There are many who attack GATE as being unfair. What seems to be underpinning this view are the following factors: a) the belief that giftedness is not real; b) the idea that it is elitist; and c) the fact that participation in GATE programs often doesn't reflect the diversity of the community.
Giftedness is not a tangible thing, like a gene or a Y chromosome, that you have or you don't. No diagnostic medical instrument can detect or measure it. Even the brief history of gifted education hints at our evolving understanding of what it is, and what it means, and the role science has played in helping to explain it. Is it defined by society or biology or some measure of both? The neuroscience of giftedness is certainly helping shed more light on it. Myriad books and articles have been written about it. There are academic journals (like this, this or this) devoted to it. Movies have been made about it (see here, here, here and here).
Part of the thorniness is that the very definition of "gifted" is not the same to everyone, and can depend upon your perspective (or objective). There is also the difficulty posed by the semantics of the word "gifted" itself. It has a tendency to convey the idea that it is something of value to be bestowed upon a deserving person, rather than being interpreted as a broad collection of intellectual or personality traits or learning differences expressed by a minority of people with differently-wired brains.
The current national obsession with the concepts of "grit and growth mindset" (Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth) also feeds the popular notion that giftedness is something that can be learned or developed by anyone over time. That sounds great, doesn't it? Who wouldn't like the idea that with some hard work and perseverance, we can all stretch, grow, and rise up? In fact, we often hear educators and parents alike enthusiastically claim: "All children are gifted!"; however, once you do some reading to better understand the concept of giftedness, and you come to see what it is (and is not) it makes more sense to say "All children have gifts, but not all children are gifted". If you are interested in reading some opinions about the intersection of grit, growth mindset, and giftedness you can begin here here and here.
Being gifted is not about being better - it is about being different. It is about having a brain that is wired to process information in a different way. It is not a walk in the park. It is not always a positive thing. It is not about having life handed to you on a silver platter. It is often about loneliness, isolation, or confusion due to feeling misunderstood and out of synch with the rest of the world, intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes even physically.
In some cases being gifted coexists with a disability e.g., 2e people have diagnosable processing disorders or learning disabilities that interact with their gifted traits and further complicate their lives. As one author and parent of gifted kids put it: If this is a gift, can I send it back?
As Sharon LInd wrote: “One outcome of the pursuit of educational and societal equity has been a diminishing of the celebration of diversity and individual differences. Highly gifted individuals, because of their uniqueness, can fall prey to the public and personal belief that they are not OK. It is therefore exceedingly important that we accept our overexcitable selves, children, and friends."
In some places, GATE is under the umbrella of Special Education and it is instructive to see it as being on that spectrum, as something that requires professional evaluation, specialized teacher training, and differentiated instructional methods. The more highly gifted, the more necessary this intervention becomes. As someone once said: "Allowing a student with a hidden disability (ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia) to struggle academically or socially when all that is needed for success are appropriate accommodations and explicit instruction, is no different than failing to provide a ramp for a person in a wheelchair." The same can be said about gifted students, whether they are struggling underachievers or so-called "Lost Einsteins".
Ironically, most people do not seem to think it is "elitist" to train, mentor, and adore sports, music, or cinema stars. These talented people are discovered, recruited, and cultivated without pushback. Our society readily agrees to invest plenty of time and money in them. But why? What if skilled athletes or musicians were told they had to stay back and keep pace with the rest of the kids their age, just to be FAIR? Or to ensure that they aren't spoiled and treated like a special snowflake? What if an Olympic athlete like Michael Phelps was told to train in the kiddie pool - just like everybody else?
Unfortunately, it is a fact that the implementation of GATE programs at some public educational institutions in the USA is not equitable and data backs that up. Students who gain entry into gifted education programs are disproportionately white or Asian American. According to a 2017 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 13 percent of Asian American students; 8 percent of white students; 5 percent of Hispanic students; and just 4 percent of black students are enrolled in gifted and talented programs. (Go deeper: Read about the work on equity in gifted education by Donna Y. Ford, who received an NAACP Image Award nomination for her 2014 book, Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education. Or read work by Kristina Henry Collins from Texas State U. or Frank C. Worrell from Berkeley.)
Barriers do exist that prevent minority groups from being identified as gifted, and from accessing gifted programming in schools. This situation demands clarity about how and why students are being identified as gifted, and what educational services are realistically going to be provided by the public school system. It also requires a commitment to bold action to find the sources of the inequity and then take appropriate steps to rectify them.
Eliminating GATE programs is not the answer. That actually increases the inequity, because families with the means to do so will instead pay for private psych-ed assessments, take their students out of their neighborhood public schools and move them to private or charter schools (or home-school them) while other families do not have the luxury of those options. This outcome strengthens the degree of polarization between the haves and have-nots.
Eliminating GATE in public schools selectively disadvantages those families that most rely on public schools even further, by withholding the opportunity for their children to be screened and identified in the first place, thus denying them the educational benefits of GATE and the special services that many gifted and 2e children need.
All students deserve to thrive, live up to their potential, and become all that they can be. It is important to remember that "All" includes the Gifted+ who may also be the low income, ethnically diverse, and/or ELL students who rely most on the public school system to provide those opportunities to succeed. That shouldn't be deliberately taken away from all public school students, particularly as the consequence of a misguided attempt to promote "fairness" or "equality".
Instead of shooting down gifted education, let's collectively roll up our sleeves, address the hard questions, and work together to fix the inequities so that we can support ALL these exceptional children. We need their ingenuity, passion, and drive to help make the world a better place for all of us!