Sunday, May 22, 2011

Working to Prevent Cuts to Gifted Education

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!

3 comments:

  1. My message to Texas parents (of those identified as gifted and others) is, "Now that Texas school districts have cut more and more funds towards education, parents need to take on more and more of the job of educating their children." Then I go on to give them specifics just like you've outlined in your article. Well said, I might add.

    Recently, I've added in a piece directed towards teachers, "expect parents to advocate for their child". Our attitude towards parents who are advocating for their child must take on a positive note." I have noticed a very negative attitude by our teachers when parents ask for letters of referrals, additional testing, additional challenging work, etc.

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  2. Regarding teachagiftedkid's comment on noticing a very negative attitude by teachers when parents ask for letters, challenging work, etc for their gifted kids:

    I remember how difficult it was as a parent 10 years ago when my children were in elementary school. Even asking questions about the gifted program was enough to cause certain teachers to change their attitude towards me(the parent) and my children.

    For example, appealing a negative decision based on "just missing" identification and then having a child accepted into a program that made their school week bearable was enough to cause a few teachers to become aggressive. It is not pretty to see a 2nd grader who reads or does math on a 4th or 5th grade level bear the consequences of becoming distracted by something outside the window while waiting for the class to finish reading a page in the regular reader or doing a page of addition problems. What was the teacher, who did not allow the child to read a book or draw or even roll a pencil around on the desk while waiting for the class to finish, thinking by calling the student to the front of the class to receive a mark on the discipline sheet for "not listening or following directions"? This is one of the tame consequences that a teacher with an attitude towards a gifted child and/or a parent can dish out.

    Don't let it happen to your child. But if it does, know that you can find allies in that jungle who can help you to remove your child from the situation. No matter how difficult it seems at the time to advocate, it will be worth it to see them grow up with a positive view of themselves as learners (and lots of empathy for other kids in their old situation if they remember the experience).

    And, by the way, there are more teachers with respect for your child's abilities and your willingness to advocate than there are teachers with a negative attitude. Your job is to find them and make sure your child has the good fortune to be shaped by their respect and guidance. Good luck to all.

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  3. The problem is that when the principal comes into the classroom as sees that child doing nothing or doing other work (workigng ahead) the teacher gets in trouble for not having that child on task.
    Imagine the injustice for everyone in that classroom, the slowest child has to be rushed while the smartest child has to slooooooooow down

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