Check out this great opinion piece published by the Birmingham News and AL.com from Amy Waine, President of AAGC. and Tracy Cross, President of NAGC.
By Amy Waine and Tracy L. Cross
Talent is a terrible thing to waste, but it is being squandered in schools throughout Alabama.
Students who excel in one or more subjects or who have the potential to excel have for too long been overlooked or unchallenged, primarily due to a lack of state funding.
Over the past couple of years, however, Alabama legislators have taken action to reverse this slight by allocating $1.1 million to support our estimated 58,000 gifted students, even managing a modest increase for Fiscal Year 2015.
While more significant funding would have been ideal, it is heartening to see state lawmakers in Montgomery begin a commitment to these students, one we hope provides a foundation for the future.
Nationally, the situation has been about as bleak, but with a similarly modest bright spot. The sole federal initiative for high-achieving students, the Jacob Javits Act, is an applied research program that develops practices to help teachers identify and serve high-ability students from under-represented populations.
Over the years, Javits research has yielded identification and instructional strategies for disadvantaged students and others who have been underrepresented in gifted and talented education programs, strategies that have also been applied to the general student population. Many of these strategies could be helpful to school districts in Alabama that serve large numbers of low-income students.
Despite this record of success, in 2011, Congress eliminated funding for the Javits program, though it allocated $5 million earlier this year to partially revive it.
Similar to the situation in Alabama, the funding, while welcome, is woefully inadequate to address the needs of all high-ability students across the country. While the Alabama budget for next year is set, lawmakers in Washington could build upon these recent gains and move us toward a long-overdue national commitment to develop our talent.
A half-century ago, our nation recognized that a rigorous commitment to develop our talent was imperative. Concerned about the threat of Soviet dominance in space and technology, the United States created and supported a number of programs intended to innovate our way to success.
This effort paid off. But over time, we took our foot off the gas just as developing nations began investing in talent development. This has resulted in a perfect storm that has seen our own competitiveness plummet while other countries are on an upward march.
The ramifications of our decline can be seen in multiple indicators: declining test scores of our students, a declining percentage of our students scoring at the highest levels compared to those in other nations, a dearth of students interested in and able to study the demanding science and mathematical fields and shortages of qualified workers to hold needed and well-paying jobs.
An effective solution to our talent shortfall requires a renewed national commitment to supporting and developing high levels of talent. This commitment requires the involvement of the public and private sectors and the support of public officials from Washington to the local school district.
At the federal level, lawmakers must build upon the restoration of funding for the Javits program to fully fund it in Fiscal Year 2015. Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, plays a leading role in setting such priorities and should be urged to do so.
Beyond funding, as Congress works to modify the national K-12 education law, it must update reporting and accountability programs to include reporting on the progress of our top performers so the public can see what progress is being made, and must ensure teacher training dollars can be used to train educators to work with gifted learners.
Alabama legislators must build upon the funding of recent years and commit to a multi-year effort to more fully address the needs in the state. Doing so would help ensure that enough specially trained teachers and resources are available across Alabama to support students from all backgrounds and economic circumstances who have the potential to achieve at high levels. The state must also continue supporting opportunities for excellence, including the residential public math and science high school, open to students across the state.
Leaders of the Alabama Association for Gifted Children have met with staff in the governor’s office and with many legislators and other stakeholders to address the needs of the state’s brightest students and their teachers. In these discussions, we have respectfully noted that neighboring states provide far more funding for their gifted programs, placing our students and our state at a disadvantage regionally.
Alabama officials must continue to realize that investing in gifted children is investing in Alabama’s economic future.
Reversing decades of neglect of our high-ability and high-potential students will not happen overnight. But it must begin to happen in a meaningful way if we are serious about regaining our competitive edge.
(Amy Waine is president of the Alabama Association for Gifted Children. Tracy L. Cross is president of the National Association for Gifted as well as the Jody & Layton Smith Professor of Psychology and Gifted Education in the School of Education and executive director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William & Mary.)