Special Education

Advocates Worry Gifted Funding Veering Off Course

By Christina A. Samuels — February 15, 2008 3 min read
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Champions of gifted education are worried that a recent government announcement will drain money from a federal program intended to serve academically advanced students.

Called a “notice of proposed priority,” the announcement, published in the Jan. 14 edition of The Federal Register, is intended to inform grant seekers what types of programs the government would like to pay for through the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. The program, enacted in 1989 and financed at $7.5 million for fiscal 2008, is the only source of federal funding for gifted and talented education.

In the notice, the Department of Education indicates that it is looking for programs that will “ ‘scale up’ and evaluate models designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who, through gifted and talented education programs, perform at high levels of academic achievement.” Underrepresented groups include students who are from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students with limited English proficiency.

Using the money in such a manner would be a way to have a national impact with limited funds, the proposal states.

To some proponents, the priority suggests the department is looking for programs that use gifted education teaching strategies to improve results for all students, said Jane Clarenbach, the director of public education for the National Association of Gifted Children, in Washington. While that is a worthy initiative, the money in the small Javits program is supposed to be spent directly on programs that help students already identified as gifted, they say.

“It’s not that the idea is a bad idea,” Ms. Clarenbach said. “It’s just, where is the money coming from?”

‘Siphon Away’

Nine members of Congress, led by Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., signed a letter saying that the proposed priority would “siphon resources away from our nation’s highest-achieving students.”

The lawmakers’ letter agreed that teaching strategies used in gifted education have been shown to increase the academic performance of general education students. However, those strategies can be financed through other grant programs, such as those intended for low-performing students.

“If this proposed priority is put into effect, we will only be further ignoring our nation’s gifted children,” the letter from the lawmakers says.

On Special Education

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Other organizations that focus on education for the gifted also registered their concerns.

In a Feb. 13 letter to the department, Del Siegle, the president of the gifted children’s association, wrote: “While intervention strategies designed for gifted and talented students may be effective in improving student achievement of all students, Javits should not be burdened with this responsibility, which would reach beyond the purpose and legislative intent of the program.”

The Council for Exceptional Children, in Arlington,Va., an advocacy organization for gifted and special education, expressed similar problems.

“We are very concerned that the proposed priority varies dramatically from the stated purpose of the Javits Act and if enacted, would abandon those students the act is intended to assist,” says a letter signed by Tom Southern, the president of the Association for the Gifted, an organization under the umbrella of the CEC, and Deborah A. Ziegler, the CEC’s associate executive director for policy and advocacy services.

The Department of Education did not provide a response to the concerns in time for Education Week’s deadline.

On Chopping Block

The Javits program, named after a former Republican senator from New York, has come under scrutiny from budget-cutters in the Bush White House who have proposed eliminating the program several times. The president’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget again seeks to cut the program, along with 46 others deemed ineffective or duplicative of efforts already undertaken by the states.

Advocates say the program would be better able to meet its stated goals—supporting schools in the development of gifted education programs and increasing identification of underrepresented students—if it had more money.

And states have seemed to drop their own support of gifted education when the Education Department makes cuts, said Joseph S. Renzulli, an expert on gifted education at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. The high-water mark for the Javits program was $11.5 million in 2002, Ms. Clarenbach said, but the program has lost money when the department has had to make across-the-board budget cuts.

Increasing funding would also serve to expand gifted education beyond the current perceptions of the programs as exclusively geared toward children who come from privileged backgrounds, she said.

A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2008 edition of Education Week

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