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A Celebration of Educating Gifted, Talented Children

A Celebration of Educating Gifted, Talented Children

When people around the world think of Kentucky, the first image that likely comes to mind for many is that of thoroughbreds racing down the track at Churchill Downs.

But while being home to many of the world’s foremost race horses will always be a legacy of ours, next week, Kentucky will be hosting an international event that recognizes our state’s longstanding leadership in developing another talent — our high-ability and high-potential students.

Next week, Louisville will be the host city of the 2013 gathering of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, a biennial event hosted in cities around the world that brings together hundreds of the world’s leaders in gifted and talented education. Attendees from 40 industrial and developing countries will share their expertise and experiences in meeting the needs of advanced students.

Kentucky’s selection as the host city for this conference is testament to our state’s leadership in serving these learners. Our state definition of gifted and talented students includes those with demonstrated and potential ability to perform at high levels in academic subjects, creativity, leadership, and in the arts. Our state also requires that districts provide gifted education services to students identified as gifted and provides some funding to support this work.

While too many other states provide no funding to support delivery of gifted education services and some don’t even require that any services be provided, Kentucky provides guidelines to support student identification, requires that teachers of gifted students have specialized training and requires districts to have a gifted education administrator to coordinate this work.

Perhaps the most exciting development for gifted education in Kentucky is the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science. Now beginning its seventh year, the residential school serves our state’s most outstanding students in math and science who spend their junior and senior years in high school immersed in college courses. The academy enables our brightest students from across the state to go deeper and farther in these subjects than is possible in their home schools. Indeed, earlier this year, the academy was named by Newsweekmagazine as the nation’s top public high school for the second year running and has consistently earned other accolades.

But while Kentucky is one state that leads by action, our national performance is not so sterling despite a once-vaunted commitment to nurturing our top academic talent. Born out of necessity during the early days of the Cold War more than a half century ago, this commitment catapulted our nation to decades of superiority as the world’s leading innovator and set the foundation for many of the technological advancements that are common to our everyday life.

About three decades ago, however, observers began noticing chinks in that commitment to high achievement. Today, those fissures have expanded to sinkhole-size proportions as reflected by several indicators, notably the outperformance of U.S. students by their global counterparts on international benchmarks and a widening achievement gap in the U.S. between advanced students from disadvantaged settings and their more affluent peers. Simply put, other nations are doing a better job in building the pipeline of support that leads to high achievement for more students.

While many public officials bemoan these shortcomings and urge corrective action, their action or inaction has exacerbated the situation. For example, three years ago, Congress eliminated funding for the Jacob Javits program, the lone national program focused on identifying and educating high-ability students from disadvantaged settings — to ensure that those students had the opportunity to maximize their talents. Western Kentucky University and Warren County Public Schools worked together under a Javits program grant to explore ways to provide high level science and math instruction for high potential elementary children, including those from low-income families and those in which English is not the first language.

In spite of the classroom innovations that have resulted from Javits Act research, and in spite of the need to develop high levels of talent in every population of students, the Javits program remains unfunded by Congress. Thankfully, last month, a key Senate committee restored funding for this program within a bill to fund the Department of Education in the coming fiscal year.

When Congress returns from its summer recess, Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers — who chairs the House Appropriations Committee — is well-positioned to influence whether this funding remains or, once again, gets cut.

There is no shortage of complex issues facing Congressman Rogers and his colleagues. But while it’s easy to lose sight of relatively modest programs of a few million dollars when debating budgets in the trillions, doing so is a detriment to our nation’s future prosperity.

Taxes, Social Security, Medicare, and other issues may grab the headlines, but programs like Javits that help lay a foundation upon which our future can be built must be properly supported if we are to reverse the downward trend in high achievement among U.S. students and reclaim our competitive edge as the world’s leading innovator.

Julia Link Roberts is the Mahurin Professor of Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University, executive director of The Center for Gifted Studies at WKU and executive director of the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science.Nancy Green is Executive Director of the National Association for Gifted Children in Washington, D.C.

To see the article on the Courier Journal's website, please click here.

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 Last Modified 7/23/13