Back to school: Are we leaving gifted students behind?
Gifted students in US public schools can be overlooked and unappreciated. Parents, looking for better options, have begun to find some.
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Nearly 80 percent of teachers surveyed in 2008 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington agreed that "getting underachieving students to reach proficiency has become so important that the needs of advanced students take a back seat."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Breaking the class ceiling
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"It's not like there was this golden era that NCLB has ruined. It's really been a sort of constant struggle in America to figure out how to pay attention to the students that are exceeding what the expectations are for most students," she says. "Academic excellence is something we feel ambivalent about. There's this idea that the kids will do well anyway."
There's no national policy requiring that gifted children be identified and served by school districts. There's no national definition of "gifted."
The only federal program to support gifted education, known as the Javits Act, used to supply about $7 million a year, mainly for research on how to better identify and serve poor and minority gifted students. But Congress eliminated it this year.
State policies are a patchwork. About one-quarter of states provide no funding for gifted education, and 13 states bar students from entering kindergarten early, according to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in Washington.
NAGC estimates the number of gifted students at about 3 million, or 6 percent of the US student population. What happens to them is largely left up to local school districts, and when budget screws tighten, gifted programs are among the first to go. "There are many schools doing well with these kids and there are many that are not, so it's just an accident of birth or ZIP Code," Ms. Johnson says. "That's the unfairness in it."
The ceiling keeps us all down?
It might seem that the country has bigger problems to worry about than smart kids who are bored silly. But student success is linked to the success of the national economy, says a bipartisan chorus of advocates for more attention to top students.
There's an "extraordinarily strong relationship between [students] knowing math and science and how fast the country grows," says Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.
The United States ranks 31st out of 56 nations in the percentage of students with advanced math skills, says Mr. Hanushek. Just 6 percent of American 15-year-olds scored at the advanced level in math on the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That compares with 28 percent in Taiwan and more than 20 percent in both Finland and Korea.