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TC's Borland: Don't Segregate the Gifted

Inclusion is best for high-ability students too

By James Borland

In my vision of gifted education, there would be no gifted programs and no gifted students.

Let me be clear: I believe, very strongly, that many high-ability students suffer from benign neglect in our schools. But the century-old approach of segregating these students via “pull-out” classes or full-time Gifted & Talented programs is fraught with problems.

For starters, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities are rampant. In New York City, for example, Caucasian and Asian-American students make up only about one-third of the school population, yet they constitute roughly three fourths of all students in G&T classes. Nationwide, students from families in the top socioeconomic quarter account for nearly one-half of enrollment in gifted education classes.  No wonder some critics charge that gifted education is being used to re-segregate public schools in order to retain middle-class families.

Another problem is that the most common approach to gifted education- part-time pull-out enrichment programs- is of questionable educational value.  Under this model, students identified as gifted leave their regular mixed-ability classes for, say, half a day per week to participate in what is usually a hodge-podge of enrichment activities that too often follow no rational scope and sequence and lack academic rigor. Even the rare effective pull-out program provides its students with appropriate education for about 10 percent of the school week.

What is the alternative? Let’s start by remembering that gifted education was created to appropriately challenge capable students who, in a typical classroom, spend their time pretending (or not bothering to pretend) to learn things they already know.  Like their supposedly non-gifted peers, these students are not a monolithic group with a uniform set of educational needs. They, too, need differentiated instruction in the core subjects that leads to true learning, not boredom.

So instead of finding and segregating “gifted students,” let us shift our focus to differentiating curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners in every grade and every subject. Admittedly, this is easier said than done.  The process would likely take years to complete- and meanwhile, traditional gifted education classes are probably better for high achievers than nothing at all. But settling for business as usual is untenable, from both an educational and an ethical perspective. We need to look for a better way.

“Segregating these students via ‘pull out’ classes or full time gifted and talented programs is fraught with problems.” 


James Borland is Professor of Education and the author of Rethinking Gifted Education and other books.


The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

Published Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

TC's Borland: Don't Segregate the Gifted

By James Borland

In my vision of gifted education, there would be no gifted programs and no gifted students.

Let me be clear: I believe, very strongly, that many high-ability students suffer from benign neglect in our schools. But the century-old approach of segregating these students via “pull-out” classes or full-time Gifted & Talented programs is fraught with problems.

For starters, racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequities are rampant. In New York City, for example, Caucasian and Asian-American students make up only about one-third of the school population, yet they constitute roughly three fourths of all students in G&T classes. Nationwide, students from families in the top socioeconomic quarter account for nearly one-half of enrollment in gifted education classes.  No wonder some critics charge that gifted education is being used to re-segregate public schools in order to retain middle-class families.

Another problem is that the most common approach to gifted education- part-time pull-out enrichment programs- is of questionable educational value.  Under this model, students identified as gifted leave their regular mixed-ability classes for, say, half a day per week to participate in what is usually a hodge-podge of enrichment activities that too often follow no rational scope and sequence and lack academic rigor. Even the rare effective pull-out program provides its students with appropriate education for about 10 percent of the school week.

What is the alternative? Let’s start by remembering that gifted education was created to appropriately challenge capable students who, in a typical classroom, spend their time pretending (or not bothering to pretend) to learn things they already know.  Like their supposedly non-gifted peers, these students are not a monolithic group with a uniform set of educational needs. They, too, need differentiated instruction in the core subjects that leads to true learning, not boredom.

So instead of finding and segregating “gifted students,” let us shift our focus to differentiating curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners in every grade and every subject. Admittedly, this is easier said than done.  The process would likely take years to complete- and meanwhile, traditional gifted education classes are probably better for high achievers than nothing at all. But settling for business as usual is untenable, from both an educational and an ethical perspective. We need to look for a better way.

“Segregating these students via ‘pull out’ classes or full time gifted and talented programs is fraught with problems.” 


James Borland is Professor of Education and the author of Rethinking Gifted Education and other books.


The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

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