Civil Discourse Debate

Talented and Gifted Programs Do More Harm Than Good

What does it mean to be “gifted”? Is it academic, athletic, both? Is a fourth grader reading at a high school level who doesn’t have their multiplication tables memorized considered gifted? If you defer to the state law regarding Talented and Gifted programs, you won’t find a clear answer to this question. Individual school districts are left to decide for themselves who qualifies as “gifted” with the only stringent rule being testing at or above the 97th percentile. This means that the implementation of these programs varies greatly between schools. Some students are kept in the same class but given more advanced material, some are moved to a separate classroom for part of the day, some are sent to different schools entirely. These variations can cause undue stress on the student and for many, offer very little benefit. 

A study done at Michigan State University found that those on the cusp of TAG programs, whether to be included or excluded, show almost no difference in test scores after over a year in their separate classes. The term “gifted” comes with a lot of baggage that most of us don’t think about when we use it; Moriah Rivera-Lawrence has experienced the effects of this first-hand. 

“Being sorted as TAG gave me the advanced opportunities and recognition that I wanted, but it separated me from the resources that I needed. While my teachers saw a student reading at a college level in fifth grade, my experience was that of a child with undiagnosed dyscalculia struggling to get the help that they really needed,” said Lawrence, who was finally diagnosed with multiple learning disorders several years after graduating from college.

Inequities are also a problem with TAG programs. White children make up about 50% of public school enrollment and black children comprise about 15%.  In gifted programs, 60% of enrolled students are white while only 9% are black.  This kind of disparity remains true across racial and socioeconomic lines. Schools in lower-income areas identify less gifted students than wealthier schools and these issues are not mutually exclusive. IQ and standardized tests often determine a student’s admittance into a gifted program. Both of these have a history steeped in racism. 

TAG programs can also aggravate or cause mental health issues in the students affected by them. Students can be stuck in one track or another based on bias, causing distress. Even students who made it into these programs can feel affected by perfectionism and the knock-on effects of isolation from asynchronous education with their peers. This phenomenon is underlined by a study that shows gifted students are at higher risk for certain mental conditions like anxiety and depression. 

In conclusion, TAG programs do more harm than good. They generate more stress for students without a clear competitive advantage, cause racial bias to be amplified in schools, and can even cause or aggravate mental health issues. Other programs such as the School Enrichment Model can be implemented in place of the existing model for a more equitable and customizable experience while focusing on enriching the entire school, the benefits reach further than TAG programs currently do.

Moriah Rivera-Lawrence, Cheyanne Rider, and The Civil Discourse Program

Talented and Gifted Programs Do More Good Than Harm

A recent decision by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to cut and replace the city’s Gifted and Talented programs has sparked much debate. These programs are largely unregulated nationwide and have drawn their share of criticism for being exclusionary.  However, as public education institutions continue to be overloaded and underfunded across the country, it is clear something must be done to support students who learn at an accelerated pace.  Locally, the Corvallis School District is contemplating eliminating accelerated math from their curriculum entirely. This is wrong to do.  Nothing is perfect and we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater when trying to address a program’s shortcomings. 

TAG programs are an important component of our K-12 system that aims to accommodate all students.  There are a number of students who learn faster than their peers and can quickly become disengaged if they are not properly challenged.  Schools have a responsibility to adapt to these students and nurture their potential.

For example, Chris Harris grew up in Mill City, Oregon, and was lucky enough to have a TAG coordinator at his elementary school who believed in and cared about the students she was assigned. He was welcomed into the TAG program and thrived.  In this unique learning environment, Harris stayed engaged, enjoyed school, and aspired to be the first person in his family to graduate from college.  However, once he entered middle school, the TAG program could no longer accommodate his pace of learning.  As a result, his interest in school declined and he began to struggle academically.

Like other special needs children, gifted students require specialized accommodations in school.  Schools that fail to provide these accommodations are harming students like Chris Harris and failing to fulfill the US Department of Education’s mission of “promoting student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”  It has been well documented that gifted children who are not accommodated may end up underachieving in school.  TAG programs play an essential role in providing a rich and challenging learning environment that supports student achievement and educational excellence.

Finally, it’s vital to note that there are racial, socioeconomic, and gender gaps between K-12 students who are in TAG programs.  This is important to recognize and address.  However, the solution shouldn’t be to eliminate accelerated learning programs.  Instead, it should be to develop strategies to have more students benefit from TAG programs.  Indeed, this is the approach incoming New York City mayor Eric Adams has chosen to take in contrast to his predecessor, Bill de Blasio.

TAG programs do more good than harm because they accommodate, challenge, and contribute  to the development of exceptional students.  Let’s not close another door of opportunity.  Let’s promote excellence.

Chris Harris, Nick May, and The Civil Discourse Program