By Helaine Zinaman and Nancy Green
As the General Assembly meets in Annapolis, it has its hands full. The devastating side effects of the economic recession must be addressed with urgency and devotion.
As lawmakers address such pressing concerns as job creation, foreclosures and pension reform, they cannot ignore several critical education issues, including the curriculum and instruction available to children - particularly those who show talent and potential in the classroom.
Parents and teachers of gifted and talented children have long endured a lack of state resources and support. Indeed, gifted children typically learn at the whim of a patchwork collection of policies, programs, services and funding that vary widely from district to district. A new report released by the National Association for Gifted Children, "The State of the States in Gifted Education," confirms the depth of this under-investment and the consequences it will have if unaddressed.
Unfortunately, Maryland does not fare well in its investment in gifted learners. For school year 2008-09, Maryland's investment in gifted and talented learners was zero. Additionally, there is no state law guiding the identification process, and data on the number of identified students and students receiving services is not collected. Moreover, although the 24 school districts must report the goals, objectives and services provided for gifted and talented students, the state does not require any programs actually be provided. Each district determines its own programming model, grade levels and courses (if any) that are offered.
Despite research linking the learning gains of gifted students to properly prepared teachers, the survey finds most gifted students in Maryland are taught largely by teachers who have not been trained to meet the needs of advanced learners. According to the "State of the States," Maryland does not require teachers to receive pre-service training in gifted and talented education. Consequently, many teachers of our gifted students have not been trained in best practices for differentiating instruction for these highly able students. Although Maryland has recently recognized the value of specialized teacher training for gifted learners through a new teaching credential, a large percentage of classroom teachers of gifted students are not required to achieve this standard.
These new data come on the heels of a national survey conducted last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. That study found the majority of teachers do not feel adequately prepared to meet the needs of gifted and talented students, nor do they feel encouraged to invest their time and energies in working with these learners.
The continued, systemic neglect of this entire group of students will ultimately result in long-term negative consequences for the students, our communities and our nation.
For proof, one need look no further than annual student performance data measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Over the past decade, despite impressive gains by students at the low end of the performance spectrum, the scores of students in the top 10 percent have remained largely flat. Other indicators reveal that for bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the achievement gap between them and their more affluent peers is growing.
Anyone who has ever worked diligently to excel in any field - whether academics, athletics, the arts or a trade - knows that achieving proficiency is insufficient for attaining success. It takes commitment to the highest possible standards to make a real contribution and effect positive change.
By focusing many of Maryland's resources on helping failing students attain proficiency, the state has fostered a troublesome under-investment in the very student population most likely to be our next generation of innovators, discoverers and pioneers.
While outstanding gifted and talented programs exist in Maryland - thanks to local, not state, support - such programs are highly susceptible to local economic conditions. Ultimately, gifted and talented students are ill-served by this fragmented and uncoordinated method of delivery. Despite the findings in the "State of the States" report, we remain optimistic that state legislative leaders will recognize the important role these students will play in shaping the future of our state and nation. This commitment will be demonstrated by allocating funding and mandating gifted education programs throughout the state.
A renewed commitment to our gifted and talented children is a renewed commitment to education, our students and our state and communities.
Helaine Zinaman is executive director of Maryland Educators of Gifted Students (MEGS). Her e-mail is hzinaman@gmail
.com. Nancy Green is executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.