2 DEC 22 2012, 9:00 AM ET 3
It’s not elitist to pour more resources into educating our brightest kids. In fact, the future of the country may depend on it.
A high school senior paints a portrait at the School for Talented and Gifted in Dallas. (Reuters)
Are our national education-reform priorities cheating America’s intellectually ablest girls and boys? Yes — and the consequence is a human capital catastrophe for the United States. It’s not as dramatic or abrupt as the fiscal cliff. But if we fail to pay attention, one day we’ll be very sorry.
In a recent New York Times column, I explained how America could benefit from more schools and classes geared toward motivated, high-potential students. Here, I want to look more deeply at why such initiatives are unfashionable, even taboo, among today’s education reformers.
We’d like to believe that every teacher can do right by every child in each classroom. But let’s be serious: how many of our 3 million-plus teachers are up to this challenge? The typical class is profoundly diverse in ability, motivation, and prior attainment. In most cases, instructors — under added pressure from state and federal accountability regimes — end up focusing on pupils below the “proficient” line, at the expense of their high achievers.
You don’t have to search hard for evidence that teachers and school systems are neglecting them. Take, for instance, our longstanding failure to get more than a few percent of U.S. students scoring at or above the National Assessment’s “advanced” level — in any subject or grade level. Study the data showing how far our students’ scores lag behind those of many competitor countries. Consider the ongoing need of high-tech employers to import highly educated personnel from abroad.
Then look at the unmet demand for “gifted and talented” schools and classrooms (and teachers suited to them). For many years, Washington’s only sign of interest in this portion of the K-12 universe was the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. Since 2004, however, Congress has steadily decreased funding for the program; last year, that contribution dropped to $0. And despite plenty of evidence that America is failing to nurture its gifted students, the problem fails to awaken much interest from education leaders and philanthropists. Why is this so?
Consider these possible explanations.