Monday, February 20, 2012

Effects of Legislation

According to NAGCs 2010-2011 State of the Nations report,

  • Of the 36 reporting states, 10 provided $0 in state funds to support gifted education in 2010-11; another 4 states spent less than $1 million.
  • Only 15 states make a greater investment in gifted students by spending $10 million or more in state funds.
  • Since the last State of the States report, 14 states have reduced state funding for gifted education.
  • In Wisconsin last year, state funding for GT was $263,500, almost $10,000 less than the year before. The amount for 2011-12 is $237,200.  The funds are disbursed through competitive grants and may only be used for learning opportunities not ordinarily provided in the classroom.   There is no federal funding. 

In Wisconsin this loss combined with the reduction in state aid overall has meant a decrease in staffing and/or staff time devoted to GT.  Some districts have responded by stating that students’ needs for acceleration and enrichment will be met in the regular classroom through differentiated instruction.

While differentiated instruction is a valuable tool in addressing the academic needs of gifted students, it is only effective when teachers are well trained and given time to write differentiated curriculum.  As every teacher knows, differentiating your entire curriculum is a huge, huge job requiring extensive time and effort. 

Many districts have eliminated or significantly reduced funds for professional development and for staff time outside of the classroom to revise curriculum. Remaining funds are frequently reserved for addressing the needs of under-performing students.  Also, the recent collective bargaining legislation assures there are few incentives for teachers to pursue continuing education at their own expense.

Since state law says the school must address the needs of gifted students, parents have a right to know the school's specific plan for providing an appropriate challenge for their child.
Parents can ask for that plan in writing and request periodic updates on how the plan is proceeding, as well as assessments that indicate academic growth of their child.  A teacher who uses differentiated instruction will be able to tell parents how concepts, activities, and products have been structured to meet the needs of children of varying abilities, not just for learning styles or interests.

Additionally, the highest ability students need services beyond the regular differentiated classroom.  Schools must identify those students and assure that there is a consistent and systematic plan for appropriately challenging education.

And it should be noted that while intellectual and academic gifts are most often addressed by differentiated instruction, students with three other areas of giftedness (creativity, leadership, and artistic) must also be identified and provided with appropriate programming by each school district. But GT coordinators and teachers are struggling to keep existing programs in place and it's impossible to expand when funds are scarcer and scarcer.

Sorry for this lengthy entry, but there's been a lot of interest in the effects of recent legislation on gifted education in Wisconsin.  As I begin to collect the stories, it's the frustration of educators and parents alike that have driven this response.

Ever the optimist, I still believe that new life and fresh ideas can sprout from the direst of circumstances!

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