City must do more for gifted students

Baltimore City public schools will not achieve the kind of excellence that will attract and keep families in the city until all schools in the system provide an education that will help every student reach her or his full potential. That is, every student including those with learning differences, English language learners, advanced learners, and those who fall squarely in the middle.

Words used in The Sun editorial ("Education for everyone," April 29) such as "cream of the crop" and "elite" are divisive. These words do not reflect the thinking of educators, parents and community members who support a rigorous curriculum which raises standards for all children. There is a plethora of common misconceptions about advanced learners. Among these misconceptions are that gifted kids need less support than other students because everything comes easily, gifted kids can learn with little or no instruction because of their above average intelligence, and gifted kids will succeed on their own regardless of the education they receive.

Every student, including the advanced learner, should learn something new at school every day. The Annotated Code of Maryland specifies that gifted and talented students require different programs and services beyond what is provided in the regular school program in order to reach their full potential. The Code of Maryland Regulations 13A.04.07 sets minimum standards for gifted and talented education student identification, programs and services, professional development and reporting for all Maryland school systems. By investing additional resources into "additional programs for academically gifted students," Baltimore is taking an important step toward being in compliance with these regulations.

Baltimore does have a number of high quality high school options for advanced learners. At the middle school level, however, fewer such programs exist and at the elementary level such programs are practically non-existent. It isn't because such programs for advanced learners are not available. An honors curriculum developed by the Baltimore City public schools is only available at the middle schools which choose to implement it. The number of gifted learners in the city far exceeds the number of spots in programs designed specifically to meet the unique learning needs of the advanced learner. There is a huge opportunity gap.

If a student is an advanced learner at an elementary, middle or high school which chooses not to implement programs for advanced learners, chances are high that the educational needs of that advanced student are not being met in school. Many families who have the financial means supplement their child's instruction. For our city's brightest students whose families do not have the means to supplement his or her education with additional lessons in foreign language, technology, dance and instrumental music, the gap widens further. Many families who are able, simply move out of the city altogether.

Educational decision makers and teachers have the responsibility to meet the needs of all students, including advanced learners. Research and experience document repeatedly that gifted students need specialized instruction if they are to reach their full potential. There are advanced students in every school and allocating more to offer additional programs for academically gifted students is an important step toward achieving excellence for all students in all Baltimore public schools.

Felicity Ross, Baltimore

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