What if Special Education Students got Gifted Education Treatment?
Every Bell curve has two tails. Every line has two ends. In education, we have special needs students and gifted needs students*. What if we switched the treatment for those groups?
First, we’ll guarantee every academically or creatively gifted student a “Free Appropriate Public Education”. Special education students will have no such guarantee, but be subject to a patchwork of state laws and district policies. Some states will have great laws for special education students. Some will have none. Some districts will have magnet classrooms. Some will have a failed policy of differentiation.
Second, the funding will be exchanged. State and federal funding will be approximately $50 billion for gifted students, averaging an extra $5,918 per gifted student. For special education students, federal funding this year would total $5 million, or 1/10,000 the funding for gifted students. Depending on how special education students are counted, this could be less than $2 of funding per student. State laws will vary greatly. Some will fully fund special education. Others will provide no funding whatsoever, even if there is a state mandate requiring some special education services.
Third, all gifted students will be identified through well-constructed tests and metrics that determine their areas and levels of academic giftedness and creativity. To best suit their individual needs, categories of mildly, highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted will be recorded and schools will test for abilities in individual subjects, recognizing that a student can have high ability in one area but not in another. Special needs students will sometimes be identified, lumped into a single level of special needs, and only be considered for special education if they exhibit disabilities in all areas.
Fourth, every teacher will be required to take a college course on gifted and creative learners and frequent professional development will be provided regarding gifted education. Learning consultants and para-professionals will be available to assist with gifted education. Unfortunately, no colleges will require prospective teachers to take a course in special education and most won’t even offer such a course as an elective.
Fifth, each gifted learner will be under an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This program will be established through meetings with the parents, teachers, learning consultants, gifted education teachers, and any other necessary personnel. Annual goals will be established and education provided will be measured against these goals. Special education parents will have to hope that they get a sympathetic teacher who will attempt to make some accommodations to meet each child’s individual needs. The school will not be accountable to meeting goals and progress may or may not be measured and recorded. Services provided will vary greatly each year based on the teacher’s beliefs about special education and the commitment of the school.
Sixth, gifted parents will have a Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) to work with the school district for ” the purpose of obtaining the finest programs and services available.” There will be an understanding that parents of gifted students bring a unique perspective and provide necessary information on providing gifted services. Parents of special needs students will not have a representative committee, will receive limited information about district plans regarding special education, and will rarely have their input sought. Only after policies have been developed will special education parents be notified of the changes that will affect their children.
Would you be outraged at how we now treated our special education students? I certainly would be and I think that most parents, even those without special needs students would be.
The above was very simplified and not meant diminish the struggles that special education parents often face with schools or the real difficulties encountered raising a special needs child. It is a recognition that the attitudes, policies, and experiences encountered in the schools are very different for special education and gifted education families.
It was just a mental exercise. I don’t suggest ANY reduction to special education funding or services, just that we recognize that there is another group of students that desperately needs funding and services. We should be outraged when our schools are failing to appropriately educate any students, regardless of what their needs are.
According to the 1972 Marland Report, Education of the gifted and talented: Report to the Congress of the United States by the U.S. Commissioner of Education, “Gifted and Talented children are, in fact, deprived and can suffer psychological damage and permanent impairment of their abilities to function well which is equal to or greater than the similar deprivation suffered by any other population with special needs served by the Office of Education.” Although the former U.S. Commissioner of Education recognized the needs of gifted learners, the federal government has not followed up with appropriate measures.
Some states have recognized that gifted education is a form of special education and have incorporated gifted services into their special education services. Gifted advocates and special education advocates are allies, both trying to change a one-size-fits-all system to accommodate children who learn differently.
Public education must have a commitment to all students. When it fails to appropriately educate a group of students, it is failing in its mission and needs to be held accountable. Educators need to be trained to meet the needs, districts must develop policies and procedures, and budgets crafted to meet the needs of both gifted and special education students. I hope this exercise will help others understand the enormous work that still needs to be done to meet the needs of gifted learners.
*What about twice-exceptional students who are both gifted and special needs? For purposes of this exercise, switch how those needs are treated. 2E parents probably understand the difference in treatment better than most. Often 2E children receive services for their special needs, but not for their giftedness or may be excluded from gifted programs due to their special needs.
Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE. Together we can make a difference for gifted children!