How to Diversify a Gifted and Talented Program without Dismantling It

Jeanne Paynter, Ed.D
Talent Program Solutions LLC
Jeanne Paynter, Ed.D

I read with interest recent Baltimore Sun op-ed “BCPS moves in the wrong direction on educating gifted kids.”  I strongly concur with Brandon Wright of the Fordham Foundation’s point supported by decades of research that the “differentiation in the regular classroom” model doesn’t, in practice, work.  The Baltimore County’s move (back) to this model may be well-intentioned, but “the ultimate victims are the disadvantaged youngsters…who depend most heavily on the public education system to do right by them.”

While the Fordham Foundation and others can define the problem, from the practitioner’s perspective, I can provide a solution, one that I know firsthand works on the ground in the Baltimore County Public Schools, and in your school system, as well.  It’s called the Catalyst Gifted and Talented Education Resource Teacher program, and it places in Title I elementary schools highly-trained and very motivated GT Education teacher specialists with the specific mission to discover and develop talent in those settings.  It was effective in identifying talent among poor and minority students and including them in advanced GT curriculum, educating Title I school teachers and parents about giftedness, and even in raising school test scores.

First, some history, because it does tend to repeat itself.  In 1998 when I became the county’s Gifted and Talented Education Program Coordinator, the superintendent charged with me with the task to develop a research-based elementary gifted and talented education program and curriculum (excellence) offered in every school in the county (equity).  This we set off to do, and we developed a handbook of prescribed but inclusive identification procedures as well as accelerated and enriched curriculum units in the four core areas.

But a problem persisted.  Some of our Title I elementary schools still reported “0” students identified for the Gifted and Talented Education program.  More than once I heard educators say, “We just don’t have any gifted and talented kids in this school.”  Obviously, talent-spotting in populations where children have had fewer opportunities to express it requires a unique approach.

That unique approach was the Catalyst Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher program.  Working in partnership with the Title I office, we placed a specially trained half-time GT teacher in each Title I school—some principals “bought” a full-time teacher using local funds. The Catalyst teachers were tasked with building a GT program in the school, using the same high standards and expectations we had for children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, but providing the expertise and support needed to ensure student success.  That’s equity and excellence!

As is the case with many effective programs, fidelity of implementation for the Catalyst program eventually waned with changes in leadership and priorities. With site-based control came the dilution of the Catalyst teacher’s role to focus on intervention rather than enrichment. The program ran its course and was dissolved.  Yet, there are former “Catalysts” still working in Baltimore County who can tell you stories of transformation that will bring you to your feet in applause.

To the Baltimore County Board of Education and other school boards: Don’t dismantle the gifted and talented education program. Revitalize it. Now is the time:  The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means just that.  The law includes new specifications for Title I funding that affirm its use for gifted and talented students.  Don’t write this population out of policy. Instead, implement models like the Catalyst Gifted and Talented Resource Teacher program which have proven results in your school system.