted levels with a few exceptions.


Anonymous said...

If the county is making a bona fide effort to eliminate the label but continue to provide the services one has to accept the reality that identification and classification has to take place. Thus, the absence of a title wouldn't make a difference.

However, the school district's claims that it was retaining services while eliminating the "title" has little credibility given that a website, apparently attributed to MCEF,claims that it has been using the "pilot" no "title" schools for THEIR projects on detracking. The MCEF website also contains references to proponents of grading elimination and the likes.

Even more troubling is the fact that neither the school system nor MCEF are able to describe the pilot programs or produce the research data. This despite the fact that one school is using Title I funds.

Certainly, the school system has proved itself supremely NOT-GIFTED in going about making changes to its GT programs. This is not to say it did any better at implementing the existing programs.

The brouhaha is over the inability of the school system to be transparent and forthcoming over what changes it is trying to make, not to mention its efforts to make the existing policy so vague as to be utterly meaningless.

Douglas Eby said...

Cheryl M. Ackerman, PhD notes in her article Gifted Adults, “It is important to remember that just because a person was not identified as gifted when they were in school, doesn’t mean she isn’t a gifted individual.

“In addition, something that may seem as benign as whether or not a person was identified as gifted can have significant effects on the development of his self-concept and self-esteem.

[From my post "With or without the label and notable accomplishments" 12/12/07]

LK said...

Does the gifted label matter? It shouldn't but it does. In our education system services are driven by labels. A child with special needs cannot received help without a label which opens the door to special education services. A child who is gifted often must carry a label before a school system will allow that child work at a level that is appropriate.

I personally would like to see the gifted label thrown away. All programs should be tailored to the individual needs of a child regardless of IQ. If a child shows exceptional abilities in a specific domain he should be encouraged to excel. He shouldn't have to have a label which gives him permission to pull ahead. said...

While 40% of children may need some support from gifted programs, this is based on a sagging normal curriculum. In reality, many of these smarter-than-average students are otherwise average and will not have to deal with many of the difficulties that can accompany giftedness. This actually raises some other issues in identifying gifted children who will need greater support but are not necessarily highly or profoundly gifted. To that end, a great deal of attention to the individual rather than generalizing and labeling is needed.

That said, after much discussion, I can say that the majority of the adult members of are glad of the label. Not because they feel bound to it, but because it explained why they were (and felt) different than most people appeared to be. I've heard of labels that are still used for gifted children. They include "geek", "weird", "emotionally unstable", "loser", "nerd", "awkward" and many others. Children will be labeled, especially by other children. To my mind, it's better that a positive label and identification be given before vitriolic labels are applied by others. Proper identification won't give children a false image of themselves, but will instead make them better able to deal positively with not only their talents but their sensitivities and gifted-related issues.

Kevin said...

"geek" and "weird" are now positive labels.

"emotionally unstable", "loser", "nerd", and "awkward" are still negative labels.

Anonymous said...

Most individuals who want to scrap gifted programming or services often know very little regarding the concept of gifted and the unique needs of individuals for whom this concept was developed.

If an instituation does nothing more than simply label a student as gifted, then they've missed the forest for the trees.

If we say either all students are gifted or no students are gifted, then we have all jumped into the murky waters of political correctness, where we demand and encourage mediocrity for all.

Finding the best system for appropriately identifying students as gifted is complex, but is a goal for which we must continue to strive.

A gifted individual whose IQ can be measured within the range of 130+ has as much right to an appropriate educational experience filled with challenge, complexity, depth of a child with an IQ in the range of 65 who needs an equally important and specialized program to meet his/her unique learning needs.

As a parent of a gifted child and the spouse of a highly gifted individual, I understand the needs of gifted and how denial of appropriate services can negatively impact the development of those individuals. Each posses unique characteristics that are often misunderstood or maligned by others who see significant intellectual ability as somehow inequitable.

The lack of logic abounds in many educational situations where gifted or significantly intellectually advanced individuals are given busy work in school or are denied access to challenging curriculum because of their advanced intellectual abilities.

Those who believe gifted education is unnecessary should first look at the suicide rate of highly gifted individuals or at the prison populations filled with people who had significant abilities, but no program to challenge those abilities.

As long as we live in a society where competition, hard work, responsible behavior and advanced intellectual ability is viewed as unneccesary, unfair or inequitable, we will not acheive the greatest potential possible for each individual.

If we do not value embracing the best in all of us and strive to acheive the greatest potential within each of us, then we are doomed to mediocrity.

Mediocrity is a well traveled path. I challenge those who deny opportunities for gifted students to take a different journey. Seek first to understand, then make the appropriate decision.

Anonymous said...

This leaves a bad taste in my mouth. All children are equal but some are more equal than others. *ahem* I am not saying that "more equal...I mean gifted" classes should just not be. Every child who does better in a subject should be given the opportunity to learn at a higher level. Does that make that child more "gifted" than any other? Basically telling parents that their child does not meet the criteria for the "gifted and talented" is a slap in the face. Words have power. I wonder just how many people could personally say that statement to a parent or child and not feel like what they were saying was offensive, rude or just downright arrogant. I am seeing way too many people write the words "every child is gifted, but...". I only hope that the parents who are told that their children are not "gifted", disregard this as nonsense and continue to support their children no matter what.