The recent controversy over the elimination of gifted education programs in New York City’s public schools must be viewed in the larger context of the role that schools need to play in changing world conditions, career development opportunities, the job market and the ways in which we can better prepare all of our young people for happy and productive futures.
Most schools today, due to the influence of rigid standards and test-prep driven instruction, resemble an education system designed to prepare students for the industrial revolution.
If we want to rethink education intelligently, we should not talk not about eliminating gifted programs, but rather, about extending the opportunities, resources and support that characterize gifted programs to more students.
The Schoolwide Enrichment Model we have designed applies teaching and learning strategies that were originally designed for gifted programs to every student in a school. The focus is on thinking skills, creativity, learning-how-to-learn skills, executive function skills and the?application?of these skills to meaningful projects and other learning experiences that are more consistent with the demands of the changing career and job markets.
The idea is to offer general enrichment in these areas to all students and opportunities for advanced level follow-up for individuals and small groups who develop strong interests in particular topics and curricular areas.
A process called “curriculum compacting” allows rapid learners to eliminate material previously mastered in favor of advanced enrichment experiences in their strength areas. And something called “enrichment clusters” enable all students to have opportunities to work in self-selected learning environments.
Our experience over the years with thousands of schools around the world using this model is that three things are necessary to make the kinds of changes necessary to implement this approach to school improvement.
First, there should be a full-time gifted education/talent development specialist in every single school in the city. This person can work with advanced individuals and groups on follow-up enrichment and acceleration options but also serve as a coordinator of professional development and purveyor of methods, resources and extended service opportunities for the entire faculty.
Second, professional development in schoolwide enrichment should be provided for all teachers and administrators. A good deal of this professional development is now available through online webinar services, videos and blogs.
Third, all schools should have access to an enrichment-based technology program that provides an individual-strength-based profile for each student.
This kind of change is now easily available through technology programs that quickly and effortlessly produce individual student profiles delineating their creativity, interests, preferred learning modes, expression styles and executive function skills.
This program uses a search engine to quickly and easily locate thousands of enrichment-based resources for students based on their profiles and allows teaches to find and infuse enrichment activities into and all regular curriculum topics.
One basic principle guides all of the work that we do. Schools should be places for talent development rather than test-prep factories, and students at all academic levels should focus on their interests and talents, as well as their career development goals in order to pursue their individual potentials to the highest degree possible.
We recommend that the pedagogical spirit of many gifted education programs be broadly applied so that?all students?can have the opportunities, resources and encouragement in enrichment programs that have previously only been available to a selected few.
We view this work as a war against the forces of mediocrity, conformity and the societal institutions that knowingly or unknowingly contribute to the suppression of creativity and innovation in our schools, especially for many of our low income and culturally diverse students.
All teachers should view themselves as participants in this effort. There are still many battles to be fought before we achieve the educational equity that so many of our talented young people need and deserve, but we believe our model is a different brand of learning that has proven its effectiveness in research studies and the many successful programs around the world.
Renzulli and Reis are psychology professors at the Center for Creativity, Gifted Education and Talent Development at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education.