Gifted Education: Plenty to Discuss, Plenty to Debate

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By Jay Mathews
Thursday, September 13, 2007

I asked readers for accounts of their experiences with gifted education. The e-mails flooded in. I am hoping to do a longer online column project, based on some of their stories. Here are some of the many views on this issue from people who have dealt with it firsthand.

Dear Extra Credit:

Two types of gifted programs have demonstrated an ability to insulate themselves against public education's understandably single-minded focus on low -- achievers. The two types are magnet programs and Advanced Placement courses.

In contrast, the forces against academic elitism have generally been too great for two other types of gifted programs: acceleration and enrichment in grades K-8, and honors classes in grades 9-12.

Magnet programs succeed because they provide good press, and because they permit magnet teachers and students to operate independent of the regular program. Even ill-defined and unsupervised magnet programs generally succeed because the teachers create something that works. These programs are especially useful when they bring together very high achievers who could not be served effectively in their home schools.

AP courses succeed because the College Board has a private incentive to keep the courses and exams credible. That makes it possible to open up these courses to any student and still maintain high standards.

I think something like the AP strategy is the best approach for gifted education in the regular K-8 classroom. By that, I mean open admissions with an explicit curriculum of accelerated and enriched objectives, designed to work efficiently with the regular school curriculum. We won a policy mandate for that in Montgomery County in 1995, but the policy mandate was ignored by central office administrators. That policy is being revised, so we have an opportunity to create a stronger mandate.

John Hoven

past co-president,

Gifted and Talented

Association of

Montgomery County,


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