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School & District Management

Investing in Gifted Education Could Cost Little, Report Finds

By Nirvi Shah — November 09, 2011 2 min read
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As states and school districts grapple with an unending budget crisis, they can better serve gifted students even without spending additional money, says a report out today from the National Association for Gifted Children.

Changes in policy and infrastructure could have a dramatic effect on supporting gifted students, if only states would consider them, said Nancy Green, the association’s executive director. That’s especially important at a time when President Barack Obama is sending the message that nurturing talented students is a critical mission for the country’s future.

Gifted education suffered a blow earlier this year, when the only federal funding source dedicated to gifted education was cut by Congress.

“Nobody gets to cry poverty anymore,” Ms. Green said. “We’ve all faced cuts.”

But without an increase in spending on gifted students, states and districts could collect and review achievement data for gifted and high-performing students, she said, since they are already tested.

“Fourteen states don’t collect any data” about these students, Ms. Green said. “There’s no accountability there. What gets measured gets paid attention to.”

(Some studies suggest that the emphasis on low-achieving students, ramped up by the No Child Left Behind law, has been at the expense of high-performing students.)

In the group’s biannual report, which includes a survey of states about gifted students that 44 states participated in, they found other markers of limited accountability and decentralized decision-making they view as contributing to the neglect of gifted students. Addressing some of these situations could cost little or nothing but improve gifted education. Among the findings:

•Fourteen states have no mandate related to gifted-and-talented education and five states don't provide any money for existing requirements. •Forty-one states define giftedness, but only 32 states require school districts to follow the definition. •Four states require school districts to accept gifted identification from another state, and 16 states require districts to accept gifted identification from other districts within their state. Elsewhere, students identified as gifted might have to repeat the identification process. •Twenty states reported that they don't monitor or audit school district programs for gifted and talented students.

Ms. Green also pointed out several policy changes illuminated by the survey that could boost gifted education programs. Only eight states have policies for accelerating students—allowing them to skip grades. But if a student was allowed to attend classes outside of his or her grade that already exist, the expense could be minimal, especially if those classes are taught at the school the student already attends. If a student had to travel to a high school for some classes “that might look like the cost of a school bus,” she said.

“The infrastructure is in place. It’s more a matter of the courage and priority of focusing on” these students.

Allowing students to enter kindergarten early is another no-cost idea, she said, but 10 states actually prohibit the practice.

“If this has become an urgent national issue, that’s an easy fix,” she said.

Other somewhat more involved solutions include more dual enrollment programs and offering college-level courses in high school. Ms. Green said states are better at offering dual-enrollment courses—in which high school students attend college classes while still in high school—but only 10 states allow middle school students to go to high school.

“There are many ways we can move forward,” said Susan Dulong Langley, a teacher of gifted students in Framingham, Mass., public schools. “Every child has the right to learn something new everyday. It shouldn’t matter where a child lives in the U.S.—they should have access to services.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.