Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gifted Education in the Time of Budget Cuts

This has been a year of dreary economic news. When incomes fall and vacant housing increases, that takes a chunk out of state and local tax revenue. Since many states are required by law to balance their budgets, that means that the money has to come from somewhere. Education being a big chunk of the average state budget, any program that is seen as optional (and some that aren't) will get a look.

And so, I'm starting to see headlines about gifted programs being restructured and the like. In Prince George's County, Maryland, school officials are looking at combining some programs and schools. If there is talk of restructuring in your district, please let me know, as I'm trying to make a list.

I have two thoughts about this. As long time readers of this blog know, I have no particular fondness for the "pull out" programs that are labeled by many districts as gifted education. Kids leave their normal classrooms for 90 minutes or so a week to do enrichment activities like studying bugs or Robin Hood, or the culture of Japan, or go on special field trips, etc. You do not have to be gifted to learn about these things, and such programs tend to breed resentment. Plus, while they give gifted kids a social outlet and are always fun, they don't give gifted kids what they really need -- which is academic work that challenges them to the extent of their abilities.

Of course, the problem is that when schools cut these pull-out programs, they tend not to implement the far more effective alternatives, which are either self-contained magnet gifted schools, if your district is big enough, or acceleration (subject matter or whole grade) or some combo of both. Acceleration is effective and costs absolutely nothing. It's also routinely disparaged in districts that should know better. I heard recently from the family of a 4-year-old who wanted to start kindergarten because he was already reading. No dice. If the family had wanted to hold the child back until he was 6, though, so he'd be bigger and better at sports and handwriting and all that good stuff, the district would have had no problem with that. Magnet gifted schools are no more expensive than other magnet schools if you keep the pupil teacher ratio at the same level as other district schools. Kids can be accelerated within such self-contained schools if necessary.

Unfortunately, neither of these ideas are being broadly implemented. It's a missed opportunity. Tough economic times can spur people to re-examine old ways of doing things, but it's never easy.


Joanna said...

Here's what PA's Governor is talking about. The consolidation of school districts could be a plus, or a minus depending on how they do it. But note the elimination of summer gifted programs and math and science programs.

nbosch said...

I've taught in a state mandated special ed program providing services for gifted (top 1%)kiddos K-6 for 25 years. We pullout out kids from 10 schools one day a week and I think we do make a difference--but I won't argue with you about pullout programs. I do want to say that as part of a 10.5 million dollar cut our district lost all our gifted paraprofessionals (13)and five of our middle school gifted teachers. It's sad. I guess the fact that the state supports services even though they recieve no funding from the fed is a good thing. I wonder how long that will last? N.

Nancy & Bill said...

I have already been told that my position as gifted facilitator will be cut at the end of this school year. Our state mandates services but not the quality of the services.

The Knights Who Say Ni said...

I used to teach and left to homeschool my twice-exceptional 6 yr old due to budget issues in our state. Here in our county in Florida last week, over 10,000 people showed up at a local rally to protest the several million dollar budget cuts for next year. I had such a tough time finding a school who could meet the needs of my 2e child this year, I can't even imagine what next year's choices would be!

gtmom said...

I don't know about other states, but NJ law doesnt say gifted programming is required as long as we have money for it; mandated is mandated (not that they do it anyway). Fiscal crisis doesnt negate the very real needs of our gifted students. Fancy science labs and road trips cost money but information and sensitivity are free. At the very least we need to get the research into the hands of teachers so they can do their best with these kids with what they have. It's not all or nothing. Everyone's afraid that if they can achieve something without funding they wont stand a chance at getting any in the future.

I,also, ended up pulling my highly gifted son out to be homeschooled, and I'm doing it with no money to spare. I rely on creative thinking.

David Berg said...

I have two children in the Puyallup School District's gifted program and have been active in the Academic Booster Club (our parent group) for several years.

Budget cuts were a fact of life for us, as well, but we worked very hard as a parent group to advocate within our district and within our state to minimize the impact of any such cuts on our children.

As things currently stand, we may actually come out of this with a better program than we had going in, which is quite extraordinary.

For more details, you can see our site at .

megan cochran said...

i went to a gifted program once a week for a good part of the school day. i was being challenged, and getting oppurtinity's i could not get at my home school. i took calculus, genetics, and a poetry class that were all challenging. but now they tell me that program we no longer be offered. well what do they do know with kids like me. who want and need a good challenge?