“All politics is local.”
Sen. Tip O’Neill
Thinking and writing about education issues from a moderate viewpoint removes much of the politics from the equation. I wish more legislators were able to do it. Then the conversation would be child centered – then the conversation might make sense.
1- the conservative right wing politico would argue that the best and brightest in our country were not being served with our tax dollars. Why should education funding be disproportionally spent on special needs populations or economically disadvantaged students? Or immigrants who don’t even speak the language?
2 – the liberal politician could argue that the best and brightest in our country represent our future and as such, in a democratic society, all students should be held up as the best and brightest to make sure no one is left out.
3 – the libertarian could argue that although public education is a guaranteed right it doesn’t have to be ideal or perfect. If you don’t like public schools because they do not serve your child you should feel free to pack up and place them elsewhere.
My head hurts just thinking about it.
At one public elementary school in our district the gifted education teacher was denied a $ 20 grant request for paint for her gifted class by the PTA. The gifted program was considered “elitist” by PTA leadership and, in spite of the distribution of $ 150 grants to other teacher’s classrooms (including the reading specialist), grant requests from the gifted teacher were routinely denied.
In April of 2006, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) adopted a research-based model acceleration policy in an effort to encourage districts to meet the needs of some high ability students. Grouping kids in classes based on ability to learn the material rather than an arbitrary age range makes sense and is a low cost alternative to differentiating the curriculum for some gifted students. Yet the Ohio School Board Association vehemently fought against it and convinced a good number of school boards in the state not to adopt it.
Many of the education needs of gifted children in the State of Ohio have been addressed by the ODE through various rules (Ohio Administrative Code 3301-51-15 Gifted Rule) and policy recommendations (Academic Acceleration for Advanced Learners and the Proposed Plan for Credit Flexibility) – yet these exhaustive research-based rules and policies are meaningless without the funding attached to make them a reality. Yet today we are faced with a budget from the Governor of $25 per pupil for pupil enrichment: once multiplied by the state share of approximately 52%, this amount effectively cuts gifted education funding in half by the time it reaches the districts.
The proposed budget also eliminates funding for identification (I guess the logic here would be if you don’t identify them then you don’t have to serve them). It would also eliminate well regarded programs, like the Summer Honors Institutes, leaving no publicly funded options for high ability high schoolers.
School districts who have knowledgeable staffs and the resources will probably continue to provide gifted education options. School districts who have an elected majority oblivious to the research will undoubtedly view gifted education as elitist and as an unfunded mandate. This is where the dog chasing its own tail analogy comes in.
Gifted funding on the state and local level is not unlike the unfortunate Canis lupus familiaris. The dog, seeing the flash of some object near its hindquarters, perceives a threat. Oblivious to the fact that it is his own tail he sees, he chases it. It is, after all, attacking him, is it not? Even when the poor creature bites his tail and feels the pain he has inflicted upon himself – he continues to chase and snap at it. And around and around he goes in a never ending cycle of threat and pain until he collapses in a heap on the floor. Gifted education is the tail. It is a part of the dog – not the best part or the most meaningful but certainly and unarguably a part of the creature. It isn’t a threat or a burden to be born. It just is.
Advocacy for gifted students is on the rise as performance data proves high ability children are suffering in the regular classroom and are not meeting their potential either as successful students or as productive adults. Parents seeking alternatives for their children are mightily confused to discover that our public schools do not have them. Those parents often do pull their children out of public schools and homeschool them or send them to private schools who can better raise the academic bar closer to the required level. But not all parents or educators discover the problem until it is too late. And that is the national tragedy.
We assume our state departments of education are the repositories of the research and the data to make our schools second to none. Then we leave it to the districts to adopt policies and rules based on the research. But autonomy wields a powerful club and not every district does as we expect or hope it will. Advances in education fall victim to personal and political beliefs and we end up on a precipice where we risk losing all the progress we have made in the past decade in understanding and serving the needs of high ability students. Once again we are back at the beginning having to justify the need for gifted education.
Until there is an understanding or acceptance of the conclusions reached from the research and the data, gifted education will never command the funding it needs at the state or local level.
And, until we have the clarity and honesty required to look in the mirror and recognize that the tail is a part of who we are and as deserving of consideration – we will be doomed to this dizzying pursuit.