Gifted programs end up benefiting everyone

Students all have different ranges of capabilities, different speeds of learning, and different learning modalities. Every student is not the same and while every student should have the same opportunities in our egalitarian society, without school choice that will never be the case. However, working within the confines of equal access, it is unfair to deny any group – including high achievers – the appropriate challenge to allow them to become the best they can be.

Doesn’t that seem fair and egalitarian?

On Sunday, Minot Daily News published a wonderful, uplifting cover story by Andrea Johnson on the effort to provide gifted children – potential high achievers — with learning at their level. If you didn’t read it, check it out at www.minotdailynews.com/news/local-news/2019/02/on-a-journey-to-learning.

The Journey School-Within-a-School for the Gifted program at Edison Elementary in Minot is a brilliant example of the district catering to the needs of gifted students. Other children in the district who have been identified as gifted are served in other settings, including the one day a week Program for Academic Challenge in Education. Children in the PACE program attend classes at their home schools for four days a week and are bused to Edison one day a week for academic enrichment activities. Other high-ability students in the district attend their home schools and their regular classroom teachers work with them to differentiate instruction.

Notably, children who have been identified as gifted and placed in the Journey or the PACE program who also have learning disabilities also continue to receive special education services, said Wendy Altendorf, director of the Gifted and Talented Program.

Unlike neighboring Minnesota and Montana, North Dakota does not mandate that school districts provide services for students who have been identified as gifted or specify how students are chosen for gifted and talented education programs. Here is an example of the district here being more visionary and ahead of others.

Bravo to the district and to Altendorf, who told MDN she has spent the past 15 years advocating for a change in the school district’s approach to gifted and talented education.

Decades ago, it was common for schools to invest in challenging gifted students. It was considered a national priority for public schools to help high achievers reach their capabilities. Somewhere along the line, the focus – in programs and funding – became fixated on serving students with learning and other disabilities. Those students had previously been underserviced, for sure, and the goal of serving these students is only unequivocably ethical.

But one group of students shouldn’t be denied services to the advantage of another. In many parts of this country, this is what happened.

That’s unfair. Many think students who drop out of high school do so because they’re poor or troubled students. Some also drop out because public schools have nothing left to offer them.

Hopefully opportunities like these expand.

It’s the right thing to do.

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