By Trent Cash (December 17) In my last blog I delved into the science behind how gifted students differ from their neurotypical peers and argued for why gifted students deserve to have their unique needs recognized in the classroom. In this post, I explore the ways that our educational system attempts to meet these needs – so policy wonks, stay tuned.
For starters, let’s talk about how gifted education works in our ever-complicated federalist system. At the federal level, gifted students are recognized as having unique needs, but the U.S. Department of Education provides no specifics about how gifted students should be educated. Aside from this recognition of giftedness, the federal government also funds the Javits Research Grant, a grant that funds research on all things gifted.
Not unlike the majority of education policy, most of the decision-making power related to giftedness falls to the states. This devolution of power results in very different approaches to how gifted students are identified and served across state lines. The Davidson Institute provides a great state-by-state breakdown of these policies. To summarize the information provided by Davidson, the table below depicts each state’s mandate and funding policies in a simple 2×2 grid.
|Funded (Partial of Full)
|(28) AL, AR, CO, FL*, GA*, HI, ID, IN, IA*, KS, KY, LA, ME, MN, MS, NE, NV, NM, NC, OK*, OH, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA, WV, WI||(5) CA, MO, ND, UT, WY|
|Unfunded||(10) AK, AZ, DE, IL, MD, MT, NJ, OR, PA, RI||(8) CT, DC, MA, MI, NH, NY, SD, VT|
Whether or not states mandate and/or fund gifted services has two major implications. First, variations by state mean that gifted students living in different states can receive very different treatment when it comes to their gifted education. This is particularly alarming when students move across state lines. For example, a student who receives gifted services in Florida could move to Connecticut and receive no gifted services whatsoever.
Beyond state-by-state differences, the decision to mandate and/or fund gifted education can lead to differences in how gifted education is distributed within a state. Students in low-poverty schools are almost twice as likely to participate in gifted programs than students in high-poverty schools, even though high and low-poverty schools offer gifted programming at the same rate. While the cause of this gap is unknown, the matter of funding could be a factor. If gifted education is not funded by the state, districts with more robust local funding may be able to provide more-comprehensive gifted education programs, thus increasing parents’ desire to enroll their students in these programs.
Gifted education in Ohio
So what does gifted education look like in Ohio? Ohio mandates and partially funds gifted education (about 2/3 of gifted expenditures in Ohio are funded by the state) – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ohio’s mandate only calls for gifted identification, not programming. This means that public school districts are required to test all students for gifted identification and alert parents if their child is gifted, but they are not required to provide unique accommodations or programs. Identification practices vary by district, but each district is required to provide whole-grade screening once between K-2nd grade and once between 3rd-6th grade, with two additional sessions each year for students who are referred for testing. Beyond identification, districts have no legal responsibility to provide gifted services.
This kind of policy overlooks the unique needs of gifted students. Policies of this nature are likely underscored by misconceptions about gifted children, such as the idea that gifted programming is “elitist” or “just icing on the cake.” The truth is, high-quality gifted programming is essential for meeting not only the intellectual needs of gifted students, but their social and emotional needs as well. So, is it fair that about half of Ohio’s gifted students aren’t receiving at all?
To put this issue into a local context, Columbus City Schools has identified 4,791 gifted students throughout the district, but only provides services to 1,752 (36.5%) of them. This rate of services makes Columbus about average for large-city school districts in Ohio. The following table summarizes identification and service data for the seven largest cities in Ohio, as reported in the Ohio Department of Education’s Gifted Rankings for 2018. For comparison, state totals have been included.
|Seven Largest Cities||16,837||5,843||35%|
|All Ohio Districts||244,777||133,244||54%|
|New Albany- Plain Local||1657||1650||99.6%|
|Ottawa Hills Local||576||120||21%|
|Five Wealthiest Districts||4,524||3,785||84%|
|All Ohio Districts||244,777||133,244||54%|
As you can see, the disparity between large, urban school districts and wealthy, suburban districts is massive when it comes to gifted education. This disparity implies that when gifted services are not mandated by the state, schools that have the resources to offer gifted programs will offer them, whereas schools that lack the resources simply won’t (although there will be exceptions like Dayton). Aside from the base-level concern that so many gifted students are not receiving the services they need, this disparity could also play a role in perpetuating the lack of access to gifted programming among students of color – a reality known as the gifted gap.
All things considered, I believe that Ohio still has a long way to go in creating an educational system that can truly meet the needs of gifted students throughout the state. Not only do we need to focus our effort on creating more gifted programming in general, but we need to ensure that these programs are distributed equitably so that all gifted students – regardless of socioeconomic background – have their unique needs met both inside and outside of the classroom.
Recent changes to Ohio’s Gifted Operating Standards that require all teachers who work with gifted students to engage in gifted-centric professional development are a step in the right direction – but we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a truly gifted-friendly state.
If these statistics have inspired you to want to fight for the rights of gifted students in Ohio and beyond, I recommend checking out these blogs from the Institute for Educational Attainment and the National Association for Gifted Children on how to advocate for the gifted. Together we can work towards a future where ALL gifted students receive the support they .
The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position or views of the Crane Center.