- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

ATLANTA | When Liz Fitzgerald realized her son and daughter were forced to read books in math class while the other children caught up, she had them moved into gifted classes at their suburban Atlanta elementary school.

Just 100 miles down the road in Taliaferro County, that wouldn’t have been an option. All the gifted classes were canceled because of budget cuts.

“If they didn’t have it, they would get bored and distracted easily,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald, whose children are 14 and 12. “It just wouldn’t be challenging.”

Such disparities exist in every state, according to a new report by the National Association for Gifted Children that blames low federal funding and a focus on low-performing students.

The report, “State of the States in Gifted Education,” hits at a basic element of the federal government’s focus on education: Most of its money and effort goes into helping low-performing, poor and minority kids achieve basic proficiency. It largely ignores the idea of helping gifted kids reach their highest potential, leaving those tasks to states and local school districts.

“In the age of Sputnik, we put money into math and science, and we ended up on the moon,” said Del Siegle, a University of Connecticut researcher who wrote the report. “We really need to consider that again. We cannot afford as a country to ignore talent.”

The federal government spent just $7.5 million last year on research and grants for the estimated 3 million gifted children in the U.S. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have tried to eliminate that money entirely, but Congress put it back into the budget each year.

Gifted programs are typically paid for by local districts or states and vary dramatically. In some states, it’s as stark as one county with multiple gifted programs - magnet schools, honors courses and separate classrooms for advanced learners - next to a county with nothing.

“The quality of gifted services is dependent on geography, and it shouldn’t be,” said Laura Carriere, president of the Maryland Coalition for Gifted and Talented Education and the mother of two gifted children.

Just six states pick up the whole tab for gifted programs, and 13 don’t put a single dollar toward such curriculum, according to the study. That means poor urban and rural school systems often have no money left for their highest achievers, according to the Nov. 12 report.

“There is a markedly insufficient national commitment to gifted and talented children, which, if left unchecked, will ultimately leave our nation ill-prepared to field the next generation of innovators and to compete in the global economy.”

For Bellevue, Wash., mother Julie Plaut Warwick, a gifted program was the only option for her now 16-year-old son, who is in a magnet high school in the Seattle suburb.

“He would be very bored and would have gotten in trouble,” she said. “If you’re in a regular classroom, and you repeat things two or three times, he gets incredibly bored and frustrated.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Law, which was passed in 2003, forced states to focus on bringing struggling children up to grade level - inadvertently exaggerating the problem even more, Mr. Siegle said. A Fordham Institute study released last month showed gifted students are still improving their standardized test scores, but not as quickly as low-performing children.

As the economy has tanked, some states are shifting money away from gifted programs to help balance their budgets. The report shows that 13 states - more than half of the 23 that actually fund gifted education - made such cuts in 2008-09.

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