Defend Gifted Education. And Then Do Much More.

In an era when demands for “equity” have inspired efforts to eliminate the SAT and defund charter schools, it’s no great surprise that gifted education has also been under attack. 

This summer, after years of feints, Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered New York City’s schools to abandon the gateway gifted test, implement “accelerated learning” for all students in grades K-2, and then kinda, sorta figure out how to screen kids for a mélange of subject-specific accelerated elementary coursework. On cue, the New York Times blamed gifted education for producing “racially segregated classrooms and schools” (the Times seemingly struggles with the meaning of “segregation,” given the 4,000 black and Latino students in the city’s gifted elementary programs). 

Gifted education has been taking it on the chin for years. Certainly, the No Child Left Behind era was a tough one for gifted education, as school systems focused intently on boosting basic skills among struggling students. And de Blasio’s attack is hardly sui generis. On the opposite coast, the education chair of the NAACP’s Seattle chapter has complained in regards to that city’s gifted program, “We want the program just abolished. Period. [It] is fundamentally flawed, and it’s inherently racist.”  

Thankfully, de Blasio’s newly elected successor, Eric Adams, promises to reverse course on gifted education in NYC, the fight spotlights a larger challenge—and opportunity. Of course, gifted programs should be inclusive and designed so as not to morph into impermeable upstairs-downstairs caste systems. At the same time, Nobel laureate David Card has concluded that “a separate classroom environment is more effective for” gifted learners—especially those who are disadvantaged. We must not shrug off the problems with gifted education, but we cannot afford to be taken in by gauzy promises and nebulous notions of “accelerated learning” for all. 

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  • What people often miss is that gifted programs actually benefit less gifted students too. By separating students according to their ability, teachers can focus more directly on the specific needs of the cohort they are teaching. They can tailor the curriculum and material to the level their students can best handle, which will mean the best learning (under the theory that you learn best when it’s pitched at the level just right for you, neither too high nor too low).

    So teachers can purposefully slow it down and repeat material for the students who need extra help and would be playing catch-up in a classroom with students of all ability levels.

  • GATE programs are for the privileged academic elite that tend to virtue signal care for poor minorities while also blocking them from escaping their poor existence.


  • Will Beejust now
    Good piece by Mr. Hess. One other note: there was a thoughtful piece that appeared last week in a leading conservative magazine by Arthur Herman on the state of American science. In it, he cited China's push for high-tech dominance. His concluding comment was that the U.S. must find a way to get its scientific and technological act together, and that we must "turn around an American education establishment more obsessed with CRT than with STEM . . . " The dumbing down of American public education suggests that at some point, the academic chickens will come home to roost, and that they'll be clucking in Mandarin.


  • When it comes to STEM education and social equity, I am reminded of a statement made to me often by my first high school math teacher: "The problems don't go away, only the students."

  • A guy I work with has a daughter going to Thomas Jefferson high school in Fairfax, Virginia. He said that there was a prep course that was open to all the students trying to get into TJ. He asked his daughter what the racial make up of the class was. She said she was the only white person in the class and all the rest were Asians.

  • “Since when does equity mean everyone gets nothing?” Are you kidding?! That’s the left’s agenda!

  • I teach statistics at a state university, and in my opinion the statement from the California Instructional Quality Commission that earned a dismissive "uh-huh" in this article is right on. I followed the link and there's a lot of good stuff in there about the downsides of having students race into calculus and skip this or that because they're "high achieving". If California is serious about offering a deeper, more rigorous approach to arithmetic algebra, and the usual pre-calculus content, this will be to their students' benefit. If they're just engaging in happy talk and the more advanced students aren't going to be offered anything more than the students who struggle the most are offered, then the former are being done a disservice.

    The most common misconception about mathematics education is that the goal is always just arriving at the answer. That students are effectively learning sets of methods for calculating things, and once they can use the methods that means they understand the topics. Hogwash. I have plenty of students who can stick numbers in formulas and do algebraic manipulation and have no number sense at all. They can't grasp a single concept, but they can pass all the tests that just require them to calculate values or rearrange equations. Plus, computers calculate everything these days. The goal of mathematics education shouldn't merely be training students to do things that computers do better than people.

    So, letting advanced students fly through math topics on account of the high grades they get on exams that only test computational ability really does them a disservice. Passing those tests doesn't imply more than a superficial understanding. "Raising the standards" or "challenging them" should not take the form of just moving them along to the next topic. It should take the form of offering them a more in-depth exploration of the topics that the students who struggle might only ever learn superficially. Slowing things down and making a real attempt at developing number sense and conceptual understanding is absolutely the way to go. I get to see what happens down the road when students only know how to use formulas and have never been asked to think about what the formulas are doing, and it ain't pretty.

    1. I'm in total agreement. My wife the (ex) math teacher would be sponsoring a parade in your honor.

    2. "Number sense" is actually pretty hard, but I loved when I got high enough in math when there is no apparent formula (that is, once I got past the initial frustration). I remember asking a professor to give me a method how to solve a particular problem. He said, "Stare at it while holding your mouth right."

      The weird thing is, that actually worked.

      There was something about trying all kinds of paths until one intuitively felt right even if I couldn't explain why. It was like it was more "beautiful" than the others. Unfortunately, I'm not that smart and could only see that fleetingly, but it was awesome when it happened.

      1. Yes, the real fun starts when you take a class that isn't of the "do the exact same thing I just showed you how to do, but with different numbers" variety.

        Mathematics gives us a set of tools for applying formal deductive logic. Good math classes guide students through figuring something out, something that they didn't already know how to do. It is such a shame that we rarely teach this at the high school level, and basically make students prove themselves in a bunch of rote calculation type classes before they're allowed to see the good stuff.

  • I laughed at the "pedagogical rabbit holes" comment. I know all too well just how deep these rabbit holes can go. I've had classes where the premise of the dialogue is that any hierarchy is inherently unjust.

  • I wonder how many of the anti-gifted-programs anti-tracking academics ever actually took a class which was not tracked. Not for a few days, but for months at a time.
    My high school did away with tracking 50 years ago, as tracking was seen to result in de-facto segregation. I sat in classes where a book a week was assigned only to have that cut to a chapter a week and then a few pages a week to accommodate all levels of literacy in the class. My chem class took 8 weeks to come to grips with what a "mole" was.
    All this left me (no genius for sure) angry and disgusted. I remember writing the school paper when I graduated, that the best thing a motivated student could do is get out of the classroom and into the library.
    But perhaps my experience is not common, and will stand corrected. Is there anyone out there who was more, shall we say is smarter than the average bear, who benefited from a mixed ability class?

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