Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D., is a senior scientist, emerita at the FPG Child Development Institute at the The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and research associate professor in the School of Education. Her research focuses on students with exceptional learning needs, in particular students with learning disabilities and students with gifts. She recently served on the Washington State Highly Capable Program Technical Working Group convened by the legislature. Dr. Coleman provided this response on hearing the news of the possible elimination of highly capable program funding in Washington State.
“Washington State took a huge leap forward when the legislature determined that appropriate education for students with gifts and talents was part of their “basic education”. The legislators found that access to accelerated and enriched learning, in their area(s) of strength, is a necessary feature of an education for students who have been identified as gifted. This landmark finding places Washington State in the vanguard of Educational Reform showing an understanding that appropriate education for all students must include opportunities to nurture and support learning at the highest levels. In placing Washington State in this leadership position the legislators have laid the foundation for the following positive outcomes:
1. Research-based teaching practices, drawn for gifted education, that can be use to enhance learning for students in their strength areas, and this will have a positive impact on all students as a rising tide of best practice.
2. Strength-based approaches to teaching and learning that nurture high-potential as part of every students “basic education” and should help Washington State address the disproportionate underrepresentation of culturally/linguistically diverse, economically disadvantaged and twice exceptional learners within gifted education.
3. High-end learning with a focus on expanding excellence should lead to a more highly qualified work-force ready to address the challenges we currently face and the one we will certainly face in the future.
The leadership that Washington State has taken on this issue sets the bar high for other States who wish to focus on students’ strengths and offer opportunities for students to achieve at the highest level. To undermine this leadership now by eliminating funding would be a major step backwards and the opportunity for true strength-based school reform would be lost.”