So I finally made my way through the epic National Association for Gifted Children's bi-annual State of the States Report. (I'm having trouble copying links on Blogger, if I didn't type that link exactly right, here it is: http://www.nagc.org/uploadedFiles/Information_and_Resources/State_of_the_States_2008-2009/2008-2009%20State%20of%20the%20States%20Report%20%28full%29.pdf)
We will discuss specific aspects more in coming weeks, but overall, the report makes a convincing case that gifted education is not particularly a national priority. The vast majority of states say that most aspects of gifted education are decided by local education agencies (LEAs). This includes policies toward acceleration and early kindergarten entrance, dual enrollment, etc. While 32 states mandate gifted education for kids who need it, only 6 of those states fully fund those mandates. While most states say that gifted education for young kids is done in regular classrooms, only 5 states require that regular classroom teachers receive any training in meeting the needs of gifted kids.
I'm sure this is not really a surprise to many parents of gifted kids. You probably spend a lot of time working with individual teachers and principals to get appropriate accommodations. Then your child moves up to a different school and you have to start all over again. Or maybe your district has good policies, but then you move to a new city and, again, you have to start from scratch. Sometimes there's even wide variance in policies within schools, and parents of gifted kids whisper among themselves about how to get the right teacher -- the one who understands how to meet their kids' needs (maybe she actually took an elective in this while getting certified!)
But anyway, while I'm very glad that NAGC has compiled all these statistics in one place, the larger question is, so what?
So we know that gifted education is not a national priority. We also know this is shortsighted and stupid in an era in which most of us have to compete on a global stage and our ability to attract top talent from other countries is diminishing. When an economy is based on brains, not brawn, then gifted students need "a responsive and challenging educational system to help them achieve their highest potential," as NAGC puts it (actually, I'd say all kids need that, but that's a different point).
But again, so what? Advocates have been crying in the wilderness for years that doing great things like the next equivalent of putting a man on the moon requires nurturing top students. But the powers that be do not seem to care. In general, the federal powers that be are more obsessed with the accountability movement. State powers that be are gnashing their teeth over their current budget crises. So it's no surprise that most decisions about gifted education are left to local education agencies.
But there is an upside to this: it is a lot easier to change things at the local level than at the state or national level. Perhaps someday we'll have national education officials who are really into gifted education, but since education secretaries (and deputies and policy makers) tend to come from the ranks of state and local education bureaucrats, gifted advocates need to pack the pipeline. And that means holding as many of these spots as possible. Local education authorities have vast discretion in making gifted education work. If gifted education is a decision maker's pet cause, it will get attention.
Who are these decision makers? Broadly, the people with the most power to change things through personal discretion include professors at teachers' colleges (who can work gifted education into the curriculum), principals and district administrators, and local school board members.
The first three are not necessarily going to be easy professions for gifted advocates to enter, as you generally need classroom experience and certain degrees to become a principal, professor or administrator. Many gifted education advocates are parents with different professions (though we can certainly try to lobby these people! And long term, we can encourage like minded people to go into the education profession).
But running for school board is a different matter. I'd love to hear from people who've done a lot of advocacy on the local level, but it seems that if there were strong advocates for gifted education on a local school board, gifted education would become a bigger priority on the local level -- which is where most decisions are made on these things anyway. I'd love to see advocates run for school board anywhere they can -- and hopefully start changing some of the statistics in the State of the States report.