Do "Gifted and Talented" Programs Actually Work?
Millions of students across the nation have been part of Gifted and Talented (G/T) programs since they first became widespread during the 1960s. These programs are intended to provide students with more engaging and challenging work; however, they have received lots of criticism over how they operate, sparking debates in districts nationwide on how to fix them.
The first glaring issue is the inequality in students enrolled in the program. According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, in Colorado, white students make up 53.4% of the student population, but over 70% of students enrolled in G/T. While G/T programs across the country are criticized for the inequality in accepted students, there are significant differences in how they are addressed. Gifted programs aren’t regulated by federal law, meaning each state’s Department of Education creates its own requirements. Not only does this create inconsistency nationwide, but there are inconsistencies even within the districts that implement programs. The G/T program at East High School exemplifies this.
According to East’s G/T coordinator Anna Armitage, “East is the only high school in Denver Public Schools that has a full time gifted person on campus, so it’s building a new role, there’s no example for me to follow.” This is East’s first year with a full-time G/T coordinator. Previously, various volunteers ran the program in addition to their primary responsibilities, which most other DPS high schools still do. East student Carter Dunn agreed that East’s program was far more helpful, referring to his Advanced Learning Plan (ALP), a survey where students set personal and academic goals each school year. “At my middle school, they did not read [my ALP] and it did not have any significance. As a joke, I made my goal for science to be to win the Nobel prize.” Dunn a freshman this year, had taken Algebra 2 the previous year but was initially not allowed to jump to pre-calculus. “I was like, my math class is Algebra 2 is very easy and I do not feel it is the correct math class for me, and [Dr. Armitage] responded, pulling me out of class one day and we discussed math classes and what I would like to move to, and it turned out that … I very much want to move to pre-calculus,”
Though there have been significant changes at East, work is still needed to improve the program further.
“It’s very clear the way that the G/T program targets people that are privileged and that it’s an opportunity that a lot of people aren’t given,” says Lydia Lee, a sophomore in the program who went to a magnet middle school. Lee also mentioned the widely spread misconception that “gifted” students are somehow better students. “The mindset behind it of being smarter than other people not only makes it worse for people who aren’t in the program, but people who are, having the pressure of being told that you’re smarter than everyone.” According to Lee, another vital area in the G/T program that can get overlooked is the community it creates. “[G/T] provides a more stable neurodivergent community [by]...being able to be surrounded by people who understand the way that your brain functions differently.”
Armitage also talked about developing the community more as an area of improvement for the program. “That’s definitely a goal for me next year, I think at the beginning of the year, there was good momentum because I worked with students in groups to write their advanced learning plan goals, and I got a lot of positive feedback about that.” Among other improvements she hopes to bring, Dr. Armitage also mentioned needing more time to ensure G/T best meets the needs of students.“For next year we need a really strong programming plan of like what gifted programming should look like at a high school, and I’m working on building that.”
The changes at East are part of a more significant movement nationwide to improve G/T programs. Many states have been changing the admissions process to eliminate bias in recruitment, to varying degrees of success. Recently, some districts have been considering replacing G/T entirely, including New York City and Seattle. While G/T programs can be a valuable resource for students, the problems associated with them are still very much present. However, the best way of solving these issues is still a debate going on in more and more districts in the United States.