Gifted Education Receives the Death Penalty in Texas
Why would the Texas Legislature knowingly choose to defund the education of the brightest children?
The answer is simple: it’s popular. It is easy to kick-around gifted education. It is easy to make jokes about nerdy and unathletic kids. And it is easy to not worry about gifted kids because everyone knows they will do fine on their own. Right? Wrong.
Do any of the following complaints about gifted education sound familiar? “Allowing students to accelerate puts them at a social disadvantage.” “It is not fair to spend extra money on these kids.” “If these kids get to do something special, it will hurt others’ feelings.” Now, instead of gifted students, use the above examples in reference to a high school varsity football team. We not only allow varsity athletes to be on teams based on ability, not age, but we also spend large amounts of school money on the programs. Lastly, we have showcases for students to display their talents during games. We, as a society, have no problem with talents and gifts as long as they are athletic, musical, or artistic. Something else happens when these gifts or talents are intellectual.
This “something else” is a contradiction called anti-intellectualism.
The United States is in the grip of just the latest in a series of ugly socio-political cycles. This is not conservative or liberal. It is anti-intellectual. Irrational fear and anger often accompany opinions regarding gifted education. The very fact that having opinions about gifted education is tolerated is evidence. Do we have socially-acceptable opinions about educating dyslexic students? Special education students? Second-language acquisition students?
Students with natural intellectual talents deserve what every child does: the opportunity to learn something new, every day. They deserve teachers trained to understand their nature and needs. They deserve to have their eccentricities, ideas, and intensities honored and respected. And like other special populations, they deserve to have their special educational needs met. By no means does the label “gifted and talented” denote a successful future.
Students with natural intellectual talents deserve what every child does: the opportunity to learn something new, every day.
Gifted and talented education in Texas is at a crossroads. If Texas House Bill 3 remains in its current form and is passed, the G/T allotment will be eliminated. This issue comes down to far more than money. It comes down to a subset of children not receiving respect and not being valued as much as other children. Proponents argue that the basic allotment for districts will increase and schools can then have the discretion to spend for gifted education as they wish. In other words, districts will have wider latitude to misuse gifted education funding.
Ohio tried a similar proposal in 2009 by funneling gifted educational funds to the districts through the general fund without a requirement that the monies be used exclusively for gifted education. After nine years of this policy, under-identification was out of control, and there was a general lack of fiscal and program accountability. Results of this study can be found from the Ohio Department of Education.
Finding the many nontraditional gifted students takes deliberateness and expertise. Most importantly, it takes money.
Gifted education is not simply an innocent bystander, however. Because of historically poor identification methods and links to early researchers who associated intelligence with race, the very premise of gifted education is questioned. For years, students who were identified gifted typically had the preferred characteristics of what was cherished among the upper-class, white- and male-dominated educational culture.
Thanks to the work of researchers over the past generation, gifted education has become much more equitable. Tests like the Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test and the Slocumb-Payne Teacher Perception Inventory, help reduce the cultural biases that have been inherent in gifted identification. With universal testing, districts and schools have the ability to set local norms and use a variety of tests and methods. This has changed the literal face of gifted education. Finding the many nontraditional gifted students takes deliberateness and expertise. It takes compassion and a willingness to continually evaluate how to best serve high-ability learners so that the Excellence Gap narrows. Most importantly, it takes money.
House Bill 3 is not without value. In the present form, districts will have more choice and more local control over funding. Subsidiarity is one of the tenets of Texas politics I most cherish. We are such a diverse state that our people ought to be able to govern locally and for the most part, we do.
The G/T allotment is a small way that Texas is able to ensure that all its learners are learning.
But there are some policies a state must, at least loosely, monitor. One of these is funding for gifted education. Whether we like it or not, money is power, money talks, and money brings attention. Without funding attached, gifted education will fade from being the least thought-about special population to a memory.
HB 3 states local districts will only have to “certify” a gifted program is in place, whether they spend $5 or $50,000. Presently, the G/T allotment requires districts to designate what the funding is used for to ensure it is used towards gifted education. Districts and schools already have an incredible amount of discretion in how they use this funding. It is very broad and typically impacts the campus as a whole. The major complaint about the G/T allotment is that the amount should be increased. It is not a burden nor excessive bureaucratic regulation. The G/T allotment is a small way that Texas is able to ensure that all its learners are learning.
The next generation of gifted education in Texas will be decided over the next few months. Bills of this size do not remain in their original form but shift and change as the sausage is made. Legislators must remember: gifted children are a special population and have special needs. Do not discount them and do fund their future.
A follow-up article, Texas’ GT Plan is Bad for Business looks at the potential economic effects of defunding gifted education.