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Unlocking Excellence In Overlooked And Underestimated Children By Fully Funding Gifted Education In Arizona 

 

Imagine a child watching her first gymnastics routine and immediately doing perfect backflips across her living room. A teenager hearing a song and, without training, beautifully playing it on the piano by ear. No one would question the need to give these children what they need to fulfill their unlimited potential. No one would presume children with such a promising pathway to excellence would be “just fine” without additional, intentional supports.

Unfortunately, we are far less concerned about leaving intellectual genius on the table. Fortunately, the Arizona legislature can reimagine educational excellence by fully and permanently funding gifted education. Committing just under $6 million dollars to improve the equitable identification of gifted children through universal screening and fund the State’s currently unfunded gifted programming mandate is no short order. This is a bold, but necessary opportunity for the Arizona legislature to shift our education improvement conversations away from closing achievement gaps to shattering achievement ceilings.

ARIZONA GIFTED EDUCATION IS A MANDATE WITH ZERO FUNDING

Arizona defines a child as gifted when that child, “due to superior intellect or advanced learning ability, or both, is not afforded an opportunity for otherwise attainable progress and development in regular classroom instruction and who needs appropriate gifted education services, to achieve at levels commensurate with the child’s intellect and ability.” In other words, gifted children are those brilliant students we often irrationally presume will be “just fine” without support. Although gifted education is mandated in Arizona, with no dedicated funding, the opportunity to unleash excellence in Arizona’s most brilliant students remains in question.

Making matters worse, the ability to serve these students rests on the assumption that we are identifying them to begin with. We are not. Gifted learners make up only 8% of Arizona’s overall student population. As a Black child of immigrants who grew up in the struggle, I was lucky that my behavior challenges led me to be identified for a gifted program in the second grade. The equity case for ensuring every child has an opportunity to be academically challenged every day is a huge part of the nationwide work I lead with thinkLaw to increase access to critical thinking so stories like mine are no longer exceptions to the rule.

 

WHERE ARE OUR OVERLOOKED, UNDERESTIMATED, AND MISSING GIFTED CHILDREN IN ARIZONA?

They are in rural school systems who would break their budgets without state funding to universally screen their students for gifted identification, much less fund a gifted program for the students they identified. They’re in single-site charter schools with similar budgetary challenges. Who is missing? Children who earn amazing grades and children who fluctuate between underachievement and overachievement based on their interest levels.

Unidentified gifted students are in every student demographic, but the likelihood of flying under the radar is much higher for students receiving free and reduced lunch. Arizona recently received a D rating in a national scale of equity of identification for Latinx students, Black students, and Native American students. These students attend fully online schools like my children do here in Arizona. Contrary to common belief, our missing gifted children are also English Language Learners and students receiving special education services.

The cost of untapped potential is high among these unidentified students. We want to avoid the pitfalls of dismissing gifted students that may land them in juvenile detention, or create substance abuse problems, or by never becoming the great leader our future country needs.

By funding universal screening statewide, Arizona will become a national leader in systemically setting the table for identifying and nurturing brilliance. The global pandemic, the future of work, and our society’s longing for more leaders and innovators has created the perfect moment for the Arizona legislature to fully and permanently fund the gifted programming mandate. It is time for Arizona to lead in no longer leaving genius on the table.

 

Original Source: Arizona Association for Gifted and Talented

 

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