Monday, June 01, 2009

No Child Left Behind – Except The Gifted Ones

I admire the liberal, egalitarian goal helping all America's children to achieve academic success. Unfortunately, in our zeal to leave no child behind, we may in fact be leaving the entire nation behind.

With our limited resources, common wisdom now dictates that the special needs of gifted students be sacrificed in order to provide for those of lower achieving kids. Programs and energies previously directed at nurturing the best and brightest in our schools have now all but dried up, blown away by the erratic and often irrational winds of political correctness.

Certainly our culture benefits by raising the floor, but doesn't it also benefit by raising the ceiling? Isn't it just as important to make sure that the next generation's great thinkers, planners, inventors, and creators in all fields be given the educational stimulation and support they need throughout their early academic careers to fully develop their special abilities? Is it not the extraordinary capabilities of these individuals at the far right end of the bell curve – when their exceptional talents are not allowed to atrophy as in our current educational environment – that create many or most of the breakthroughs powering the progress of nations? Do we not still need to rely on the promise of such breakthroughs in fields such as medicine, computer science, energy production, etc. if our country is to continue to remain a world leader?

From a recent Washington Post article by Joann DiGennaro:
The ugly secret is that our most talented students are falling through the cracks. Not one program of such major governmental agencies as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation or NASA specifically targets the top 5 percent of students who have demonstrated academic excellence and have the greatest potential for becoming our inventors, creators and groundbreaking scientists. An international assessment of math problem-solving skills of 15-year-olds in 2004, along with more recent studies, found that the United States had the fewest top performers and the largest percentage of low performers compared with other participating countries. By the time students reach 12th grade in math and science, they are near the bottom or dead last compared with international competition, according to the Education Department. These are the critical years for supporting students in science and math, for it is when they make career-determining decisions for college studies.

The blade must be strong, but the cutting edge must also be sharp in order for a tool to be truly useful. Sacrificing one necessary outcome for the sake of another is a foolish strategy, one that's bound to fail.

We as a nation should be willing (eager, in fact) to invest the resources necessary to accomplish the twin goals of leaving no child behind and holding no genius back.

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