When the Brightest Fade
I’ve always been the smart girl. While this was a title I carried with pride, as I grew older, I became more aware that I was holding onto a title that came with downfalls and consequences. It first hit me in fifth grade. Considered gifted, I was regarded as the one student teachers didn’t need to worry about. I was designated to the back of the class, rushed through during parent-teacher conferences, made the tutor for kids, and even asked to grade papers. The pride I once took in my achievements soon turned into resentment. I grew bored, and worse, I was beginning to feel alone; apparently being ahead in my class meant I also had to be distanced from my classmates and excluded from group activities. I remember going home and complaining to my mother that I had nothing to do in school, and I remember that same agitated mother showing up to parent-teacher conferences and being asked, “Why are you here? Your daughter does everything she’s supposed to, there’s nothing more she can possibly do.” As a very young intellectual, I had no one pushing me to be successful, no one telling me to pursue my dreams, no one challenging me to push myself. Bored, uninspired, and even worse, ignored, I realized being smart meant that when it came to personal attention, I was at the bottom of the list.
Today, across our country, students are falling short of their full potential. It is no secret that academically successful students are the prized in many schools. However, it is also no secret that in environments where adults are pushing low-achieving students to meet standards, kids who are doing “just fine” often get lost in the mix. The truth is, in the eyes of counselors and teachers, high achieving students are overlooked because of the simple reason that nothing is wrong, and if something isn’t broken, why try to fix it. It’s this attitude, along with low budgets and limited resources that has left to gifted students at a stagnant position, making no progress throughout their academic careers. As Chester E. Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an institution dedicated to advancing the quality of education said, “Public schools neglect of high-ability students doesn’t just deny individuals the opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country’s future supply, of scientist, inventors, and entrepreneurs.” By ignoring the best and the brightest we are losing the artist and inventors of tomorrow who have the potential to redesign and progress our future.
We cannot expect growth without investment, and this nation is not investing in our gifted students. In recent years, we have seen an increase in efforts to improve proficiency in the lowest-performing students. While this effort is commendable, with all the focus on the low-performers, the gifted have been neglected. In 2003, the U.S. government passed the No Child Left Behind Act, a law that forced states to turn their focus on struggling students. The implementation of this program included the government’s giving $144.5 billion to the nation’s schools in hopes of helping failing students; in contrast, most programs designed for gifted students received about $7.5 million in government funding. Most districts are responsible for funding gifted programs themselves. According to a USA Today 2009 report, there were six states in the country that funded gifted programs entirely on their own without any help from the federal government, and 13 states have given up, allotting no money towards advanced curriculums. Furthermore, with the recent economic decline in the country, even states that did fund gifted programs are now pulling the money designated for these students and using the funds to shore up their crumbling budgets. The miniscule amount of funding given to gifted programs is sending a powerful message to our nation’s talented youth that the advancement of their education is just not a priority in this country.
On top of the embarrassing budget set aside for gifted programs, the lack of resources in existing programs does very little to equip high-achieving students with the tools they need to reach their full potential. According to a study done by Chester E. Finn, the system used to identify and serve gifted students is a failure at all three grade levels. In early education, adults fail to identify gifted students especially if they are lower-income, part of a minority group, or don’t have parents who are aggressively pushing the issue. At the primary or middle school level, schools simply do not have suitable advanced curriculums or enough trained teachers to fulfill the increasing demand. And at the secondary or high school level, while many high schools attempt to have a wide array of honors and Advanced Placement courses, the lack of preparation from the beginning leave students unprepared to truly succeed. These failures are proof that putting these programs in front of our gifted students isn’t enough; they need the tailored attention and adequate resources to be able to progress.
Some might say that if gifted students are unfulfilled at their current school, they should transfer to a private or magnet school that better suits their needs. However, for thousands of kids across the country this is not an option. Many families cannot afford to send their children to private institutions that offer the best education available. And as for exam schools, or public schools that are designed specifically for gifted students, most of these schools such as Bronx Science, Boston Latin, and Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, only accept about 10% of applicants, neglecting thousands of kids that could have benefitted from their extraordinary programs.
Investing in educating is investing in our future. Giving gifted students the opportunities they need and deserve means giving our country the opportunity to excel globally. These students will one day become the engineers who build this world and the artists who inspire all that are in it. By addressing this issue, we will indirectly create a greater and stronger nation for the generations to come; a nation where we give our children the chance to truly succeed and progress. We will build a world changed by individuals and the education that molded them.
Thamara Jean, Age 16, Grade 11, Edward R Murrow High School, Gold Key