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'Quiet Crisis' Seen Hampering Nation's Gifted Students

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WASHINGTON--America's schools need to do a better job of encouraging gifted-and-talented students of all backgrounds, a new report from the U.S. Education Department asserts.

The first study of its kind in more than 20 years, the report identifies a "quiet crisis'' that it says is robbing the nation's brightest students of a chance to fulfill their potential.

The report's authors say that several indicators, including student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Advanced Placement exams, and international assessments, show that not enough of the most talented students are being sufficiently challenged.

In addition, the report notes that "culturally different'' children, female students, students with disabilities, underachievers, and artistic students are often mistakenly left out of gifted-and-talented programs.

The report also warns that students who are high achievers, rather than being valued for their abilities, are often ostracized by their peers.

"Our society urges these young people to do well in school,'' the report states, "but it also encourages them not to flaunt their intelligence and, in some cases, to avoid high grades and excellent achievement altogether.''

Among other recommendations, the report suggests that the United States develop curriculum standards that challenge all students, encourage teacher training that will improve opportunities for the most talented students, and make it a goal to insure that our top students can "match or exceed the performance of high-achieving students anywhere in the world.''

Entitled "National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent,'' the report was presented last week in Atlanta at a conference of the National Association for Gifted Children.

A Mixed Message?

Although the report calls for the support and development of gifted-and-talented programs, it comes at a time when Congress is considering a Clinton Administration proposal for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that would radically alter the mission of the only federal initiative now supporting programs for gifted children.

The Jacob K. Javits program provides competitive grants to support state and local efforts, with priority given to those serving economically disadvantaged, limited-English-proficient, and disabled students.

Under the Administration's proposal, a retooled program would support efforts to adapt techniques and curricula for gifted students to help provide all children with challenging material.

The proposal would also eliminate funding for the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented Education.

"I would like to believe that [the report] calls attention to the fact that we as a nation are concerned with the high levels of potential of all kids,'' said Joseph Renzulli, the University of Connecticut professor who runs the center.

Mr. Renzulli added that he was surprised that the same agency that produced the report intends to cut the research facility.

Terry K. Peterson, an aide to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, said the department wants to take what he called a "comprehensive approach'' to education.

Most gifted students are not being fully served by "pullout'' programs that take them out of regular classes for a few hours a day or a week, Mr. Peterson said, echoing an assertion made in the study.

The study also notes that recent budget cuts at the state and local levels have cut deeply into programs for gifted students. (See Education Week, March 18, 1992.)

James Gallagher, an education professor at the University of North Carolina and the president of the National Association for Gifted Children, said education reform has, in some instances, actually worked against gifted-and-talented programs, as school-district officials have argued that methods such as heterogeneous grouping and cooperative learning make separate programs for top students superfluous.

"Luckily,'' Mr. Gallagher said, "we have a lot of very vocal parents out there.''

Copies of the report are available for $3 each from the Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15250-7954; (202) 783-3238. The order number is 065-000-00603.

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