Our Opinion: Educators must not ignore gifted students

Being gifted can be both a blessing and a curse.

Students identified as “gifted” enjoy a heightened aptitude for learning. They also must cope with the drawback of being different.

Discussion at a meeting of the Senate Education Committee last week focused on proposed legislation, but also illuminated some of the challenges faced by educators and gifted students.

The proposal is a bill by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, to require the state Board of Education to designate a staff person responsible for education programs for gifted students.

“My personal opinion,” Schaefer told the panel, “is DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) has not really been too cooperative with gifted — because of the absence of laws forcing them to do certain things for gifted, they’re going to focus their attention and their resources on populations that, by law, they’re forced to deal with.”

His interest in equity — or, at least, reducing the disparity — among students may prompt the question: Why do we need to help bright students?

Before addressing the question, let’s explore some facts, courtesy of Robin Lady, who teaches gifted students in one of the state public school districts.

An estimated 45,000 students statewide are gifted, according to 2011-12 statistics, which translates into 5-7 percent of the students.

Among the state’s 521 public school districts, 254 offer programs for gifted students.

The sad reality is gifted students — who have tremendous potential — become bored when they are not challenged academically.

And the ironic consequence is gifted students not only fail to reach their potential, they are in danger of dropping out.

The cavalier acceptance in the U.S. about having our best students quit school helps explain why our nation is lagging behind other countries in educational achievement.

A goal of education is to provide an equal opportunity for all students to maximize their potential. We can’t afford to abandon our gifted students.

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