Opinion Columns & Blogs

Don't leave gifted students behind

The Legislature will be busy this session dealing with the devastating side effects of the economic recession. Yet our lawmakers cannot ignore crucial education issues that affect our public schoolchildren, especially those who show talent and potential in the classroom.

Parents and teachers of gifted and talented children throughout the nation have long endured a lack of resources and support while gifted children are subjected to a patchwork of policies, programs and services that vary from district to district. "State of the States in Gifted Education," a new report released by the National Association for Gifted Children, confirms the depth of this underinvestment and its consequences.

Kansas does not fare well.

For school year 2008-09, our investment in gifted and talented learners essentially returned to the funding levels of 2004-05. This underinvestment also has contributed to widespread failures in identifying highly able students from diverse backgrounds.

Despite research linking gifted student learning gains to properly prepared teachers, the survey finds that most gifted students in Kansas spend the majority of their school days in general-education classrooms with teachers who have not been trained to meet gift students' needs.

Indeed, Kansas does not require teachers or school administrators to receive training in gifted education, and the Kansas Board of Regents universities do not require teachers to take undergraduate courses in this field. In addition, most districts provide little to no professional development in gifted education.

This is no surprise. A 2008 national survey by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that the majority of teachers do not feel prepared to meet the needs of gifted students, nor do they feel encouraged to invest their time working with these learners.

The continued systemic neglect of these students will ultimately result in long-term negative consequences for our students, communities and state. For proof, one can look no further than annual student performance data measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Over the past decade, despite impressive gains by students at the low end of the performance spectrum, scores of students in the top 10 percent have remained largely flat. Other indicators reveal that the achievement gap is growing between bright students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent peers.

Historically, the Legislature has been a leader in its gifted-education policies. However, in the current climate, Kansas must guard against underinvesting in the very population most likely to be our next innovators, discoverers and pioneers. If Kansas wants to prepare all our students for the challenges ahead, we must increase meaningful support for high-potential children that truly addresses their needs.