Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why Isn't Gifted Considered Special Education?

An email from my friend, Wanda:

"I'd like to chime in about special education. When PL 94-142 or the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was first passed back in 1975, the discussion included the entire spectrum of exceptionalities from the profoundly disabled to the profoundly gifted. As disability advocates and Congressional members discussed the bill, they had to compromise in order to get it passed. This type of give and take occurs even today from the local level up through the federal level. You know the scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.

The key Congressional players back in 1975 knew that if they included programming and funding for gifted students, the bill would have likely failed because it was too comprehensive. Opponents didn't think schools could appropriately serve both ends of the spectrum with IEPs and all the requirements, plus everyone in between.

Disability advocates were very persuasive. Vietnam had been winding down and veterans were returning home with physical disabilities like multiple amputations and were going out in public. People had to look at them. This gave the disability community, especially parents, the courage to pursue public school education for their children, since vets with disabilities were beginning to be out in public. The children didn't have to remain at home any longer.

So, Congress passed the EHA without including the gifted at the high end of the spectrum. The original intent was to go back the following year, at the least, or when the bill was up for reauthorization and include the high end of the exceptionality spectrum. As we know now, this never happened. When I worked on Capitol Hill, I was involved with writing language for the reauthorization of IDEA in 1994 (EHA is now called IDEA-Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). I worked with the offices of Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, and many others. We worked for years on the reauthorization language. Not once was there any request to add language which extended the range of exceptionalities to the gifted. I was not working with gifted kids back then, so I didn't bring it up either. There was not much noise made to include the high end of the exceptionality spectrum, when compared to the advocacy the disabled community was involved with.

Some states have, by choice, included GT kids in their exceptionality continuum and provide IEPs, and other individualized plans to ensure that gifted kids get their needs met. Unfortunately Wisconsin is not one of them. Adding the high end of the exceptionality spectrum to IDEA is not likely because of tight budgets at this point in time.

It is not difficult to educate all students at their level. It is not difficult to find materials or teaching strategies that work for our gifted kids. I have found that there is either ignorance that these kids even need anything more (the myths about gifted kids), or teachers simply don't want to bother. There is no excuse to not meet the needs of gifted kids. There is so much high end free materials on the internet that teachers should be able to find appropriate materials. Or, better yet, give the kids some guidance and let them find their own materials. You'd be amazed at what they find, and I don't mean inappropriate stuff.

We do have a stake in educating our most able students. We need to keep working in order to achieve it."


adsoofmelk said...

With all due respect, I think it is difficult for the public school system to educate all students at their level. At the risk of sounding like one of those folks who goes on someone else's blog only to promote their own, I've got three relatively recent postings on this issue of why gifted students hate school -- and one of the big reasons is that many teachers are neither prepared to teach them nor willing to do so. Anyway, if you're interested, please feel free to investigate further. ;-)

The Princess Mom said...

I absolutely agree with you, Adso, which is why clustering/ability grouping and smaller class sizes are so important. We also need to include required gifted training for all new teachers. We didn't cover gifted at all when I got my BA.