Monday, November 09, 2009

Parenting Gifted Children. Advocating for Gifted Children.

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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.

Damn it.

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.


April said...

Great post. Like you, I wish I had answers for how to fund all these necessary programs, but they just don't give us that opportunity. Our PTA couldn't help your sons because we're required to only spend money that benefits the entire student body.
Maybe, and I'm just thinking aloud here, we need to figure out how to change some of these rules on how the funding is used. The red tape is suffocating all of our children.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, and fantastic comment by April too. My third grade daughter has a 126 IQ, just got accepted into a local gifted program, tested in her public school with a non-verbal Cogat of 128, tested 96% in reading achievement (but average) in math, yet I cannot get her public school to acknowledge her intelligence. I'm getting angrier and angrier by the minute -- she's doing average in school and I was very quiet at the beginning of the year when the teacher was concerned she was just doing average but now I'm getting very vocal. Maybe she's a gifted underachiever and there's a reason for it in the classroom? But gosh, who cares? it's just disgusting that we have to work so hard to get a little something for these very bright children. what has she learned this year? that if she forgets to put her name on her reading log calendar for October she gets absolutely no credit. my tax dollars at work.

Daisy said...

So discouraging. I teach elementary school, and I thoroughly enjoy team teaching with the teacher for Talented and Gifted. The high students need stimulation and teaching, too in order to reach their potential.
So sorry to hear that your children are losing out. I only wish it were a rare occurance.

RL Julia said...

Like everyone else, I am getting more and more tired of the non-responsive public school system but more than annoyed with the public school system that has to contend with the kids far more needier than mine am I annoyed with the private providers of "gifted services" (for lack of a better term). Do they HAVE to be so gosh darn expensive? Do they have to feel so precious and exclusive? I can swallow the bitter pill that my daughter is not going to be challenged in math this year in her regular classroom but does the on-line class that seems like it would do the trick have to cost almost $600 (even if it is for three months)?

Additionally, as a complete applications for my son to go to some other middle school than the local one which is the tenth most gang infested school in the city, could I find a middle school program that was academically challenging but where half the kids didn't burn out by 10th grade?

Some days you just can't catch a break.....

I am looking forward to reading your comments. Thanks for going on all of our behalves.

Terry said...

Good for you for appearing in person to testify. I'm sad to read it was as discouraging as your previous time. Unfortunately, I've had much the same experiences when I've testified at not only ISBE but also legislative committee hearings.
I try to continue by remembering words from the past, such as Churchill's "Never give up!"
David Viscott wrote, "In the end, the only people who fail are those who do not try."
Thanks for trying. I hope your actions inspire others to do the same.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Terry, it was discouraging, but eye-opening. I'm in the midst of a paradigm shift regarding the importance of state and national advocacy. I'll explain it in a future post when I've got things figured out a bit more.

Also, I know I produce quite a lot of chatter on twitter that's not related to gifted, IAGC should be following in that space. I can write a post about that, too. :-)

tired teacher said...

Hi, i know this was posted a while ago, but hope some of you check back.
I've done curriculum development and teaching of the gifted for many years and, as such, have a concern about "private providers of gifted services". I don't know who these people are or what services they offer, but I wonder if they might just be providing an overall enrichment to any student whose parents pay...gifted education should be individualized always...there are, in fact, many ways that parents can pretty well meet the gifted child's needs if they are not being addressed in the local school system. I'd hate to see you taken advantage of by a money-making company that is preying on your desire to do the right thing for your child. Hmm...if interested in discussing further please leave a comment on with your email address or further questions.

Lorin K Mask, M.A., C.P.L.P. said...

I feel a bit lucky for right now. I live in NY and our city (not NYC) has a "Gifted and Talented" Public Elementary and Middle School.

My oldest is in her first year in Pre-K 4 and she is already doing Kindergarten and some first grade work.

My DH and I have the same fears you all discribe. Even in a gifted program - are they reaching their fullest potential? Not sure - we're just starting out.

I've heard the school we have her in is great until after 5th grade, when many of the kids start getting smarter then the teachers and have higher IQ's.

Anyway, I'm optimistic that we can continue to find her public schooling but am sure that we'll have to pay at sometime.

Thanks for the post and I'll keep following!