Flexibility sounds like a good thing. In tight times, local school districts need to be able to use their stretched funds to cover their most pressing needs. But as anyone who's followed the issue of gifted education will suspect, educating highly intelligent children is rarely deemed a pressing need.
According to a recent New York Times piece (done in conjunction with The Bay Citizen), in California, a quick glance would make someone think that California funding for gifted education had only fallen a bit in recent years: from $46.8 million in 2008-2009 to $44.2 million in 2009-2010. But, as the article notes, "those numbers obscure a more important change: in February 2009, the California Legislature adopted a plan that allowed public schools to divert state money for gifted children to “any educational purpose,” including closing budget deficits."
And the diversion happened like a stampede. According to the article, "A study by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, released last May, found that 68 percent of the 231 school districts surveyed had shifted resources away from education for gifted students since lawmakers approved the measure."
So there we go. Left to their own devices, only 32% of districts actually think that money appropriated for gifted education should go to gifted education. I know statistics like this are why many gifted education advocates believe that the only thing that will make gifted education a priority is a national mandate with teeth, similar to the one that exists for students with disabilities. As a generally fiscally conservative person, I'm always wary of mandates, and arguments that the things that I think the government should spend money on are somehow more worthy than things other people think the government should spend money on. Still, statistics like this are incredibly frustrating. It is hard to envision a more shortsighted policy than cutting gifted programs because, hey, that seems like the easiest way to solve the problem of paying this month's electricity bill.
Long term, this mindset will need to be attacked on a few fronts. First, gifted education advocates need to work with teachers colleges to expose more teachers to the needs and diversities of gifted students, and ways of meeting their needs. Right now, too many educators see gifted education as something for, as Mara Sapon-Shevin once wrote, "the kids with disposable income."
Second, gifted education itself needs to be yanked away from a reliance on short pull-out programs -- the worst of which involve doing something like taking the gifted kids to a science museum on a Friday when no one else gets to go. Everyone can benefit from enrichment and field trips, and 45 minutes of pull-out twice a week do little to truly challenge a gifted child. Acceleration is a great idea. So is broad based grouping by ability (or readiness, as we like to say here). Gifted education should not be seen as a reward. It needs to be seen as an educational intervention for kids who need it.
And finally, we need some high profile champions. Surely, some folks in the California legislature, in politics generally, in industry, in the arts, in journalism, were in gifted programs as young people and saw benefits from them. If this sounds like you, please step up and let the world know!