We have been advocating for gifted programming for 25 years. We always encountered resistance. We recognized we needed a different version of our current legislation and rationale that would garner support from the legislature. We needed a legislative initiative that would have multiple points of defense and one that would guarantee, once in place, would be difficult to remove. We needed a mandate for services and we needed more funding. But we needed a rationale that could be defended.
We recognized that the population was changing in Minnesota, and we had the evidence from the state demographer, we had evidence that the workplace was changing and evidence was fast emerging. We knew the achievement gap was resisting past and current efforts in classrooms across the state. We knew that students were disengaged in learning and the research evidence was clear.
So we pulled together an argument that addressed issues of equity, equality and economics. We argued that all students, K-12, could be taught important advanced skills to be better prepared for advanced coursework in high school and be better prepared for college or trade school. Because the population is changing, we crafted language that would include universal screening to identify more students of color, more disabled students and more non-typical students for gifted programming. We included language to require districts to accelerate students when appropriate and defensible, because we knew that most students come into a grade level knowing some or much of the content being taught in a given year when they enter in the fall. We included language that supports early entrance to Kindergarten, because our students are different and have different levels of readiness and development in those early years. We included professional development for teachers so that they would be better prepared to deliver the advance skills in the lessons and units that they teach. And we tripled the funding to support this legislation’s implementation. Gifted programs in well-funded districts will expand. Gifted programs will reappear in districts that have struggled to make that happen. And the 130,000 gifted kids in the state will be served.
We have a network of over 400 Teachers-Coordinators, well prepared with a Gifted Certificate. They have the skills to provide the needed professional development to implement this legislation. Their services could be tapped locally or district leaders could reach out to us for the contacts needed with that level of expertise.
Because Minnesota has no standards for gifted programming, our legislative initiative looked to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). Rather expecting all teachers to be trained in differentiation, we looked at the research supported instructional strategies that NAGC had identified that had a deep research base “Teachers who know how gifted students learn and are well trained in gifted education strategies are critical to high-level gifted programs; however, most gifted students spend their school days in the regular classroom. Providing basic training for all teachers on recognizing and serving advanced students helps identify and more appropriately educate those students in the regular classroom.” NAGC, 2019.
We are all experts of education. Most all of us attended private or public schools, K-12. We attended school in the way our parents, grandparents and their parents attended school. We experience education in a model that goes back to the earliest days of our republic. Horace Mann and the education reformers’ of his time, primary purpose was to bring local school districts under centralized town authority and to achieve some degree of uniformity among the towns through a state agency. They believed that popular schooling could be transformed into a powerful instrument for social unity. It was designed to prepare the school age population to participate in a democratic republic. It was the agrarian model, releasing the kids in the summer to work the fields. We were taught to memorize facts and the repeat them back to our teacher. In most cases the teacher was the holder of knowledge.
But today’s classroom is different. Kids come to us with a varying and yet, a vast array of prior knowledge. What they do not know immediately, they are practiced at seeking those facts on their smart phones or computers. They carry the knowledge in the palm of their hands. The way we teach does not always match the nature of our students today. Instead of teaching facts, this legislation would turn the focus of the learning away from the agrarian model to a model of thinking, in which cooperation and collaboration, seeking and verifying new understandings, digging more deeply into complex content with multiple possibilities, asking complex questions and pursuing understandings in which they want to know more about. This legislation changes the focus from, knowledge attainment to thinking processes. These are 21st century skills that prepare our students for this complex future.
The critical thinking and creative thinking skills are imbedded in strategies of inquiry learning and problem based learning and collaborative learning. These 21st century skills will become the schools that move away from the earliest models of public education to a model that prepares our students for this world they will face as adults.
We know this bill has traction in the legislature. We know others support our efforts, as well.
The business community supports it. Business leaders recognize the importance of a differently prepared workforce. As more and more companies move toward more dependence on technology and robotics, workers within these companies will need the skills that they mastered while in their K-12 school experience.
The community leaders support this legislation. In Greater Minnesota and in urban centers, entrepreneurial businesses looking for a prepared workforce, will move to business parks in communities whose schools’ graduates are armed with the skills of this legislation.
The school leaders support this legislation. The legislation, once implemented, will have a direct, positive impact on one of the most difficult challenges these leaders face: Closing the Achievement Gap and broadening the Opportunity and Excellence Gaps.
The colleges and universities support this legislation. Colleges and Universities are spending millions of dollars across the state to better prepare more students for success in their first years on a college campus. With this legislation, high school graduates will be entering college with lots of advanced thinking practice behind them, will be more successful and those universities will be able to turn their resources to other more demanding challenges.