Gifted Programs: Luxuries or Necessities?

Gifted Programs: Luxuries or Necessities?

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Updated on Oct 5, 2010

Looking for ways to save money in the current economic crisis, state and district boards of education are questioning whether gifted programs are luxuries or necessities.

According to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), states such as Massachusetts, Maryland, and Nevada have enacted legislation specifically to slash funding for gifted programs. In other states, legislators have passed austerity budgets, forcing state and local school boards of education to make difficult choices.

In response to drastic budget cuts, the Illinois State Board of Education zeroed out funds for gifted education. In testimony before the board, Gerald Brookhart, Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools, compared the state’s situation to “Sophie’s Choice,” saying that it had the unenviable task of deciding “[w]hat child are you going to throw away?”

In a world of limited resources, society should focus on initiatives that serve all children, rather than only those with high academic ability, according to author, educator, and child development specialist Joy Berry. Explaining that “all children are gifted,” Berry has identified music and art as just some of the many enrichment programs from which every student can benefit. She asks, “Why should we relegate to the select few the opportunities that we should make available to all children?”

Although there is little agreement on the definition of “gifted,” so-called “gifted programs” traditionally serve a small percentage of the student population. (See “Is Your Child Gifted?” for recognizing signs of giftedness.)

Critics of such programs claim that the students who are already motivated to learn receive the most talented teachers and best resources.  Berry argues that academically gifted children are “driven towards intellectual exploration and discovery and they cannot be derailed. They are so resourceful at getting their needs met. They will seek out libraries, museums, and experts for those conversations.” 

Advocates for gifted education disagree, responding that gifted programs are more than just enrichment for successful students. “The myth that gifted children will be okay on their own … is just that – a myth,” Jane Clarenbach, public relations director of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), has noted. “We’re failing to develop the talent of some of our top students, which leads (for some of them) to underachievement and lack of interest in school.”

Clarenbach explains that “[s]ervices and programs should be designed to respond to gifted students’ special learning needs – and therefore, they are as essential for those students as programs are that respond to students who have other specialized needs.”

As the parent of two gifted children, ages 11 and 9, Kim Moldofsky of Morton Grove, Illinois, finds it “frustrating … that many public schools view gifted programs as extras.”  She points out that “gifted mandates vary from state to state. So, even though there is an educational need, the gifted students may not have the rights to a free and appropriate education that other special-needs students do.”

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