Group Looks To Bolster Services for Gifted Students

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A new consortium of education groups wants to help schools better identify gifted and talented students and make sure the youngsters have a sufficiently challenging academic experience.

Representatives from 25 groups met at the National Education Association's headquarters here last month to set strategies for improving education for students identified as gifted and talented--students who the representatives assert are being underserved by schools.

"This meeting is long overdue," said NEA President Bob Chase. "The quiet crisis of gifted and talented children's education has been festering too long."

The as-yet unnamed consortium agreed to organize three task forces to study racial and ethnic diversity among gifted and talented students, teacher preparation, and assessments, and other issues that arise, over the next year.

Led by the NEA, the Department of Education, the National Association for Gifted Children, and the Council for Exceptional Children, the task forces will meet again next year to discuss their findings and agree on strategies.

The tasks they take up could include drafting guidelines to help teachers identify and encourage students' talents and lobbying for more federal funding for gifted and talented education.

Tapping Potential

By the federal government's definition, gifted and talented students are those who demonstrate high-performance capabilities and need special services in schools to fully develop them.

In 1993, federal officials issued a report--later dubbed the 'Quiet Crisis' study--that said the nation must work harder to challenge its gifted and talented children.

The result of the consortium's efforts, some representatives said, could be better education for all children.

As teachers identify talents in low-achieving children, those children will become more motivated to work through their difficulties, several group members said.

Arthur Jones, a senior associate with the Quality Education for Minorities Network, a group of advocacy organizations based in Washington, said he has met several students whose talents might have gone unnoticed in a regular classroom.

As an example, he recalled a recent summer when he worked with low-achieving elementary school students in the District of Columbia.

In an exercise in which the students managed a mock grocery store, one boy with learning disabilities discovered he had a knack for drawing advertisements, and another girl who had difficulty reading turned out to be a wizard at running the cash register.

Reaching All Children

"How many great contributions have been lost because of the narrow focus we have for our gifted youngsters?" Mr. Jones asked.

Members of the consortium said they want to dispel impressions that gifted and talented programs only serve white, middle-class students.

They agreed that more efforts should be made to include minority, disabled, and limited-English-proficient students.

"Gifted and talented programs are not elitist," Mr. Chase said. "We're talking about the essence of public education--to allow all children to reach their full potential."

He advocated mandating services for gifted and talented students just as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees a free and appropriate education for every student with disabilities.

But others warned against the possibility of pitting gifted children against needy children in a battle for funds.

Considering All Evidence

To better identify youngsters' talents, educators should first take time to get to know a student and consider activities outside school that might provide clues to his or her strengths, said Patricia O'Connell Ross, who directs the Javits Program for Gifted and Talented Education for the Education Department.

"The paradigm is figuring out ways to improve regular education programs so all students will get a rich experience, then giving educators tools so they know which students need more," she said.

Even though the Javits program saw its funding plummet from more than $9 million in 1993 to $3 million in 1996 and $5 million for this year, gifted and talented programs have the support of President Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Ms. Ross said.

Other department officials, however, are unsure where the programs fit in an era when schools are grappling with disappointing test scores, violence, and other tough problems, according to Ms. Ross.

Vol. 16, Issue 41, Page 8

Published in Print: August 6, 1997, as Group Looks To Bolster Services for Gifted Students
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