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Opinion | Michigan schools must stop ignoring gifted education

Michigan’s School Finance Research Collaborative, currently touted as the preferred roadmap for increased school funding and distribution of those funds, only studied special and regular education. It completely ignored education for advanced and gifted learners.

Why does that matter?

School funding is both an education issue and a national security issue. Gifted education is not currently on our legislative or state government administrative radar, but if it becomes apparent only in the future, it will be too late to fix. 

Many recall when the Russians shocked America with Sputnik, the first satellite launched into space in 1957. At that moment, gifted education and individuals became essential to the U.S. government. Michigan funded gifted education from 1994-2009. Now, though, Michigan is currently at the bottom in the nation in providing gifted education

This is an insidious blind spot because the world has grown more dangerous, interconnected and vulnerable since Sputnik. All U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russia interfered in our 2016 election process and today China is spreading its influence around the globe setting out to establish itself as the next No. 1 superpower.

As a strategy to achieve world influence, China has allocated $500 billion to locate every gifted child in the country and ensure each one receives a gifted education. China believes, as America once did, that gifted individuals have rare capabilities and therefore are invaluable to any country striving to fulfill its aspirations. 

It’s no secret that America’s high-ability students are not keeping pace with their peers around the world. China tops the charts on the most recent international tests while U.S. students, even in historically high performing school districts, fall farther behind. As other states and nations are redoubling their commitment to identify and serve high-potential learners, Michigan is failing these students, jeopardizing our future economic well-being in the process.

Julian Stanley from Johns Hopkins University wrote, “If we want young gifted people to be prepared when society needs them, we need to be there for them when they need us.” 

Well-educated, actualized, gifted children, youth and adults have the potential to transform America’s future. They predict vocational trends and needs and bring into existence innovations such as effective cyber technologies, systems that generate financial wealth, designs for efficient military strategies and equipment, and productive advanced technologies and infrastructure designs. 

Unintended consequences exist because we turned a blind eye to Michigan’s advanced and gifted children:

  • Eliminating gifted education hurt every Michigan child, not just gifted ones. Michigan’s standards are written at exceedingly high academic levels as is gifted education; however, most Michigan universities, colleges and school districts stopped offering courses and teacher training in gifted education when Section 57 was cut from the Michigan School Aid Act in 2009. As a result, very few Michigan teachers are trained in gifted education. Recent data show our state is not reaching the high bar of Michigan’s standards. Academically, Michigan is in the bottom third in our nation and at the bottom in overall student growth. Funding and providing gifted education teacher training to every Michigan teacher can help all Michigan children excel.
  • Misconceptions and myths persist about gifted children including: (1) all gifted children are white and come from wealthy families that give them what they need; (2) gifted children will do fine on their own so leave them to fend for themselves; (3) gifted children will magically make growth gains without a state mandate for gifted education, without identifying and knowing who and where they are, and without qualified gifted teachers; (4) and gifted children are socially and emotionally able to withstand low expectations for them, daily lessons that review previously learned rather than new content, and the stress and pain of being different. None of the above is true. In fact, outstanding talents are present in children and youth from all cultural groups, across all economic strata, and in all areas of human endeavor.
  • Americans invest heavily in training and acquiring talented athletes with the great promise of success in every sport, yet Michigan refuses to invest in gifted education and children with the capability for keeping our state and nation on the cutting edge in every field of endeavor and keeping us safe.

Further, public opinion on education for gifted kids is changing. A 2018 study (by California-based Institute for Educational Advancement, which promotes gifted education) showed that across the board, the greatest concerns were for increased identification and access to gifted services among minority and low-income students, and increased professional development for all teachers of the gifted:               

  • 90 percent support improved funding to help train teachers who identify and serve gifted children.
  • 89 percent support improved funding to help train teachers who are educating teachers in gifted education.
  • 86 percent support requirements that any teacher who serves gifted children receives special training.
  • 86 percent support additional funding to schools in underserved communities specifically to support programs for gifted students. 

All Michiganders want the best education for all our children. Let’s reflect on the past and present, envision, correct and act to create a preferred future.

All Michigan children matter and teacher training in gifted education can improve academic success for all of them. We hurt our children, our state’s academic standing and our nation if we ignore any of them and what they have to contribute. 

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