Support Building for Renewed Focus On Gifted Education
Education for gifted and talented students could receive a renewed focus and a big increase in authorized funding through revisions to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now being considered in Congress.
Both the House and Senate versions of the ESEA reauthorization bill contain provisions to create a new state grant program focused on gifted students. The formula-based block grants would pay for local activities such as professional development for teachers, classroom programs, and distance learning.
"This is the first time Congress is really recognizing the needs of these children and saying to states, 'You have to do something,'" said Peter D. Rosenstein, the executive director of the Washington-based National Association for Gifted Children.
Advocates for gifted education have long sought more attention and specialized services for students deemed to have above-average abilities or talents. The only current federal initiative is the 12-year-old Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education program, which provides research grants.
Ignoring gifted students may have negative consequences, proponents of gifted-and-talented programs say. In some cases, sponsors of the legislation believe, gifted students may be causing problems in schools because they are not being challenged.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., the chief sponsor of a bill that has been included in the House ESEA legislation, believes that gifted and talented children are "uncut diamonds" and should be given more attention.
"We often think of gifted and talented students as having the most advantages in our schools," he said in a speech shortly after the measure's inclusion in the reauthorization bill last fall. "But if their talents are not recognized, they oftentimes don't even reach the potential we would expect from average students."
In some instances, according to the Council for Exceptional Children, a Reston, Va.-based advocacy group, parents have sent their children to private schools or home-schooled them because they did not believe the public schools provided a sufficiently individualized education to develop their children's talents.
"There is a wide variance of what states are providing in gifted-and-talented education, ranging from very little to excellent," said Lynda Van Kuren, a CEC spokeswoman. "Resources are very limited, and when something has to give, unfortunately, that something is sometimes gifted education."
The two ESEA proposals for gifted education have slightly different features.
Moderate Republican members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee revised Mr. Gallegly's proposal so the state grant program would not go into effect until the appropriation for the Javits grants reached $50 million. At that point, the new program would subsume most of the research programs financed under the Javits program. That strategy satisfied the committee's more conservative members, who did not want to create a new federal program, according to a House Republican aide.
"The major concern was that the current law is basically a research program," the aide said. That means money is not going directly to schools to implement other needed programs for gifted students, the aide said, and schools are not likely to have the initiative or money to focus on such activities on their own.
At least $1.95 million would be set aside under the House plan to preserve the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, based at the University of Connecticut. The House legislation also addresses an issue that rarely receives publicity: the education of "twice exceptional" students, who are gifted but have learning or other disabilities. The measure would require states to ensure that all the needs of such students were being met.
The Senate language also would require that the appropriation for the Javits program reach $50 million before the state grant program went into effect. But it would permit broader use of the grants for administration and parental outreach.
One large hurdle remains: finding increased funding for the Javits program. The fiscal 2000 appropriation was $6.5 million.
It's unlikely that the added money, even if authorized would become available in the next year or two, given current budget restrictions, the House aide added.
But Mr. Rosenstein expressed optimism that appropriators would support the program once they realized that the money would go directly to schools.
Vol. 19, Issue 29, Page 32