North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association

Are charters doing enough for the academically gifted?

This article was written by a Letter of Intent submitter, Caroline Lease Walker



The charter school movement was designed to offer choices in education and to address under-served portions of the population including, by statute, at-risk and, rarely mentioned, gifted students. This population of academically or intellectually gifted children appears to be the afterthought of the charter movement. Why is this?


Is it because we perceive these children as already having an advantage? If so, shame on us! There is strong sentiment against gifted programs deriving from a perception that, because they group students homogeneously on a full-time basis, such programs are elitist. However, these programs are necessary to educate our gifted children.


By definition (Ross, 1993), academically gifted children are those who need educational services not usually (or easily, even feasibly) provided in regular classrooms. So we need to ask ourselves, what is the overall goal in education? To produce responsible citizens? To enable each child to develop into a contributing partner in society? To allow each individual to develop to their potential? Or to teach every one the same thing regardless of his or her unique individual capabilities, talents, and wishes? In the endeavor to give each individual an equal amount of instruction in school, we are treating all individuals unequally. (Renzulli, Joseph S., and Sally M. Reis. “The Reform Movement and the Quiet Crisis in Gifted Education.”)



What we too often fail to realize is that these students are at risk as well. Dropout rates among gifted individuals are astoundingly high. 88% of high school dropouts had passing grades, but dropped out due to boredom. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: “The Silent Epidemic” March 2006) These students never learn the necessary discipline and skills needed to apply themselves.  Often younger gifted children get good grades, but also get used to doing the minimum since it takes little or no effort to keep up with their classmates. In addition, a large percentage of these children also suffer from numerous social, emotional and behavioral problems including isolation, extreme perfectionism, underachievement, depression and asynchronous development. (National Association for Gifted Children)


Gifted children are asynchronous. Their development tends to be uneven, and they often feel out-of-sync with age peers and with age-based school expectations. They are emotionally intense and have greater awareness of the perils of the world. They may not have the emotional resources to match their cognitive awareness. They are at risk for abuse in environments that do not respect their differences.


Gifted children have better social adjustment in classes with children like themselves. The brighter the child, the lower his or her social self-concept is likely to be in the regular classroom. Social self-concept improves when children are placed with true peers in special classes. (Gilman, B. J. (2008a). Academic advocacy for gifted children: A parent’s complete guide.)


Every child deserves the best education that we can give him or her. We are so focused on bringing up students who are behind that gifted children get lost in the shuffle. I have heard the argument that we need to focus on those who are achieving below expectations first. Why does there have to be a “first”?  What happens to these students now? Many are performing well below what they capable of and if this continues, it jeopardizes the future for all of us.


Four-fifths (81%) of teachers believe that “our advanced students need special attention – they are the future leaders of this country, and their talents will enable us to compete in a global economy.” (High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB; 2008)


Let us use the charter schools to help these children. Let charters do what they were designed to do. These children need attention.  Ballancrest Elementary, a charter school for gifted children applying to open in western Union County in 2014 will attempt to do just this. This program will focus on the individual needs of each child using ability grouping as endorsed by the NAGC and have a heavy emphasis on science, mathematics, technology, literacy and above all creativity. These children deserve the opportunity to be challenged, learn, grow and achieve their potential, not only for their sake, but for ours as well.


Caroline Lease Walker, Founder, Ballancrest Education Outreach