USA – Virginia: College of William and Mary Center for Gifted Education


The Center for Gifted Education is part of the School of Education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The College is the second oldest in the USA, dating from 1693. It became a state institution in 1906 and co-educational 12 years later. It was ranked at 75 in the 2010-11 Times Higher Education World University Rankings but had fallen significantly to 146 in 2011-12. There are some 6,000 undergraduate and over 2,000 postgraduate students.

The School of Education enrols about 550 undergraduates and employs 90 faculty and staff. Although the College received funding from the Virginia General Assembly for the certification of public school teachers from 1888, the School was not founded until 1961. The Center for Gifted Education was established 27 years later in 1988.

Joyce van Tassel Baska, who had arrived at William and Mary the preceding year from CTD at Northwestern University, took over the leadership of the Center and was also appointed the Jody and Layton Smith Professor of Education. She retired in 2009 but remains involved with the Center as Professor Emerita.

The current Executive Director and Professor of Education (and Education Psychology) is Tracy L Cross, formerly Professor of Gifted Studies at Ball State University’s Center for Gifted Studies and Talent Development.

Apart from van Tassel Baska, Cross and an Office Manager, the directory lists six members of staff:

  • Lori Bland, Director of Professional Development and Practice in Gifted Education;
  • Bruce Bracken, a school psychologist and Professor of Educational Foundations
  • Jennifer Cross, Post-doctoral Research Fellow (formerly listed as Director of Research and presumably the Executive Director’s partner).
  • Mihyeon Kim, Director of Pre-collegiate Programs

The Center has a National Advisory Board, which first met in 2002. Apart from one former district co-ordinator, all 13 members are US academics in gifted education or related fields. The Board ‘provides insights on Center operations’ and reviews its progress annually against its mission and goals, but its formal terms of reference and deliberations are unpublished.

The Mission Statement is:

‘The Center for Gifted Education is a learning community that values and fosters the talent development process of individuals over the lifespan’

and there are five goals in the following order:

  • To provide graduate education programs and opportunities for individuals interested in teaching gifted students and/or assuming administrative and leadership positions in the field of gifted education;
  • To provide selected programs and services for pre-collegiate learners and their families;
  • To develop, field-test, and disseminate curriculum in relevant content areas at appropriate developmental levels;
  • To conduct research and evaluation for dissemination to relevant audiences and for data-based decision-making; and
  • To provide professional development to promote leadership and exemplary practice.

Graduate Programmes

The Center offers a strand leading to endorsement in gifted education by the Virginia Department of Education. This comprises four Master’s level courses and a practicum.

There is also a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction with a Concentration in Gifted Education and provision for doctoral students in Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership with an emphasis in gifted education. The website includes a small database of dissertations by former doctoral students, but the most recent addition was in 2008.

Pre-Collegiate Programmes

Provision for gifted learners is relatively undeveloped. The Center provides an annual weekend enrichment programme (SEP) for learners in grades K-9 who score at or above the 95th percentile on an acceptable nationally normed aptitude or achievement test. In 2011 this runs in February and March – seven 3 hour sessions cost $325.

There is also a 1-day Focusing on the Future career and academic planning conference for grades 6-12 and their parents each January.

Curriculum

The website describes the development of curriculum frameworks and units of study as ‘an emphasis’ since the Center opened. All the materials are based on Van Tassel Baska’s Integrated Curriculum Model which draws together three overlapping elements: advanced content; higher level processes and product development; and interdisciplinary concepts, issues and themes.

The model argues that student learning is maximised when each of these dimensions is addressed:

  • The content draws on material typically encountered 2-3 grade levels higher than the student’s grade. Students also develop understanding of skills and tools used by experts in the relevant domain;
  • The process/product element supports the development of higher-level thinking and reasoning skills and might involve problem-based learning, research and making oral and written presentations;
  • The interdisciplinary element provides a framework for students to coherently link together what they learn and so secure in-depth understanding.

There is a blog that provides occasional updates on the Center’s curriculum work.

Research and Evaluation

The Center has received Javits funding for curriculum development initiatives and research over a 15-year period, much of it related to the evaluation and trialling of curriculum units.

Current research projects include:

  • a visiting Fulbright Scholar from Israel studying the classroom discourse of gifted pupils;
  • a joint study with another University on ‘the social environment and self-concept of secondary school students, which will shed light on the experience of gifted and non-gifted students’;
  • involvement in a research consortium investigating the psychology of university honours students;
  • Project Civis, a Javits-funded ‘middle school social studies research demonstration project for underachieving promising learners’. The Center is a partner with William and Mary’s College of Arts and Sciences and four other organisations. The grant is worth $1.3m over 4 years and began in January 2010. Further information is available here.

Overall, the research portfolio seems rather thin, with relatively little activity directly focused on gifted education.

The Center also edits the Journal for the Education of the Gifted on behalf of the Council for Exceptional Children.

The list of completed research is more impressive, including:

  • Project Clarion, a 5-year Javits-funded project to ‘enhance science concept development among pre-K-3 students’;
  • Project Athena, another 5-year Javits-funded project described as ‘an efficacy study examining the effect of William and Mary English/language arts curriculum units designed for high ability learners in increasing the reading and critical thinking skills of Title I elementary school students’;
  • Project Star Follow-up: a 2-year research study to ‘analyse Project STAR student identification and performance patterns longitudinally and to study prototypical characteristics of gifted learners of five research prototypes (i.e., low income African American students, low income minority students, low income White students, high non-verbal, low verbal students, and twice-exceptional students) through in-depth interviews’;
  • Project Synergy, a collaborative project with Singapore to examine cultural similarities and differences in gifted education;
  • Project Phoenix, a 3-year project to to develop ‘a social studies curriculum for economically disadvantaged high ability learners in grades 2, 4, and 7 in collaboration with Norfolk Public Schools’; and
  • A Five State Analysis of Gifted Education Policy, an ‘interpretative and comparative analysis of policies that impact gifted education within the context of state and national reform agendas, and to determine the nature, extent, and relative successes of policies governing programs for the gifted’.

Several evaluations of state and district gifted education programmes are also mentioned.

Professional Development

The Center runs three annual events:

  • A National Curriculum Network Conference
  • A Professional Summer Institute on Curriculum and Instruction
  • An Advanced Placement Summer Institute

and also offers customised support for schools, districts, universities and organisations.

The 17th National Curriculum Network Conference takes place over two days in March 2012 and has as its goals:

  • To provide networking opportunities for schools and teachers engaged in curriculum, instruction, and assessment for high-ability learners;
  • To spotlight special materials, practices, and curriculum approaches that are responsive to the needs of high-ability learners; and
  • To provide introductory and advanced training for the implementation of William and Mary units for classroom use through workshops and small group applications.

The list of keynote and featured speakers is impressive, but drawn entirely from the National Advisory Group and Center staff.

The Professional Summer Institute next takes place over two days in June 2012. The purposes are:

  • To highlight Center for Gifted Education Materials

  • To disseminate research- based best practices

  • To provide professional development to promote leadership and exemplary practices in gifted education

Participants select a strand which ‘offers intensive training in a particular area of curriculum development and implementation incorporating the ICM’

The Advanced Placement Institute next occurs in July/August 2012. It is part-sponsored by the College Board and is designed to:

‘help new, beginning and future AP teachers plan and implement more effective AP programs in their schools’ (ie from those who have never taught AP to those with three years of experience).

There is a separate 4-day Pre-AP Institute.

The Center also advertises an Assessment Clinic which it runs collaboratively with the School Psychology programme and which:

‘conducts independent evaluations to determine the ability and achievement profiles of gifted and talented students. Additionally, information will be gathered about the student’s behavior and social/emotional functioning, depending on the referral concerns. The assessment typically includes clinical interviews with students and parents, observation of the student, psychological/educational testing, and behavior rating scales’.

The Clinic is run by trainee educational psychologists under faculty supervision and forms part of their course.

International Links

The most recent Newsletter, produced in Summer 2011 says that the Center has ‘worked with individuals from or supported organizations located in’ Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, China, Egypt, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.

It also claims that ‘Center-developed curriculum is used in all 50 states and at least 15 other countries’.

College press releases occasionally record details of this international work. For example, 20 Japanese teachers visited in December 2009 for a week-long professional development programme in science education for gifted students. Kimberley Chandler subsequently presented a paper at the August 2011 conference of the Japanese Association of Science Educators.

A group from Saudi Arabia (King Faisal University and Asleeb, a professional development company) visited Williamsburg for a customised professional development programme in Summer 2010.

And, also in 2010, 30 Korean students attended the Center’s maths and science programmes.

The Summer 2011 Newsletter, The Bridge marks the reappearance of the Center’s biannual newsletter after a two-year absence. An archive of editions of the previous newsletter is included on the website.

The new publication reveals that the Center has decided to add psychological services to its suite of functions, in partnership with the School Psychology and Counsellor Education sections within the School of Education. In future the Center plans to offer psycho-educational evaluations, consultation and counselling services and Cross claims that this ‘will make us the most comprehensive Center in the nation’.

This is probably an exaggerated claim, given the limited number of student programmes offered and the relatively slim research portfolio. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Center has seen better times, but this may be symptomatic of the wider condition of US gifted education.

GP

December 2011

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