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Gifted Ed Advocates Hope for More Research in Next Federal Law

Gifted education has never been a major focus of federal education research, but since this spring, when Congress eliminated the decades-old Jacob K. Javits grants for research on gifted and talented education in the fiscal 2011 budget agreement, experts say it's been looking pretty grim for the field.

"Gifted education is not done brilliantly everywhere; it doesn't always have trained teachers or tests properly aligned to demonstrate students' knowledge," said Jane Clarenbach the director of public education for the Washington-based nonprofit National Association for Gifted Children. She argued that without a dedicated source of research funding and accountability, schools will have little incentive to find best practices for advanced learners, who may struggle in a mainstream class but typically don't score low enough to trigger red flags under the No Child Left Behind Act. "Until there's a little bit more involvement of accountability--which is usually tied to funding--states won't audit how they are doing" in gifted education.

"A lot of local school districts have already cut back on gifted," programs because of state and local budget cuts, said Joseph S. Renzulli, the director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut, which has been supported by the Javits grants for 21 years. "It's one of those kinds of things where we don't know what we will pay for this in future years. If we're going to look at the value of any [gifted education] program, I think that we need to think about improving society's reservoir of talent and creativity."

Kim Hymes, the director of policy and advocacy Council for Exceptional Children, told me she is pinning her hopes in part on the Talent Act, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. "Chuck" Grassley, R-Iowa as S.857 and by Rep. Elton W. Gallegly, R.-Calif. as H.R.1674. The bill has put forth a set of changes to incorporate more gifted education in the next authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It would:
• Overhaul the Javits research grants;
• Require assessments capable of measuring growth among high-performing students;
• Include gifted education in federal professional development grants for teachers; and
• Call for schools to include plans to serve high-performing students in poverty in their Title I or school improvement plans. Schools already have to detail how they will serve other special student groups, such as special education students, in these plans.

Advocates have been tossing around $50 million for an initial appropriation for the changes, which may seem like small change compared to, say, the $650 million federal Investing in Innovation research grants, but it's far more than the $7.5 million Javits had before it was killed. (For more details on the bill, check out this Talent Act presentation.ppt delivered at the Senate.)

Sen. Grassley said he considers the bill "a marker for the upcoming reauthorization debate" for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

"The current state accountability systems designed to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act effectively ignore high-ability students. Assessments designed to measure only grade-level content tell teachers and parents little or nothing about whether gifted students are being sufficiently challenged and are making appropriate progress," he said in an e-mail. "The initiative is about making the most of the potential in the next generation of Americans."

At a time of increasing concern about American competitiveness abroad and the effectiveness of existing gifted education programs here, I'll be interested to see whether the bill gains any traction in the larger reauthorization discussion.

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