Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gifted vs. Special Needs in Newsweek

I'm reading: Gifted vs. Special Needs in NewsweekTweet this!

A bold mama puts it out there in the March 9, 2009 edition of Newsweek as she ponders what would become of her gifted daughter if her girl received customized special education services. The kind her autistic son receives at public school at taxpayer expense.

In an ideal world, all student with special needs would get their needs met through our public schools. In reality, this does not happen.

Special education services rarely include students in the top 3-5% even though students in that segment they have documented social-emotional and educational needs. Needs that vary from the norm.

Several states, including Illinois, lack provisions, mandates or any recognition of gifted students as a special population. In 2007, I spoke out at a State Board of Education Budget Hearing to advocate for gifted children. In 2008, the state mandate for gifted education came close to passing along with a $5 million budget line. As I figured it, this would have amounted to approximately $111 for each gifted child in the state. Even this piddly amount failed. *sigh*

This year, I'm not even considering a trip to the state capitol on Gifted Ed Advocacy Day, though I will post details soon. In case you haven't heard, Illinois state government is buried deep in many piles of doo-doo at the moment. Sad to say, a trip downstate would be nothing but a huge waste of time.

Dang, I get started on this and can't stop. I don't want to rant. What I want is for you to read the Newsweek piece and maybe carve a bit of time to read the six+ pages of comments and stop back here with your thoughts. Please?

Stop by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development to read up on gifted policies and programs in your state. If your child qualifies for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development Young Scholar Program, your family will benefit from several services--provided at no cost. Read an interview with a Young Scholar Family Consultant on the Laura Vanderkam's Gifted Exchange Blog.

More of my musings on gifted education.

Thanks IRL Mari and Asha from ParentHacks for pointing the Newsweek piece out to me.


Kelly said...

When I was getting certified to teach, I remember being surprised to learn that "gifted" is actually considered a disability. And don't most states have some sort of disability funding in their public schools? Having grown up with the "gifted" label in my family I certainly agree that an argument could be made for gifted children to receive the same funding as children with other disabilities. Now I'm off to read the article you suggested.

RL Julia said...

O.K. I didn't read all 7 pages of comments from the Newsweek article but I think the whole thing is based on a bad premise.

The fact is EVERY child would probably do better if given the extra resources, time, adult attention etc... that kids with IEPs and apparently a few kids in Texas get through their district's gifted and talented programs receive.

The reason (theoretically at least) that kids with disabilities are given extra services in the first place has to do with the idea that it is better to educate a child to potentially be a potential financial contributer to society than to not and just pay for that child's institutionalization for life.

It seems to me a slippery, divisive slope to go down to start considering what children are owed by any given public school system because even with the best services etc.... it could always be more.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Kelly Funding for gifted/talented students varies from state-to-state. In Illinois there are zero dollars allovated.

@RL Julia I agree that every child would do better with a bit of attention focused on them along with personalized education goals. However, even though this issue is divisive, there is necessary discussion that needs to occur on the topic because our education budgets are not infinite.

Laura Vanderkam has a good post on this need to engage in some critical albeit unpopular discussion.

To be clear, I am not suggesting we eliminate special ed services and budgets, but as a country I do believe will will pay a price for ignoring the needs of what seem to be our best and brightest.

As the mom of bright kids, I think you can attest to the impact on NCLB on public schools. At the very least, do your children's ISAT scores reveal much about what they've learned at school or the quality of their teachers?

Thanks to private school, this year was out first brush with the ISATs. Maybe I will have something to learn from their results? Esp. when my boys fail the writing section due to their illegible scrawl.

marisue1967 said...

While I agree that taking services away from kids with special needs is not the answer, I also feel that bright kids need to be challenged more. I also think that if your kid is bright but also has a learning or emotional disability of some sort, it is easy for that child to brushed under the rug since he is "not failing". Our schools need to do a better job of evaluating and serving all kids, whether they are learning disabled or not.

Mari said...

While I agree that children with special needs should not lose any of their services, I do think that bright kids get unfairly brushed aside. We feel lucky to have any sort of program in our public school, but it doesn't even really scratch the surface for some kids. Also, if your child is gifted but also has some sort of learning or emotional disablity, it is easy for the school to overlook it because the child is "not failing". Our schools need to do a better job of evaluating and serving ALL children, or many will be left behind.

kristina said...

I think NCLB is one of the worst things for education.

Heather! said...

I only made it through two pages of the comments, but it was indeed very thought provoking. One comment that stood out was the idea that more funding is simply to make the gifted more gifted and not simply to address an inherent difference in learning style.

Terry said...

Kim, et. al., I want to clarify some of the points made about Illinois gifted funding. Last year $2 million was released for gifted funding (less than the ISBE budget line item that was approved by the General Assembly, but something). It is being spent this year. Because it's not enough to distribute statewide, we determined that it would be best used for professional development, so teachers would learn how to identify and serve the needs of gifted kids in their classrooms--information that they do not get in their college classes. The former Gifted Institute was revised and updated to become the new Gifted Education Seminar; pilot programs start this summer, and the Gifted Institute will end.

As for the Gifted Day in Springfield, April 29, 2009, the purpose is to call attention to the needs of gifted kids by having them and their parents schedule appointments with their legislators to try to persuade them to vote for a gifted line item in the budget, making it a categorical grant. Last year, more than a thousand kids and adults were there.

It also is an educational experience for kids to see lawmaking in action, visit historical sites and sessions of the House and Senate, and meet their legislators. See a photo on the HomePage and a link to more information at

As for it being a waste of time, here's a quotation I like:
"One victory in a year stinks in the life of an administration! But it's not the ones we lose that bother's the ones we don't suit up for!"--Toby Ziegler, The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin, writer

We may not "win," but the surest way to lose is to not even try.

I hope you'll change your mind and the rest of you will check the link and join us next month.


Kim Moldofsky said...

Thanks for the corrections, Terry. I did not realize that $2M had passed. If you can come back or send me info (LOL, accidentally typed "money") on ow to spread the word about the teacher programs, I'd love to get that up. I know one teacher who might jump at the opportunity to get more training.

As you will read here I already "suited up" to use your terms. I'm one of a only a handful or parents who showed up at State Board of Ed Budget Hearing to talk advocate for gifted. It, honestly but sadly, left me with the impression that the public ed system is going to do little to help my kids.

I've held seminars in my home, I share info here, at my son's old school I spoke to the board of ed, teachers, principals. It's one uphill battle after another.

If you want to share your rallying cry and transfer your passion to a group of parents in my home later this month, let me know. I'll host and send out evites.

Carrie said...

Gifted belongs in Special Education. I'm convinced of that. The nicest things would be that if the gifted kids were categorized as special ed, maybe parents wouldn't be so competitive and touchy about getting their kids into gifted programs.

Terry said...

Good for you for your passionate activism on behalf of the cause--our precious children.

For info on the Gifted Ed. Seminar, go to
and enter "Gifted" in the "Search by Category" field.


HB 4044 is the House bill covering gifted funding, sponsored by Representative Coulson. It's now in the House Appropriations-Secondary & Elementary Education Committee. The bill requests that $10 million dollars be appropriated from general revenue to the State Board of Education for gifted education for FY 09-10. This money will help rebuild gifted programs by providing funds for necessary professional development in gifted education for teachers and administrators and creating a gifted endorsement.

It will continue the work that's been started with the money from last year. Otherwise, it will end after this year.

Listed below are the things you can do to move this bill forward:

1. Telephone, e-mail, fax, and write a letter to Representatives from the Appropriations- Secondary & Elementary Education Committee

2. Use contact information from the following webpage

3. The telephone call is the most effective measure. Even if you speak only to office personnel, and you are passionate, the information will be logged in and passed along to the representatives. Form letters have little impact. The telephone calls are quick and easy, taking less than 3 minutes. Following is a sample phone call:

Hello, my name is ________ I am calling in support of HB 4044. I am supporting this bill because I am a
parent of
teacher of
friend of gifted learners and know that funding is necessary for their academic progress. I want Representative _______ to know how important funding is for this special needs population of students and hope that he/she is not misled by the term gifted. Gifted learners are students who learn differently from the norm and because of this need specific funding.
(This is the place to share a personal story. Then thank the person you are speaking to and ask that your support of HB 4044 be passed along to the Representative.)

4. Get FOUR hits for each Representative: for example, telephone the local office, then follow up with a letter; telephone the Springfield office, and follow up with a letter. Your message will be tallied FOUR TIMES. Add e-mails and faxes to increase the number of hits.

5. In your message, request clearly, WITHIN THE FIRST TWO SENTENCES, support for HB 4044.

6. Identify yourself, district, city, school.

7. Tell how your family has benefited from gifted education. Be brief and concise.,

8. Keep this in mind: one representative on the Appropriations Committee advised that each member needs to receive at least 50 messages before a position is taken seriously. Help make that number.

9. If you want help formulating your message, check the IAGC website or e-mail (Co-chair of IAGC's Advocacy Committee) for a sample script to use as a springboard for your own personal communication. Do NOT use it as a form letter; it will NOT be counted.

10. If your Representative is NOT on that Committee, contact her/him anyway and ask her/him to be a cosponsor of the bill. [They just have to ask Rep. Coulson to fill out a simple form.] The more co-sponsors, the more seriously the Committee will take the bill.

11. Please share these tips with everyone you know.

12. You have only a small window of opportunity to make a difference for your children.

If your email program does not recognize a link, copy the entire URL and paste it into your Web browser.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Thanks, Terry. I think you are going to be my guestblogger tomorrow!

I will also put this into a PDF or Word doc and pass it along to my IRL friends.

trinlayk said...

I'm a little confused by this discussion... why does it have to be gifted VS special ed?

I didn't get DXed with Aspergers till adulthood but had ADD DX as a kid (and medication didn't really help at all) the days before there was any kind of special ed. I struggled throughout school, and my work life. I'm happy and productive as an artist but it took me to middle age to get here.

My sister was always one of the gifted kids, everyone knew she was going to be some kind of "Rocket Scientist" someday. She'd have succeeded in a log cabin, with mail ordered books, read by lamplight.

If she needed some extra help at some point with social anxiety or other issue, she was able to get support in a normal classroom.

Would I have been better off, or just the same with some special ed support? I have no way of knowing.

ChefDruck said...

This is so sad, and such a testament to the poor state of our country's education. We just cater to the median, leaving everyone on the ends of the spectrum underserved. When I toured my daughter's school before she started kindergarten, the officials were so proud about all the services available for struggling children. But when I asked if there were opportunities for children with special aptitudes in math or reading to get pulled out of class to get special projects, they looked at me like I was crazy. So those kids just get to linger bored in the back of the class until they're totally turned off by school. It's a shame.

Robin said...

LOL - my son has Aspergers and is in selfcontained GT class. He is not eligible for an IEP, dispite his disability, because he is above grade level - hence no educational impact!

Anonymous said...

Now, what if all the parents of gifted students told their sons & daughters to intentionally mark their standardized test answers incorrect? A coordinated, peaceful protest. Watch the administrators squirm when they see their building test scores drop and NCLB comes into action. Then the parents can DEMAND like treatment / fund allocation for ther children.

Just a thought.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Oh, don't think I've never considered having my child "opt out" of testing. I don't think I would though, unless the administration was really unresponsive.

If you want to pursue this, Anonymous, check out