Schools, Facing Tight Budgets, Leave Gifted Programs Behind

A friend recently told me that her experiences at the Johns Hopkins summer program for gifted students strongly impacted her academic development by showing her that its okay to be smart. My time in gifted programs in 4th through 6th grade and in similar programs in junior high were my favorite and most productive years of learning. The idea that everyone should strive for mediocrity is shortsighted and silly. Different people learn in different ways and at different paces, and to eliminate all of these programs in order to focus solely on One Child Left Behind-mandated testing is going to have lasting consequences in a country that is already struggling to keep its prosperity and relevance in a quickly changing world.

3 replies on “Schools, Facing Tight Budgets, Leave Gifted Programs Behind”

  1. The problem however is framed as such. Given X dollars what’s the best we can do? Is the amount of money it costs for gifted programs for the 3% of students who are gifted better spent on some middle 3% on the cusp of literacy?

    Most of the top 3% will not become failures in life who cost taxpayers money. Are the gains they get from their programs greater than the cost of that many more illiterates? Maybe. But it’s not an easy question.

    Unfortunately these are the questions we have to ask when we underfund schools. Investing in schools has some of the best returns on investment that we can make tax dollar wise, especially community colleges, but it’s long term investment, and we just don’t do that.

  2. I agree that given a choice between raising 3% to a state of literacy or enriching the 3% of students who are gifted, there is little contest. The problem is that when programs disappear (as opposed to gaining or losing a percentage of their budget) they often don’t come back for many years. When the money is available for both, it continues to be poured into remediation because starting a brand new program (for the gifted) costs significantly more than upkeep on an old one.

    However, my more pressing comment is in response to the article’s contention that No Child Left Behind is not necessarily responsible for the decline in gifted programs. Since money was not tied to the legislation at its creation, schools were left to redistribute the same amount of money they always had in such a way that a much larger percentage when to a) test preparation materials, b) assessment of progress before the test that “counts” ie: practice tests, and additional time, staff, and materials for students with low academic performance. The money had to come from somewhere.

    Now that we have had NCLB for a while, states are adapting to the law in new and creative ways. For example, re-scaling the test to show progress. In New York (where I teach), students are assessed on a scale of 1-4. 4 means students are functioning above grade level (such as gifted or bright students might). 3 means students are on grade level. 2 means a child must receive extra classes and tutoring in school. Too many 1’s and a school is shut down. On New York’s 8th grade NCLB English test this year, the range of scores that qualified as a 2 was shifted down in such a way that students who last year would have received a 2, now would get a 3. Thus, NY schools must be making progress under NCLB because this year there are more 3’s than last year and fewer 2’s. In addition, the test was skewed to increase 3’s in the other direction too. While there were 16 score combinations that earned a 2 and 20 score combinations that earned a 3, there were only 2 score combinations that could earn a 4. Basically, miss two questions and you are no longer above grade level (or potentially gifted). Budgeters can then claim there is no need to have gifted programs if so very few students are working in the 4 range. The skewing of the scores helps perpetuate the idea that school’s needn’t feel guilty cutting funding for gifted eduction.

  3. I also found it odd that the article strived for journalistic “balance” by suggesting that the NCLB law was not responsible for this change, or at least that it was an “unintended consequence.” Unintended, perhaps, but not unforeseen. When you pass massive unfunded mandates for the states with potentially dire consequences, it is very easy to foresee exactly what sorts of changes and difficult choices are going to be made to attempt to comply with (or, apparently, game) the law. NCLB may have been well-intentioned, but it was certainly not well thought through, and with no obvious push to reform or repel the law, I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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