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Reporter's Notebook: Former E.D. Secretary Urges More Federal Aid for Brightest Children

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Salt Lake City--Former U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, who presided over the dismantling of the federal office for gifted and talented education, urged here that a massive effort at the national level be undertaken to identify gifted students and provide services for them.

"Probably the most neglected group today are gifted and talented young people," Mr. Bell told participants at the Seventh World Conference on Gifted and Talented Education.

"These students have as much right [as handicapped and disadvantaged recipients of federal aid] to developing to full fruition their capacities," he said, adding that assistance for the gifted "may be the most urgent unfinished business in education today."

Mr. Bell, who is currently professor of educational administration at the University of Utah, called for4a federally funded effort to identify gifted students as early as possible in their educational careers.

Once the identification process is complete, he said, schools should be required to develop tailored educational plans to serve such students, similar to those required for handicapped pupils.

Mr. Bell also declared that there ought to be some kind of national annual report that would tally the gifted and talented students and discuss how they had been identified, what should be done for them, and what further policy action might be needed.

In 1981, the Education Department's office of gifted and talented education was abolished when aid for such students was folded into the Chapter 2 program.

States have largely taken up the slack as the federal role in gifted education has waned, according to a survey made earlier this year of state directors of programs for the gifted.

The survey found that since 1981, the number of states with mandated programs for gifted and talented students has grown from 16 to 24. The number that certify gifted-education teachers has increased from 9 to 19. During that period, the survey found, the number of students in gifted programs has increased from 900,000 to 1.4 million.

State funding for the programs has also increased, according to David Irvine, coordinator of gifted education for the New York State Department of Education. He noted, for example, that from 1981 to 1984 total state funding for programs for gifted pupils rose from $135 million to $196 million.

The complete findings of theel10lsurvey will be available later this fall.

A separate survey, conducted by the Arts Talent Directory of Pasadena, Calif., and discussed at the meeting here, found that states employ few testing instruments in the selection of students for programs for the artistically talented.

The survey found that 32 percent of such programs select their students through regular gifted-and-talented identification programs, while only 6.4 percent use separate art or music tests.

Nearly 17 percent of the programs studied are nonselective, meaning that they enroll any student who applies.

The arts-talent group will conduct a new survey this fall, according to Ann Bachtel-Nash, the group's director.

While most of the discussion at the conference focused on academic and artistic programs, a number of vocational educators also highlighted the need for greater attention to the gifted in their programs.

Rupert Evans, professor emeritus of vocational and technical education at the University of Illinois, urged vocational educators to place highest priority on gifted students and potential dropouts.

"Both need individual instruction," he said. "They need to see the value of what it is they are doing, and they need teachers who are willing to go the extra mile."

"Most of the rest of the kids are going to make it somehow on their own," he said. Gifted students who do not succeed in regular classrooms often end up in vocational programs, Mr. Evans noted.--rr

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