Last week I attended an Illinois State Board of Education budget hearing to advocate for gifted children. It was every bit bad as I feared. In fact, it was much like the last time.
So the ISBE hearing, or as I like to call it, The Cavalcade of Blind and Visually Impaired Children, got me thinking about a few things. But first, a brief recap.
Oh, there was the normal plug for Head Start and early intervention programs that serve poor immigrant families. What's not to like about early childhood ed? Especially when it serves children from low-income homes. (No sarcasm intended; this is good stuff.)
Then came the blind and visually impaired students who showed up in force to argue for the return of the $700,000 that was cut from a program that provides crucial assistive technology. And again, I'm not poking fun. They were a case study in effective advocacy. They showed up in large numbers armed with compelling stories. They kicked budgetary ass.
My goodness, first there was the little eight year-old visually impaired boy with albinism who asked the board to “please, please, please” restore the funding for assistive technology. He was followed by other blind and visually impaired teens asking for the same, all with touching stories about the crucial role that technology such as BrailleNote computers and JAWS play in their lives.
But the clincher was a cute nine-year-old blind boy who read his own braille-typed speech from his computer, concluding with something like, “When you vote for the final budget, remember me.”
My goodness, I don't think there was a dry eye in the house as he walked back to his seat.
The blind kids won.
And when I say they won it's because yes, this is a competition. I wish it wasn't. I wish all worthwhile programs could get funded. But the Illinois education budget is tight and only getting tighter.
Several times during the two-hour meeting, in between attendees pleading for their slice of the pie, the chairwoman sighed, "Who is going to get left behind?"
So when I got up to speak, the first thing I said was, "I know who's going to get left behind. It's my sons and children like them." She smiled at me as if I was kidding. But I wasn't.
I'm certain that if it weren't for these jerky real estate guys who spoke about wanting schools to sell and lease back their buildings, I would have been the least popular speaker in the room. *sigh*
Then again, no one could come close to those kids. Even if I brought my boys, or the entire kindergarten class from the the private gifted school they used to attend for that matter, it would not have had the same effect.
It's easy to see that the blind children have to work hard to overcome the obstacles life has placed before them. You know they are working hard to achieve. Gifted kids? They have all the advantages. Or so it seems.
How does one show that a child is in the 97th or 99th or 99.99% is not making the expected academic process? How does one demonstrate that a child who is making straight A's is an underachiever?
Sure, there is research that indicates academically talented students do better, that is, they make more progress each year when placed in homogeneous groups that move at a faster pace than a typical age-grade class. Research, shmesearch. It seems an eight-year-old who reads at a junior high level is cute, precocious, someone to be admired, not someone to throw state education dollars at. Grrr.
But the thing is, the thing that became more apparent to me as the night went on, is that compared to other special needs students, appropriate educational interventions for gifted students are ridiculously inexpensive.
My blogfriend Daisy, who is an educator and has a blind son (though not in Illinois), chimed in through Twitter that the cost of educating a visually impaired child is high, but not as high as the cost of not educating them.
Make sense, for sure. But I think in comparison gifted children fall short. What is the cost of not fully educating a child who already exceeds government dictated standards? I think there a cost, and it's high, it's just not something Illinois nor the US Department of Education choose to make a priority.
So my second experience at a state by budget hearing was every bit as disheartening as my first. On the other hand, this time I was the only one who spoke up for gifted education, so I in that sense I'm glad I went.
It does not serve my children's interest to post my testimony in its entirety, but I will post a chunk of it later this week.
Edited to add: this post is also inspired by the Yahoo!MotherBoard. This month we're talking about education funding and budget cuts. See what April at All About Balance has to say about the role of the arts in education.
Click for more musing on raising gifted children.