« Questions for the Secretary | Main | RTI and Special Populations »

A Glimmer for Gifted


Schools and the Stimulus
I have wondered if there's anything in the stimulus bill that offers assistance for students with gifts and talents. Unlike Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, there is no federal mandate for gifted programs. Instead, the cost of gifted education is borne by the states.

But when I spoke to Jane Clarenbach with the National Association for Gifted Children last week, she said that the stimulus could mean that more beginning teachers will leave college prepared to teach gifted children, as well as students with disabilities, students who have limited English proficiency, and students with low literacy levels.

Her optimism comes from examining the intersection of the stimulus and the recently passed Higher Education Act. The act, passed in 2008, requires colleges of education to place a specific emphasis on training teachers for diverse student populations outlined above.

Fast forward to the stimulus, which allocates $100 million to be used for improving teacher and principal quality. Teacher preparation proograms will receive an infusion of cash which they'll have to use in part to bolster their teacher training, including following the rules of the HEA.

Most teacher candidates learn very little about gifted students, other than a lecture here or there, Clarenbach said. So as new teachers make their way through the education pipeline, the stimulus money could pay for more training to fill that knowledge gap.

Of course, the question becomes: how many colleges and universities are prepared to offer the kinds of classes beginning teachers say they want, and need, to be comfortable teaching diverse populations? Clarenbach says that you have to start somewhere -- and the NAGC is ready to help.


I know this isn't exactly playing to a broad constituency, but what about twice-exceptional kids? My son is gifted, autistic (asperger's), and probably learning disabled (still evaluating). It's so hard for schools to understand that these things can co-occur, and to address both. I know some gifted organizations are interested in twice-exceptional kids, but I think it presents a special challenge for SPED programs.

mamacate--A big Amen to that! In my own son's case the district had an ongoing need to draw a line between emotional and learning disabilities--totally ignoring an inter-relationship between the two, or that they could co-occur even if totally unrelated. By the time his area of giftedness (creativity) was "identified" I had lost years of battles with the district to provide any kind of enrichment in areas that he was good at. It was actually someone in the gifted camp who introduced me to the term "twice-exceptional," (and provided a very successful inclusion experience in a summer program--completely outside the district).

I really wonder if some of the countries who have really done away with labelling (and tracking) may have better success with individual student-centered programs. My son has really done better overall when we have had access to settings (always outside of school) that weren't so interested in divvying kids up by their traits and more interested in a community/social perspective in which everyone belongs and everyone brings something to the table.

There's a lot of interest in "twice exceptional" children -- I know when I go to the Council for Exceptional Children conventions that there are always many seminars on it -- but how widespread are best practices? My impression is that it's very spotty. Like Margo/Mom suggests, I also wonder if getting away from labels is an answer here. Isn't it better to just create a teaching plan that works for each child, and that can bolster strengths and support weaknesses without the need to put a name on something?

But what might be best, and what is practical under our current system, are often quite different...

Regarding emotional exceptionalities, resistance to offering gifted services to this population is rampant. This is part of the stigmatization of mental disorders. Estimates from many studies indicate the comorbidity between those with learning disabilities and those with emotional disabilities is 50%.

I appreciate that many believe labeling is archaic (I don't), and respectfully wonder what recourse you non-labeling proponents might have if a child is not responding...

Also, Margo I don't think it's coincidental that the successes you mention are outside the school system. What does this mean, I wonder. You seem to attribute the success to not labeling. I am interested in how you came to this conclusion. A factor I am interested in considering is the lack of accountability outside the school system. And how do you measure what's working in these settings? What type of curriculum is offered? What is the duration of these programs? And who is teaching in them? What results are they getting in general? I have many questions...If these programs are more effective, I want to know what they are doing to be successful!

Hi Kim!

You ask a good question, and I'm going to do the slippery thing and ask another question in response (a slippery reporter trick!) What does a label provide that good instruction does not?

When I made my post above for argument's sake, I wasn't thinking of discarding labels as part of an RTI process or anything like that. I was just thinking that in a perfect world, it could be that children wouldn't receive services based on whether they had achieved a certain threshold on a test that allowed them to get a certain label. They would just get the services they need based on their demonstrated strengths and weaknesses.

So there wouldn't have to be "recourse" sought if a child isn't responding...the teachers and the schools would just try to help that kid with whatever that kid needs help with.

In a way, your first paragraph of your post offers an example of why labels in some cases could be problematic. It seems that you're suggesting -- and I'm not questioning what you've seen -- that some educators get so hung up on the label of "emotionally disordered" that they're not meeting the academic needs of a student, for whatever reason.

Would it be better - I'm leaving this one up to the experts here to answer - to get away from having to put a name on something, and just to offer the student the supports he needs; for example, behavior management assistance AND advanced math? You don't have to do one or the other. Do labels help this to happen? I truly don't know and would love to hear your thoughts and the thoughts of others.

I'm game. So, thinking this perfect world through, how would we know what works with whom? I assume we wouldn't need disaggregated data based on populations, because everyone would get what they need based on behaviors. Taken to its logical conclusion, there would be no need for diagnosis, because labels would no longer serve a purpose. I wonder how we would know what teaching strategy to use, when to use it, how much of it to use, and when to stop using it. How would research be conducted? Would there be a need for school psychologists, educational diagnosticians? What would they do in this brave new world? Perhaps have coffee with special educators and talk about the good ole days?


I gotta point out, our currentl labels do not amount to anything like "diagnosis." They are legal labels for determining the application of a funding stream and ensuring that rights that apply to "regular" kids also apply to "special" kids. I have had people, under the employ of the school district to work with an emotionally disabled population tell me that these kids did not have disabilities--they were just bad. I have heard this believe reiterated by various professionals in a variety of forms. What the label does serve to do, within the school district, is to define the place and the people responsible for educating students with that label (and conversely to release others from any such responsibility--whether this is the intent of the law, or an appropriate interpretation or not). Identifaction serves as a means to get a kid with needs out of a regular classroom. Changing the label serves to get a kid out of an LD resource room. Adding the gifted label--because the state only requires identification (not services of any kind) doesn't do anything for anyone.

But the LD or ED label presume that there is some commonality to the students in those LD or ED classrooms. Functionally it is regarded as more important than that they share something like a common curriculum--as they are frequently grouped across grade levels. So, an ED (or SBH) classroom may be serving a kid with bipolar disorder, a kid on the autism spectrum, a couple of kids that no one can figure out but have behavioral challenges and are performing way below their peers, an undiagnosed gifted kid who is frustrated beyond the ability to survive in a regular classroom and a kid who was sexually abused at a young age and now has promiscuous behaviors.

The label of ED, or SBH doesn't tell us much about how to help them. Putting them into that resource room together doesn't do much without some knowledge of what is going on with each one individually. It would be really nice if the district psych staff and diagnosticians could provide diagnostic help, support for intervention, evaluatin and research. But they are all too busy making sure that everyone gets the right label.

Hi, Margo.
Interesting! I interpret your experiences to speak strongly to the need to identify; you apparently have come to a very different belief.

As I have said before, because emotional disabilities are hidden disabilities and may only become apparent episodically, I believe those with them usually benefit from identification.

Assuming these students are purposefully not identified, what instructional interventions might be effective? As we both know, these students currently have the poorest academic/transitional outcomes, and their teachers the highest attrition rates. What might they require instructionally that would improve academic and transitional outcomes?

Finally, if what we know works is not happening in the real world of schools, what do we need to change systemically so that appropriate interventions can really happen? RtI is one possible solution (I do not support it); however, the research, especially at the secondary level, is as yet inconclusive. The RtI special education, general education, and school psychology literature point to the need for professional role changes with this model. I see more meetings, more gatekeeping, and less teaching. What do you see?

Kim, I definitely see your point--and you're a teacher, and I always defer to teachers! :-) It's just that you and I both have read news articles where a kid is identified as having an emotional disability...but nothing happens. No one does anything about it, no one knows how to handle the kid or properly educate him. It's just a millstone around the neck.

And I guess I'm also thinking about how labels sometimes are inappropriately applied; for instance, I've done some stories about the overidentification of black students and male students as being in certain disability categories.

I wish that some benefit always occurred for a kid after identification, but, I'm just not sure about that. On the other hand, my "perfect world" I'm sure has some serious drawbacks as well.

If nothing else, exploring these issues makes my beat interesting!

I see the possibility of something that looks more like Finland. Kids who are not succeeding with what is being offered across the board receive increasingly intensive interventions to "get them back on track." The classroom teacher has a primary role--assigning a classroom aid, calling in special education personnel. They also have a team of representatives from various support services (health care, social services, public housing) that are placed within the school and meet regularly (3 X weekly) to ensure that non-academic barriers are responded to.

Imagine if such a team existed and in the process of intervening in the school difficulties encountered by a young student actually came upon a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The school pyschologist might actually confer with the teacher on an ongoing basis to develop strategies that respond appropriately to the actual disorder (example: making use of good mood days for learning, rather than expecting days of punishment to make the days of bad moods stop happening, using the classroom aid to ensure sufficient attention during the good days to keep up with peers).

But many kids (here)never really get much specific knowledge of "what ails them" through the current labelling sest up. Psychologist are not there to help understand how individual kids learn. They are there to put a stamp of approval on the receipt of "services." Pete Wright points out that even identified kids seldom receive any counseling services as a result--through the school and IEP process anyway.

BTW--I don't see meetings, or more meetings as a bad thing. I have more hours in social work than in education and I find this to be a difference between the two. Educators seem to be meeting averse--and as a result tend to get very siloed--leaving lots of cracks for kids to fall through. If more meetings are needed to help professionals work together more cohesively, I just see that as a step in the improvement process.

Margo and Christina,

You both make interesting points.

Yes, an issue in special education is the overidentification of African American males as ED. It is also true that we underidentify students with emotional disabilities in general. And I agree that labels are sometimes inappropriately applied.

Margo, I actually like meetings, the more the better--and I'm not being facetious. I learn from them and it is much easier for me to attend meetings and leave a teaching assistant in charge of my classroom than it is to teach students who are clinically complex. However, it is difficult to make a case for the teacher being out of the classroom being good for students' academic achievement, don't you think? And remember that psychologists are not required to have any teaching experience.

I have always reasoned, and continue to reason, that we need teachers with therapy backgrounds to teach students with ED. My background is in both education and therapy. I specifically sought out this work. This absolutely does not mean that I am not challenged daily by the complexity and challenge of teaching these students. I am.

Finally, if we are using punishment based, consequence driven interventions with any students, and particularly with students appropriately identified with ED, we are not going to see good results, nor are we being ethical.

Thanks to you both for your interesting comments. You have each given me much to think about.

You always give me a lot to think about, Kim - I'm glad you're reading. :-)

Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments