Yesterday, Governor Gregoire released her budget proposal. Devastating. So many programs cut and so many people, particularly children, impacted. One of her proposed cuts is the elimination of all funding for highly capable programs in the state – ironic in that just a year ago, the legislature passed ESHB 2261 which states that, “for highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to basic education.”
Highly capable (gifted) children are not more deserving or better than other children. To be identified as highly capable is not an honor or a privilege. It is simply recognition that you learn differently. That you are ready for more complex ideas earlier than your peers. That you can move through the curriculum faster than typical students your age. In a school system designed around the factory model in which, if you are 6 years old, you must be ready to learn addition and subtraction facts and must be a beginning reader, highly capable students don’t fit. We recognized years ago that there are kids who need more time or alternative strategies to learn because they are not ready for the same learning as their peers, and so special education and remedial programs were created. Highly capable students don’t fit either. They are ready to go faster, think deeper, and make more complex connections.
As Head of School at an independent school for highly capable children, I talk with parents every day who are simply interested in making sure their child gets to be appropriately challenged at school. The parent of a kindergarten girl who has been reading since she was three, but who has hidden that from her teacher because she didn’t want the other kids who couldn’t read yet to feel bad. The parent of a third grade boy who has been labeled a behavior problem because he constantly wants to know “Why?” and wants to invent his own ways of doing things. They come to our school because their child is getting lost in a system that wasn’t designed for the way s/he learns. They just want their child to have the chance that all children should have to learn something new at school every day.
Eliminating funding for highly capable programs will save money. But at a huge cost. Those children who have the potential to become our nation’s leaders, creators and innovators will spend their days waiting. Hiding their talent to fit in. Becoming behavior problems because they can’t take the boredom. Marking the time until school is over so they can go home and learn something new on their own. Highly capable children don’t deserve better education. They simply deserve education – the chance to see what they are capable of and to learn something new at school every day. Isn’t that what we want for every child?