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.