Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

A Social Work Perspective on the Treatment of Gifted and Talented Students in American Public Schools

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

A Social Work Perspective on the Treatment of Gifted and Talented Students in American Public Schools

Article excerpt

From the early days of the educational reform movement, critics have recognized the failure of the American public school system to provide its very best students with the opportunity to maximize their potential (Renzulli & Reis, 2004). Unfortunately, the treatment considered a quiet crisis by the U.S. Department of Education in 1993 (Ross, 1993) has not improved over decades of educational reform (Subotnik, OlszewskiKubilius, & Worrell, 2011). Although the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in most of the United States has led some to believe that the needs of high-ability students will be met, a close examination of those standards and the assumptions underlying them leads to the conclusion that they will, at best, have little impact on gifted education (Chu, 2014).

Although some funding exists, gifted students who do not suffer from a disability have almost no legal rights under state or Federal law to challenge the quality of the education they receive (Chu & Myers, 2013a). Social workers, as champions of social justice, understand the importance of helping vulnerable populations that face social, economic, and political inequalities. Social workers, applying a social systems theory (Hutchison, 2011), analyze these inequalities within the context of the environments in which disadvantaged populations live and then advocate on their behalf. Although social workers have served a variety of populations (Gitterman & Sideriadis, 2014), little attention has been given to the population of gifted students despite clear evidence that many gifted students have not been well served by our educational institutions (Chu & Myers, 2013b).

Who are gifted students? Generally speaking, giftedness consists of both innate potential for high achievement (Gagne, 2005) and the development of that giftedness into a "manifestation of performance or production that is clearly at the upper end of the distribution in a talent domain, even relative to that of other high-functioning individuals in that domain" (Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius, & Worrell, 2011, p.7). The question as to which students should be categorized as gifted cannot be easily answered, however, because of the lack of any legal or academic consensus as to either a method for determining giftedness or the appropriate cutoff levels for any particular method. For purposes of this article, however, it is not necessary to use any singular definition of giftedness because those students identified as gifted over the broad spectrum of methods employed by researchers in this area face common issues.

Gifted students present intellectually and socially unique needs (Peterson, 2009) that warrant challenging and supportive experiences in the classroom (Moon, 2009). Advocates for gifted education question why American public schools rarely treat gifted students like other student populations with exceptional traits such as students with disabilities (Gallagher, 1991; Gottfredson, 2003). Although federal law requires all states to provide assistance to students with disabilities, only thirty-two states mandate some form of gifted education for students and only thirty-six states provide funding of any kind, with most of those providing only partial funding (Council of State Directors, 2013).

Part of the explanation for the lack of differential support for gifted students is the false belief that gifted students do not face problems (Moon, 2009). However, giftedness has been associated with many problems that can include social isolation and rejection, social adjustment problems (Colangelo & Kelly, 1983; Feldhusen, 1989), underachievement (Siegle, 2013), dropping out of high school (Davis & Rimm, 2004), and suicidal ideation (Cross, 2013). Gifted students can be grouped into multiple subpopulations (Robinson, 2004) that each present different vulnerabilities. According to Lee, Olszewski-Kubilius, and Thomson (2012), these vulnerabilities vary with students' ages, genders, types of giftedness, educational experiences, and levels of giftedness. …

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