Our continued focus on equitable learning opportunities challenges us all to re-evaluate our past practices and ideas. In his article, Where Does Gifted Education Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. Scott Peters reflected on this topic and its layered meanings. As Peters noted, disproportionate representation must be addressed. Rather than debating when and how the problem began, practitioners should dedicate time to address the issue. Ultimately, moving from a deficit to a strengths model provides a foundation for a culturally responsive and challenging curriculum to become the norm.
Student engagement, however, also plays a critical role in the success of any theory or pedagogical reform. Arguably, all students want to believe that the work being asked of them is meaningful. Grouping students by birthday rarely provides homogeneous cohorts. One suggestion highlighted in Peters’ article focused on competency-based instruction, with opportunities for students to ebb and flow into appropriate learning environments throughout the day. This strategy has a long track record in many settings, especially in the area of mathematics. Along with receiving appropriate instruction, this ebb and flow allows students to form wider socio-emotional groups.
Academic acceleration, however, assumes that systems exist to support students and staff. As noted by Peters, wealth-based inequality creates significant challenges for students and their communities. In New Kid ( 2019, Harper Collins Childrens), Jerry Craft narrates the story of a middle school student who transitions from his Washington Heights neighborhood to a prestigious middle school where he is one of the few African American students. This transition is not easy. As educators and advocates, we must ask ourselves, is this the best we can do? Are we comfortable with school systems unable to provide services for all of their students? Further, while this child’s family figured out how to make this opportunity happen, what about all the other children being left behind?
Fortunately, some promising methods are being explored. Frontloading, or providing enriched learning opportunities for students during their early academic careers offers one way to reshape the systemic mess facing us. Frontloading must not be confused with deficit thinking. Filling in a pothole is fixing a problem (and often the patch keeps reappearing); ensuring that the pavement is built to withstand wear and tear provides a strong foundation early on. Enriched learning opportunities keep students in school. Engaged students inspire families to build stronger partnerships with said schools. This is a win-win for all involved.
Ultimately, as Peters pointed out, rather than pointing fingers at past practices, we must move together to ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to knock our socks off!
Dr. Maria Katsaros-Molzahn, Ed.D.
WATG Secretary, Membership Chair, and Justice For All Task Force Lead