Almost daily there is news of another school district cutting funds for gifted education. This is true not only in the U.S., but in many parts of the world. To the parent of a gifted child, this seems incomprehensible.
Different societies view their gifted learners in varying ways. Some cultures consider them elitists who drain resources away from the majority of students. Others do not recognize the term ‘gifted student’, but say that all children are gifted. Then there are those who actually respect the fact that the top 2 to 5% of all children are high-ability learners and that they need extra support to fulfill their potential.
Unfortunately, the myth persists in these tough economic times that gifted students will make it ‘on their own’ and are simply beyond the need for investment of scarce resources. In many respects, it is true that ‘some’ gifted learners will make it without any differentiation, acceleration, or intervention. History is full of examples of gifted individuals who did just that. What you won’t find in the history books are the millions of people who were gifted, but never identified or supported. What about their potential? What has the world lost? Were they too high-brow; too elitist? Tell that to the parent of a child diagnosed with an incurable disease or a child living in a rural village decimated by a plague of unknown origin.
So, what can a parent do when their child’s school is considering the elimination of gifted programs, AP classes, or a teacher of the school’s only gifted class? Who advocates for the students? In the end, it is ultimately the parent. National and International organizations do an excellent job researching, informing, and developing curriculum models; but, when a school district is deciding where to make budget cuts … it is parents of gifted and talented students who are on the front line.
Essential in the fight against cuts to gifted education is becoming an informed advocate. Parents need to learn how funds are allocated throughout the district. They need to attend school board meetings often and be willing to speak on behalf of gifted programming. Networking with school board members and developing positive relationships with them can really make a difference. Identify teachers and administrators who believe in gifted education and work with them to provide board members with information on the benefits of gifted programs. Emphasize the fact that parents of gifted students often seek out schools with strong gifted programs and this can increase the tax base. And as difficult as this might seem … it is important for parents to put aside their emotions and strive to advocate in a professional and intelligent manner.
Some other strategies that can be used by parents are to form gifted parent support/advocacy groups. There is always strength in numbers. Then, do your homework. Obtain a copy of your school’s budget and see if there are other areas that can be cut rather than cutting academic programs. My research has shown that many districts are considering reductions in administrative staff and sharing these costs with neighboring districts. Others are utilizing technology to replace textbooks and consumables as well as providing access to distance learning opportunities. Reducing the use of office supplies can be achieved through online report cards, submission of student work online, and communicating with parents and staff via email are all areas to investigate. Districts are also reducing hours of operations during summer months, renting out space to outside vendors, establishing policies on early graduation, and utilizing parent booster organizations to provide a greater percentage of funding for sports and art/music programs.
When parents become involved and are able to advance smart alternatives to cutting programs, gifted education doesn’t have to be the first item on the chopping block. By showing that they understand the constraints the school district is under concerning the budget, parents can work with administrators and school boards.
In the end, parents of gifted children must realize that they always have options. There is never a good reason to give up! It may require a greater commitment of time and energy than first anticipated, but isn’t that the responsibility of all good parents? Life is a series of choices; we can make good ones or we can succumb to poor ones. Every child deserves our best efforts!