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Equity & Gifted Children: A Father’s Perspective

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Given that I am trained in special education, I thought that if I had a child with special needs, I would be prepared to assist teachers with strategies to meet the needs of my child’s growth development in order to reach his/her fullest potential.  Too often, gifted students are not considered to be students with special education needs. They are not even listed in the IDEA categories of special education. Gifted education is often separate from special education. I have three sons and have now learned a few invaluable lessons about gifted education, which was not part of my formal training in special education.


As I watched the signs of my three boys in their earliest development, I came to discover something I did not know quite how to deal with about students who are more advanced than their age and peers. There are a number of signs that children may be gifted, including advanced cognitive skills, advanced vocabulary, early reading, advanced skills in one or more school subject, high critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, creativity, and more. Two of my sons showed advanced skills in cognitive development and the ability to process information very quickly.

math-1500720_1920.jpgOne was on a 6-year old cognitive level at 3-years old and by kindergarten he was on a 4th grade math level. The other had the highest score on the state 3rd grade reading assessment at a school in the top district in the state. I thought to myself, this is going to be a new experience, especially as I had no idea if there would be opportunities to assist my sons as gifted and advanced learners.  I found similar challenges that I have witnessed in a number of parents with children with special needs go through, and with my understanding of the historical battles and laws in place to assist parents with children with special needs, I have found that services for children who are gifted are more limiting than students with special needs. Part of this may be because gifted education is not federally mandated, unlike special education. Depending on the state and district, gifted students may receive no services to meet their needs as advanced learners. This is inequitable.

The most challenging part as a parent was first understanding if my children were gifted and in need of more challenging curriculum for their age. My wife and I did the regular annual check-up visits with their doctors.  However, it was not until my sons started school that we were we able to get academic and cognitive assessments of their skills and abilities. The school did not have the funds and personnel to assess students for gifted education identification; therefore, we had to pay $300 for testing.  This represents another inequity; parents do not have to pay for their children to be evaluated for special education services.  This experience brought me to a halting reality. It is our financial privilege that allowed us the opportunity to respond to the academic needs of our sons.


Further, I came to realize that few states mandate and fully or partially fund gifted education in the nation. As I battle to find services for my sons, I am often left feeling, as I know many parents of children with other special needs feel, that I am letting my children down on a daily basis.

I am a doctoral level professional, with resources; I am able to provide enrichment opportunities for my sons. However, what I find discomforting is that there are a number of families who are unable to provide access for their gifted children. This is inequitable.


Before this experience, like many, I saw giftedness as exclusively or extensively comprising of upper-middle class to rich private school students or “nerds” in suburban schools. However, I have come to see that giftedness exists in different cultures, ethnicities, economic statuses, and linguistic backgrounds. I have come to understand that being gifted is a special education need and to ignore this type of need is unjust and failing such students.

Screen Shot 2016-10-26 at 3.41.21 PMAs a person who is committed to equity, I have found that while we continue to create laws, practices, and access for “all children”, we unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) leave out gifted children.  Some in gifted education have noted a love-hate relationship when it comes to gifted students. We value them when competing internationally, but ignore them during other times.

I see equitable education as providing gifted students the rights to the same access and level of education in relationship to the needs of all children. With this, I have often consulted with friend, colleague, and gifted and talented expert Dr. Donna Ford to help in understanding how the absence in equity is a grave impact on students and families. She writes extensively about the inequitable under-representation of Black, Hispanic, and low-income students in gifted education. Annually at least 500,000 of these students are not identified as gifted and, thus, are not being challenged to reach their potential. This waste of gifts and talents contributes to disengagement and underachievement. Dr. Ford urges educators to recruit and retain these students in gifted education, and to support and advocate for families, such as mine.


Regardless of their race, ethnicity, and income, children deserve to be challenged in educational settings. They need teachers who are formally trained in gifted education; they need teachers who are advocates for culturally, ethnically, and linguistically different students and families; they need educators who will provide resources for those who are low income; they need policies and procedures that are grounded in equity.


When this happens, we move closer to helping gifted students receive an appropriate education; we move closer to helping gifted students reach their potential. This is a win-win for gifted students, families, educators, and the nation. Equity is about fairness and responsiveness. Gifted students are deserving of an education that is equitable. Any parent of gifted students will soon learn this, as my family did. Let’s hope all others learn this too, especially educators and decision makers.


Dr. Donald Easton-Brooks is the Dean of the School of Education at the University of South Dakota.  He received his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Masters in Early Childhood Special Education from the University of Colorado at Denver. Dr. Easton-Brooks research is on Educational Policy and Educational Equity. He is widely known for his work on ethnic matching, which has been cited international and used to promote quality practices in educational equity.


Davidson Gifted Database with list of mandates and programs state-by-state. Last retrieved online May 2017 at http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entryType/3

2016 Cohort: Rock Chalk To the Stars

Every May our esteemed KU Department of Special Education moves through a natural maelstrom as the end of the spring semester approaches.  In keeping with tradition–Hawk Hopes Blog annually begs, borrows and ultimately “steals” the [now…less than] “freshest” batch of first year doctoral students away from their nail-biting probationary reviews [and a couple of other intensive assignments]. They are badgered for weeks to share their initial experiences before they wrap-up a very intensive first year. Their musings and images below make one thing crystal clear: our first year students know how to keep on “keeping on”– Ad Astra Per Aspera: To the stars through adversity.



Sarah Roberts

Word: Venture

mountainsBefore starting this program, most of my free time was spent in the mountains, climbing, camping, and working on my Chaco tan lines. When I moved to Kansas, I thought the mountains were a thing of my past. In some ways, this is true. There are no “14ers” to conquer anywhere near here. However, my first year in the PhD program has paralleled that of the hikes that I so enjoy. At the beginning of the year, my hopes were quite high and my outlook optimistic. With one month left of the school year to go, I feel like I am on my 100th switchback, exhausted and questioning why I thought this would be a good idea in the first place. I know that just around the corner is the end (of the semester). And the end always brings an amazing feeling of accomplishment, pride, and awe. And the thought of “look just how far I have come.”


University of Kansas Special Education Distinguished Professor, Thomas Skrtic

Naheed Abdulrahim

Word:  Inspirational

My first-year experience has been characterized by supportive relationships with faculty, staff, and fellow students and the opportunity to explore my research interests within the field of special education.  While it has been challenging, the rewards of knowledge, skill building, and friendship have brought me great joy along the way.  I am looking forward to the next phase of the journey.

Sheida Khamsi

Word: Limitlesslimiltess

A single word I would use to describe my first year in the doctoral program is limitless. Throughout this year, I have had opportunities to expand my way of thinking through collaborations with individuals who are truly leaders in the special education field within which I have dedicated my short, professional career. Although, most of the time these opportunities have come from my persistence in asking for more work as someone wise once advised me to do! Ultimately though, my choice to come to the University of Kansas has been one of the best I have ever made for my present and future roles in improving quality of life for individuals with disabilities. As such, I maintain that “the sky’s the limit” on the 5th floor of Joseph R. Pearson Hall, a notion continually endorsed and supported by faculty, staff, and students. I am grateful for the limitless opportunities that have come my way this year and cannot wait to see what awaits me in the next.

Vidya Munandarterrified

Word: Exhilarating!

This my first year as a doctoral student but my third year with KU SPED department because I pursued my master’s degree here too. Somehow I felt as if I was being reintroduced again to the KU SPED family. The more I get to know my “family” here, the more I am grateful for this experience. I am blessed for being able to pursue my dream not only with one of the best programs in the country, but also with the most supportive people who are passionate about what they do. I can’t wait to learn more from my teachers and friends here and contribute to education field! I really am proud to be a part of KU SPED family. I hope I will make KU SPED family proud of me, too!

Courtney Wilt

Word: Encouragement

This year has surpassed all my expectations for what it might hold.  I’ve learned to welcome the complexities and controversies of special education – and to be able to join dialogue in new ways!  I’ve learned more about myself and my potential as a scholar.  Above all, I am deeply grateful for the support of my classmates, professors, and advisor.  I’ve grown to love KU. I am proud when my daughters cheer “Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Go KU!” at the top of their lungs!


Ling Zhang

Word: Learning, growth, inspiration, gratitude, frustration

Learning, growth, inspiration, gratitude, frustration, ….. So many words could describe my first year in the KU SPED doctoral program. No matter which word, this year’s experience is bound to become one of the most valuable experiences of my life. There are too many things and people that I feel grateful for, the great opportunity to learn from the most distinguished people in the field, my cohort with whom I study and grow together, and the professors from whom I receive support and encouragement. I have been inspired by their intelligence and commitments every day. Of course, emotional ups and downs have become a part of my life as well as I embarked on this new academic journey. BUT, I feel thankful for how I have grown academically with each day. I am inspired to want to know more and to devote more effort to my work. I believe the following three years will continue to inspire.

Cassie Huntnot rude

Word:  Transforming 

This year pushed me out of my academic comfort zone and forced me to think and work at a higher level. I feel as though I evolved into a true scholar during this process, much as there is still plenty of room for further growth. I really enjoyed the process of overcoming so many obstacles this year, every sacrifice was incredibly worth it. Also, thank you to my cohort, professors, and advisors for their constant support and encouragement.

Christine Dobson christie

Word:  Enlightening (to say the least)

Never put off until tomorrow what can be done, today. It’s a good idea to teach teenagers to do their own laundry. Cohort Sweet 16 FOREVER!




Inna Stepaniuk inna

Word: Transformation

I would never have thought that I could get a chance to write about my first year experience as a PhD student. I still can not believe that this amazing PhD opportunity is happening to me. I feel extremely privileged and honored to be part of this program. It challenges and inspires me every day.


Betsi Jackson bonsai

Word: Transformative

Transformation is exciting and new, but also uncomfortable.  I can describe this year with all of those adjectives.  Pruning and replanting makes room for change, so here’s to more uncomfortable and exciting growth next semester!

Grant Allendog

Word: Gratitude 

I have had so many amazing opportunities to learn and collaborate with colleagues and faculty. I am happy for all the experiences I have had at KU. The road may be difficult to travel at times, but through perseverance and teamwork, we can achieve success.

I have decided to share a picture of my puppy, Samson. Although I am grateful for my experiences at KU, I am also grateful for many other things in my life.




Sami Gross

Word:  Writing

This has been a year of growth.  I’ve experienced growth in reading, writing, speaking, and thinking.  It has been both difficult and exciting throughout the year to dive deeply into exploration in education.

Cassie Barnett

Word: Candor

It is easy to look around a room of exceptional scholars and feel like you are the only one struggling.  For the first quarter, I remained tight-lipped about the stress I was feeling, fearing that it would make me look weak. However, once I opened up to my peers about the challenges of the doctoral program, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. With candor came camraderie and comedic relief, without which I would not have made it this far.


Mark Buckman

Word: Grow

This year has been a wild ride! I thought that I was prepared and knew what to expect. I don’t think I could have anticipated how much I would be stretched, pushed, and pulled by my experiences.  Yet through it all, there were so many opportunities to grow. I can’t help but be amazed at how much I have learned and how far I have come, as an individual and as a scholar.



Grace Leu



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