This week, Newsweek published its annual list of the best high schools in the country and not a single Connecticut school made it into the top 100. Although this is not necessarily an indictment of our high schools, it is a symptom of a greater problem — Connecticut does not make excellence in education a priority.
No population understands this more acutely than the families of our state's gifted and talented students. From an early age, these children have the potential to perform at levels beyond those of their same-aged peers. It's exactly the kind of performance Newsweek measured in its analysis. For them to reach their potential, however, gifted students require appropriate instruction delivered by teachers who have been specially trained to meet their needs. Unfortunately, we live in an "identify, non-serve" state where school districts are required only to notify families whether children are gifted, but they are not required to then provide appropriate services.
The effects of this shortsighted policy are devastating, both to the students and to Connecticut.
Gifted students have the potential to perform quantitatively differently in school, grasping and mastering concepts at a rate far faster than their peers. For example, while an average student takes eight to 10 repetitions to learn something new, a gifted learner might do so after only being presented the same material once or twice. When instructed at an appropriate pace, gifted students can absorb upward of an extra semester's worth of learning every school year.
On the other hand, when not provided access to appropriate services, gifted students often spend their days in heterogeneous classrooms taught by teachers who don't understand their abilities or know how to meet their needs. In these situations, the promise of accelerated learning becomes little more than lost potential. It doesn't take a gifted mathematician to calculate that these students could potentially be missing out on more than six years of extra learning from kindergarten through high school. It's no wonder they are collectively not performing at the highest levels by the time they reach high school.
What's worse, in Connecticut our lack of mandated services means that access to appropriate gifted programming has become a matter of affluence. As more and more fiscally struggling school districts eliminate support for gifted learners to trim their budgets, children from lower socioeconomic communities are once again placed at a competitive disadvantage. In the state with the largest achievement gap between affluent and poor students in the nation, we must recognize the abilities of exceptional students from all communities and ensure equal opportunity for learning at the highest levels.
Most important, excellence in education should not be seen as a limited objective for a small segment of our student population. Although appropriately tailored instruction is crucially necessary to help gifted and talented learners to achieve their potential, the techniques and methods employed for them are really just great teaching, which can benefit a broader student population. We should insist on excellence in education at all ability levels, working to ensure that all children are able to maximize their potential.
Connecticut should be producing the best high school graduates in the nation, but for far too long we have ignored our highest-ability learners. As we look toward the future, we must invest in education to attract both businesses in need of highly skilled graduates as well as seasoned professionals who insist upon the best education for their own children. We must guarantee that access to opportunity is available to all, no matter where children live. If we ever hope to see our high schools breaking the top 100 of Newsweek's list, we must ensure that our school districts insist on excellence in education for all learners, including the gifted and talented.
Bianka Kortlan-Cox of Greenwich is president of the Connecticut Association for the Gifted. Brooke Burling of Monroe is executive director of the association.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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