“The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully.” (nagc.org)
Gifted and talented programs have been a part of the American public system since the 19th century. It was once such an important piece of public education that the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Act was passed in 1988 to monitor, preserve and improve the integrity of G&T programs. However despite this act, gifted and talented programing is declining and nonexistent in some states across the nation.
What has happened to G&T programs since 1988? In the early 1990s, it was seen as an imperative aspect of the future of public education. However, due to a combination of confusion about how to define, identify and manage giftedness, lack of funding and program mandates, the proposed vision for enriching G&T programs never fully came to fruition. In large school districts like New York City, this confusion in identification/the lack of funding has resulted in a decline in enrollment and a lack of diversity in the program. As the nation continues to strive to strengthen all public schools as a whole rather than focusing on the top performers, the antithesis of the Jacob Javits Act is occurring. G&T programming is becoming an afterthought and talented children are being left behind.
The Ebb & Flow of G & T Programming Post-Jacob Javits
The 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk (ANAR) revealed that public education in the United States was failing talented American children. A Nation At Risk was an assessment of the American public education system that was conducted by the National Commission on Education under President Ronald Reagan’s administration. It used data from various standardized exams like the Standardized Aptitude Test (SATs) and surveys to make a poignant statement. The report was very blunt and simple to read and it outlined ways that the country could improve public education. As one of the world’s superpowers, American children were not performing on the same level as their international counterparts and standardized test performance was dismal (NCEE 1983). For the first time in American history, the report revealed that this generation of students “will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents” (NCEE, 12).A Nation at Risk pointed out that there was a lack of “specialists in education for gifted and talented” despite the abundance of regular teachers (NCEE, 20). Furthermore “ over half the population of gifted students does not match their tested ability with comparable achievement in school” (NCEE, 11). With the use of such disparaging language, the nation needed to make a change in the quality of the public school education – especially for gifted students.A Nation at Risk also states that “over half the population of gifted students do not match the tested ability with comparable achievement in school” and that “gifted students may need a curriculum enriched and accelerated beyond the needs of other students of high ability (8, 24).
After ANAR, a period of gifted education reform was in place. Three years before the passage of the Jacob Javits Act (in 1985), Carter and Hamilton asserted that schools in the 1980s saw gifted programs as “educational frills” (14). When budget cuts were put into place, many gifted and talented programs were the first to go. Carter and Hamilton explain that “ those recommending the elimination of gifted programs typically believe the gifted can reach their potential without special help” (14). Additionally, there was a fear that “intellectualism may lead to elitism” (Russo,730.)However, these assertions were refuted with the information provided by ANAR. If the America failed to foster the intellectual advancement of its brightest students, it would quickly fall behind other industrialized nations. Advocates of gifted education asserted that these bright students were “a wasted resource” if they were not challenged with tailor-made programs. Carter and Hamilton accurately predicted that school boards would not simply fund gifted programs because it is a “good idea”. Instead, “the decision to fund or not to fund will depend more and more on program effectiveness, as measured by student outcomes” (Carter and Hamilton,14).
As a result, the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Act was passed in 1988 as a component of the Elementary and Secondary Act (nagc.org). Under this legislation, the Javits Act was supposed to change the standard of gifted education. According to the National Association for Gifted Children’s website,
“The purpose of the Act is to orchestrate a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities that build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special educational needs of gifted and talented students. “ (nagc.org).
Additionally, the Act intended to use the research from the newly instated National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) to improve the identification process of students who are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs. More often than not, poor/minority students were not included in programs due to the entry criteria. Through the money that would be awarded to the program annually by congress, the Javits program would be able to support different state programs that would improve G&T education.
In 1993, a follow-up to ANAR entitled National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent was released under Richard Riley (the new secretary of education). Even though this was 5 years after the passage of the Jacob Javits Act, the quality of gifted programs across in nation still had major issues. In the Forward of National Excellence, Riley calls this the “quiet crisis” (1). Although the American public was successfully made aware of the needs of G&T students and there was an increase in the amount of programs, some problems still remained. In comparison to other countries, American students were still being outperformed “at all levels” (National Excellence,1). The report also asserted that although there were some strong gifted and talented programs in the country, they were “limited in scope and substance” and most gifted students were not receiving the attention they needed (National Excellence,4). Special accommodations were not being created to offer gifted students a more rigorous education. Instead of focusing on academic “excellence”, there was too much focus placed on “adequacy” (National Excellence,4). Furthermore, the only available national survey at the time showed that a mere “2 cents out of every $100 spent on K-12 education in 1990” supported gifted students. Once again, due to the lack of a nation-wide mandate to identify and provide services to gifted students, some states failed to provide a significant amount of funding for the existing programs. For example as shown in Chart 1,
in 1996 New York provided $14.3 million to G&T programs. In Florida (a state with a similar amount of inhabitants), $146.9 million was provided (Jost, 268). Consequently, the quality and scope of the programs in these states could be on completely different levels. The $9 million budget of the Jacob Javits program was only used for research and demonstration grants at this time, and was not nearly enough to support or mitigate the disparities across the nation (nagc.org).
In addition, the talents of disadvantaged and minority students were going “unnoticed” and they received “fewer advanced educational opportunities” (National Excellence, 3). Students of color and those with lower socioeconomic statuses were less likely to be a part of the existing G&T programs.This was due to the wide array of identification methods. The term gifted was seen as controversial and all states are not mandated to identify gifted students. The states that have chosen to at least identify students can use any method of their choice (aptitude assessments, teacher recommendations, performance assessments, behavioral checklists etc.) (Brown et.al,9). More often than not, the states use aptitude assessments for identification. These exams may be biased and unable to identify all aspects of giftedness (Brown et. al). Therefore, social stratification can be perpetuated since students of color and lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not perform as well on these exams as their white/more affluent counterparts. Also, Local Education Agencies are not mandated to follow their state’s definition of giftedness so the definition may vary and exclude some students (nagc.org). Nevertheless, some strides in G & T programs were made within five years after this report was published. In 1998, the NAGC created official guidelines for Pre-K – 12 Grade students (nagc.org). The diversity of the existing programs, however, would continue to be disappointing.
By the new millennium, G&T programs began to decrease due to budget cuts, issues with identification methods, and the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB was passed in 2002 under the administration of former President George W. Bush. American public school students were still not performing at high or proficient levels on national exams. NCLB mandated that all states would have to demonstrate that their students were performing at grade level through stat-administered exams.Otherwise, they would be restructured or shut down if they continually showed no improvement annually over a span of 6 years (today.duke.edu). As a result of NCLB, many schools turned the focus to low-performing students and began to use funding to support them rather than the high-achieving gifted students. According to Stephens and Rigabee,
“As a result (of NCLB), schools are unintentionally guided to focus on remediation rather than on acceleration and enrichment. National budget figures since 1988 reveal that less than one percent of federal education dollars have been devoted to gifted and talented education.” (today.duke.edu).
The act also revised the Jacob Javits to allow the program to give some funds to statewide grants for G &T programs (nagc.org). In 2002, Jacob Javits received $11.25 million (a $3.75 million increase from 2001). Five years later, it was decreased to $9.25 million. Although the scope of the act increased, funds for the program would continue to decrease. Although the Jacob Javits program was not created to fund all programs across the country, the variance in allocations shows instability. Therefore, research projects and grants for programming were hindered.
By 2007, very little changed and the picture of G&T programs continued to be bleak. A report conducted by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) revealed that only 11 out of 29 states that mandated the identification of gifted students “provided funds to school systems to specifically support the gifted” (today.duke.edu). The report also showed that 14 states spent “less that $500,000 per year on gifted education, with eight states expending $0” (duke.today.edu). Today, G & T programs still face the same issues 24 years later. According to the National Society for the Gifted and Talented website (NSGT) , “An emphasis on raising test scores for under-performing children, the elimination of gifted programs and classes in schools, and an overall tendency in our society to be ambivalent about high academic and artistic performance are undermining the development of children with great potential.” (nsgt.org). The NSGT website also points out that out of 3 million gifted students in grades K-12 in the United States, “only perhaps a quarter have been identified and receive support” (nsgt.org). Furthermore out of this small group (see Image 1), ¼ of gifted students across the nation are Hispanic or African American, while ¾ of them are White or Asian (cec.org).
The Jacob Javits program was created in part to help identify and serve students who are “disabled, economically disadvantaged and English language learners” and to assist G&T programs who request funds (Bainbridge, giftedkids.about.com.) Despite this fact, the Jacob Javits program was defunded completely under President Obama between 2011 and 2013 due to significant budget cuts and the downturn of the economy (Bainbridge, giftedkids.about.com). The administration decided that states would still support G &T programs without the additional funds.
Some parents of gifted students are becoming so frustrated with the lack of programs at neighborhood public schools and they looked for alternatives (Rogers, 2002). In some cases, some parents “have sued school districts to get assistance through the court system…” (Rogers, xvi). However, Rogers goes on to explain that while the court “can be helpful in those states that mandate gifted educational services”, it was not as useful in states that do not have mandates for gifted students (xvi). In the most recent voluntary survey conducted by NAGC for the 2012-2013 school year, the following information was gathered (nagc.org):
- Out of 43 states that responded to the question “Does the state have mandate for GT Identification or Services?” , 32 states mandate identification and/or service for G &T students
- Out of the 32 states that responded the question “What areas are included in the mandate?”, 28 mandate identification, 26 mandate services, 9 mandate “other” programs (not clear what that means), and 1 did not specify
- Out of the 30 states that responded to the question “Does the state fund the mandate?”, 18 receive partial funding , 8 receive no funding, and 4 receive full funding.
These discouraging numbers highlight the issues with G& T programing.In the states that did respond, we see that there is a range between those who receive full/partial funding and those who mandate service and/or identification. Without federal mandates, states are not even required to respond to NAGC surveys. Without full participation, how are G &T programs supposed to make improvements? This shows that G&T programming are clearly no longer a focus and as a result, they are on the decline across the nation. If we look at a specific, large school district like New York, it is clear there is a plethora of issues that plague the existing programs.
New York City: A Case of Identification and Funding Issues
As shown in the previous section,there are significant issues with funding, identification of gifted students, and the racial/economic demographics of existing G& T programs. In New York City,there has been numerous reports of the disparities and social stratification that are present in the decreasing amount of services for gifted students.This is a major issue in g &t programming, and it plays major role in its decline.
Before looking at some of the most recent issues, it is important to note that there is very little data on gifted programs in NYC. As late as 2013, the state has refused to provide the “racial demographics of the g&t programs and the schools that provide them” (Baker, nytimes.com).
As shown in Image 2 (from 2008), students in districts that are 1)predominately Black or Hispanic 2)economically disadvantaged do not have as much access to gifted programs in their district (see link to map http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/01/13/nyregion/a-racial-gap-in-gifted-programs.html?ref=education) . As explained by Al Baker’s January 12, 2013 NY Times article “Gifted, Talented and Separated”, gifted children that are in schools that reflect the racial demographic of the city are predominately white or Hispanic. When I searched on the NAGC website, there was no information on NYC’s current G &T practices since the state did not conduct the optional surveys. According to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development website,
New York does not mandate gifted programing or funding (davidsongifted.org). Using P.S 163 as an example Baker explains,
“There are 652 students enrolled at P.S. 163 this year, from prekindergarten through fifth grade. Roughly 63 percent of them are black and Hispanic; whites make up 27percent;and Asians account for 6 percent.Yet in P.S. 163’s gifted classes, the racial dynamics of the neighborhood, the school itself and the school system are turned upside down.Of the 205 children enrolled in the nine gifted classes, 97, or 47 percent, are white; another 31 of the students, or 15 percent, are Asian. And a combined 65 students, or 32 percent, are black and Hispanic.In the 21 other classes that enroll the school’s remaining 447 students, only80, or 18 percent, are white.” (nytimes.com)
These disparities match the G&T programs across the city. Many critics of the NYC Gifted program argue that the admission standards “favor middle-class children, many of them white or Asian, over black and Hispanic children who might have equal promise, and that the programs create castes within schools” (Baker, nytimes.com). The NYC Department of Education has tried to mitigate these issues by changing the criteria in 2008.NYC has both district and city wide programs. District programs begin in kindergarten and continue on the last grade of the school and only take students that live in that district. City wide programs that accept students from all across the city (schools.nyc.gov).
Prior to changes put in place in 2008 by former Mayor Bloomberg , the city’s 32 districts were able to create their own criteria for admission. According to Baker, “They varied, but educators often took a holistic approach” and “they looked at evaluations from teachers and classroom observations, relying on tests only in part, by comparing the results of students from within a district” (Baker, nytimes.com). However, this changed and the admission criteria became solely based on standardized exams. In 2008, students were offered seats in the gifted programs by scoring above the 90th percentile on the standardized Olsat (reasoning) exam and Bracken School Readiness Assessment. This criteria ” was lowered from 95th percentile because too few children met the higher standard” (Gootman and Gebeloff, nytimes.com). However, a study conducted by the NY times showed that “under the new policy, children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots.” (Gootman and Gebeloff, nytimes.com) .
Only 9% of students in the gifted program were Hispanic, 13% Black and 28% Asian while 50 % were white. (Gootman and Gebeloff, nytimes.com). Additionally, the gifted programs began to shrink in 2008 and only 1,305 kindergarteners and first graders were admitted (a 1,373 decrease from 2007). However, 16,324 students applied for the program in 2008, which shows the high demand of the program and the lack of available services (Gootman and Gebeloff, nytimes.com). Gootman and Gebeloff go on to show that gifted enrollment has been on the decline since there is no wait list for the “most popular programs” as there were in the past (nytimes.com).
Currently, the city maintains the 90th percentile cut off for admission to district programs and a cutoff at the 97th percentile for citywide and district G&T programs .NYC faces a lack of funding and structure for the identification for the program since G& T programing is not mandated.Although the Braken School Readiness Assessment was replaced in 2013 with the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, the number of children (especially students of color ),declined this year (Baker, nytimes.com). The NYCDepartment of Education plans to continue to reassess the admission criteria. Only time will tell what will happen to G &T programs as time goes on and if all students will be equally served.
With the focus on raising academic achievement for all students, G&T programs are losing momentum, funding and enrollment across the country. Until a national mandate is put into place, G & T students will continue to be left behind and students from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to be underrepresented. From ’88 to the new millennium, gifted and talented programs have gone from being a point of focus to an afterthought. After 24 years of ebbs and flows, the goals of the Jacob Javits program have not fully materialized.
A Case for Developing America’s Talent. Washington. DC: Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Dept. of Education, 1993. Print.