Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Should Gifted Education be Mandatory?

Colorado's governor signed a law recently that tightened the requirements on school district gifted programs. As an educator explains in this linked article from the Greeley Tribune, the law turns a lot of "mays" into "wills."

It raises the question: Should gifted education be mandatory? And if so, on what level should that mandate be sent down?

Over the years, a number of gifted education advocates have pushed for a national mandate similar to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law requires that disabled children be given a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. It mandates individual education plans, and courts have sometimes interpreted the law as requiring vast services from districts, even if it means other priorities can't be funded (there are stories of art or music services being trimmed for everyone because one child needs profound intervention... though of course, these are not the only options -- trimming overhead or raising school taxes are always on the table too, even if people don't like to admit it). Since gifted kids have special needs, too, some gifted advocates want IDEA interpreted to include gifted, or else they want a similar national law to be passed for gifted kids.

Others have focused on the state level, and indeed some states do mandate gifted education. States vary in their enforcement, though. Sometimes, a requirement that all gifted kids receive IEPs winds up meaning that everyone's IEP says the same thing: 90 minutes of pull-out a week. Or districts may hire one or two gifted teachers who do "whole class enrichment" -- ie, word puzzles and games with whole, non-ability-grouped classes. None of this does much to challenge gifted kids to the extent of their abilities.

Colorado is attempting to address these issues. The new law allows the state to use its gifted dollars to push for more rigorous gifted programs. In theory this is a good idea. There's no point in spending money if it's not spent right.

But I'd like to hear from parents who read this blog about whether a move to make gifted education mandatory in your state or district has had any practical effect. Sometimes laws can change people's minds by showing that something is a priority. But sometimes, when things aren't a priority, culturally, people follow the letter of the law and not the spirit. In too many schools, gifted kids aren't a priority, whether gifted education is mandated or not.


Parentalcation said...

Gifted education is not mandatory in South Carolina, but at least my school district actively seeks out gifted kids. Every child is tested in 3rd grade, though I suppose if you transfer in during 4th grade you are out of luck.

I came very very close to pulling my son out of the gifted program because it was basically a waste of time. His pull out enrichment program didn't add any value and just caused him to miss 90 minutes of in class work that he had to make up. The only reason I left him in was so that he would automatically qualify for 7th grade algebra.

Of course I just found out we are moving to Anchorage, AK...

Em said...

Very good question, Laura. I used to wish that gifted education would fall under IDEA guidelines. But you are correct, that might simply force school districts to follow the letter of the law, rather than the intent. Some states mandate gifted ed, but provide no funding, thereby leaving it up to the will or whim of the individual school district.

Instead, I'd like to propose that gifted education be made mandatory....for educators. (And I'm not talking about a 1 hour lecture in the course of an education degree.) If this requirement could be tied to the state mandates, it might go a long way.

InTheFastLane said...

The question is, what kind of gifted education are we talking about here? Pull out programs? Ability grouping? How about flexible scheduling, allowing kids to take subjects that are actually appropriate to their ability and then moving them up when they have that level mastered? Any type of mandate will probably only work for some of the kids and still not challenge those most in need of challenging.

Anonymous said...

As many parents of children who are covered under IDEA will testify, mandating any kind of "special education" doesn't mean that the child actually gets what is needed. It isn't the law that matters, it's the educators. Until the US educational system embraces individualized learning most children will be left behind.

Anonymous said...

If a mandatory federal law is enacted, I hope it is funded with federal money and requires meaningful gifted programs.

I am lucky to live in a school district (California) with an excellent gifted program for elementary school. Students are tested in the first grade, and participation is based on test scores, grades, and input from the first grade teachers. Qualifying students (about 60 total) are admitted to the Rapid Learner program, which is available as a separate program at three neighborhood schools. The program encompasses grades 2-6, and rapidly accelerates and broadens the curriculum. These children stay with their intellectual and social peers, and the teachers are trained in teaching gifted children, with many years of experience. While no system is perfect, this one seems preferable to many I read about.

Sfireblue said...

For ten years I have been actively involved with Gifted Education in our school district which is in Colorado. As president of the Greeley parent support group (and affiliate of the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented) I believe I have also been instrumental in helping to persuade our legislators to vote in favor of this GT mandate. It will help parents persuade schools to be more flexible and offer effective provisions for GT students along the guidelines set by NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children).

The law makes the provision that GT program services shall be implemented "TO THE EXTENT THAT FUNDS ARE PROVIDED FOR SUCH IMPLEMENTATION."

Most effective provisions for gifted students do not cost much or anything, e.g. cluster grouping, grade skipping, compacting, credit by examination, acceleration etc.
See Karen B. Rogers' data: http://www.austega.com/gifted/articles/Rogers_researchsynthesis.htm

I really believe this mandate will make a difference for many gifted kids!

Lori H. said...

iIt is mandatory in Oklahoma but it didn't do my son any good. I have to homeschool my son for him to get an appropriate education. My son is twice exceptional and has sensory integration issues and mild hypotonia.

He started Kindergarten at age 5 with a May birthday, already reading at about a 5th grade level and also able to do some multiplication and math with negative numbers. Because he couldn't color in the lines or draw very well at the end of Kindergarten, the teacher recommended T-1 (a year of coloring in between Kindergarten and first grade). She felt that since he was already reading well and doing math that he didn't need to learn anything for an entire year.

He did not receive any kind of therapy for visual motor integration (1% level) and hypotonia which caused his difficulty with drawing and coloring because he was not failing in anything except coloring.

In our state this is considered an appropriate education for a twice exceptional student since each school district is allowed to define what an appropriate education is.

A teacher and the principal recommended homeschooling so I homeschooled for 12 months about two hours a day and had him tested by a certified educational psychologist. Tests showed that at 7 yrs, 0 months he was doing math at a 4th grade level and reading and comprehension were even higher. The tester noticed my son's fatigue issues and said that he really needed to be retested over several days but we could not afford further testing. He also recommended having my son checked out by a developmental optometrist. My son did need vision therapy.

If I had left him in school my son might have learned to color in the lines a little better.

The superintendent told our state's gifted coordinator that he couldn't even let my son play on the playground with me watching from my car because of "liability reasons" and "I might be a child molester or something." I find that odd since it wasn't a problem when I volunteered at the school several times a week when my son was in Kindergarten.