Talented and Gifted Education vs. Remedial Education

According to this article, in 2006 the Department of Education (US) spent approximately $84 billion. How much of that money would you guess went to improve the education of gifted students? Probably less than you think: $9.6 million, about one-hundredth of 1% of the budget. Think that’s bad? In 2007 the DoE spent NOTHING on it – zip, zilch, nada.

Is this something we should be concerned about? In education debates, you hear a lot about our struggling, underperforming students, but you don’t often hear about our smartest students – the ones on the far right hand of the bell curve, so to speak. The consensus seems to be that they’ll muddle through somehow, while resources and energy are drained away to try to raise everyone else’s test scores to some middling level. Even the author of the above linked article takes a rather sanguine view: he seems confident that the parents of most gifted students will take care of their education, or, alternatively, that “someone” will at some point point them towards college.

But is this true? I know a woman whose specialization is in talented and gifted education, and she’s not as complacent about the situation: her experience in the field is one of shrinking or cancelled programs, bored students in classrooms teaching below their level, and, in extreme cases, gifted students dropping out of school due to years of being bored and unchallenged.

In contrast, remedial and special education courses seem to get unduly large attention. The above article does not state how much of the DoE’s budget is spent on remedial education, but my personal experience may be illustrative. I’ve been substitute teaching for the past couple months in a fairly typical, east-coast school district. When I signed up to substitute, I was invited to list three course or subject areas I would particularly be interested to sub in, and my preferences would try to be accommodated when being given assignments. One of my preferences was talented and gifted or honors classes. Well, in the three months I’ve been subbing I’ve never been called for a TAG program, and only twice have I ever subbed for an honors or AP class in the high school. In contrast, about 40% of my assignments have been in remedial or special education classes. A coincidence, perhaps, but then, you have to sub where the teachers are: in the middle school I most often sub at, there are relatively lavish remedial and special ed programs, with multiple teachers and teacher aids for all grade levels. In some cases, aids are hired to follow around individual students who are particularly slow or disruptive – literally, full time adults who are paid to give indidual attention to one student, all day long, five days a week. (I’ve subbed in these positions several times.) Remedial classes are held every day, for all core subjects.

In contrast, that same middle school has one talented and gifted teacher for the whole school; TAG classes are treated as an elective and only meet once or twice a week, and are often pre-empted by special events and school assemblies. (In my own childhood, TAG classes were held in a converted janitor’s room, and consisted mostly of a couple students crowded around a computer playing “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. I don’t know how extensive the remedial classes were at that school.) To make matters worse, the students’ regular classes are not at all differentiated by ability level, except, again for the slowest students, who spend most of the day in remedial ed.

Should we be concerned about this huge imbalance of attention and resources? Ideally, of course, we could lavish similar amounts of attention on students of all levels, but resources are limited, and we have to pick and choose. Would it be fair to cut back on our remedial classes and spend more resources on identifying and challenging our brightest students? What more could or should we do to help the smartest kids in our schools?

I note in passing that even that gifted and talented program that was cancelled this year had as its “major emphasis” the closing of the achievement gap between “certain groups of students” at the highest level of achievement. A fine goal, but does this mean that there isn’t even a single program strictly and solely aimed at helping those students who are already at those “highest levels of achievement”?

Well, what do you consider the government’s role in education to be? Thomas Jefferson was of the opinion that the goal of government sponsored education was to prepare people to be a “safe repository of the ultimate powers of the society”. The actual quote is:

“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
–Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820.

If the purpose of education is to prepare the electorate for citizenship then “gifted and talented” programs are overkill. If there are students who can benefit from extra education that’s a job for private monies. They already know enough to vote with discretion.

On the other hand remedial education is required to ensure that people can get enough education to be functioning members of the electorate. It’s either that or take the vote away from them.

Well, perhaps we could combine them, to a limited degree. One friend of mine enjoyed an interesting program: the advanced and slow students were grouped together. The advanced students learned concepts quickly; the slow students did not. The advaned students then taught it to the slow. The quick mastered it fully, with the result that both groups were above average (to differing degrees, of course) by the end of the school year.

This may imply that, at least when dealing with moderately slow students needing more help, that their ultimate level of mastery is not really any lower than average. They simply do not respond well to large group classrooms and impersonal teaching.

As for extremely disruptive students, I can’t really give a good accounting.

Who cares what the federal Dept. of Ed spent? It accounts for very little of overall spending on education (around 10%, IIRC). Furthermore, most of the federal programs dealing with education are geared towards poor students (Title I funds) or special education.

You seem to think that if the feds don’t fund something it is gone forever. If the feds don’t fund a program it only means that a program gets no federal money. States and local school districts can fund gifted and talented programs if they want.

Let us assume, for the sake of discussion, that the overall funding from all sources is similar to the Federal numbers. Accept also that gifted kids need particular resources or else they will flounder out of boredom. Is the discrepency so unreasonable?

First off, by definition “gifted” really should apply to only a small percentage of the population. Of course every town is full of women who are strong, men who are good looking and every child who is gifted, but those who need extra services lest they flounder are all much smaller number. Seriously, my 12 year old is bright, but “gifted”? By school definition yes, but not really. Meanwhile kids challanged by LD or by delays or by behavioral issues are more numerous. Some gifted kids even also qualify as a member of one or more of those groups as well.

Secondly, giving those gifted kids more demanding material does not require a huge one on one staff requirement. They merely need one teacher for a pull-out or some individualized assignments within the mainstream curriculum. In contrast those other groups need much more time from various staff services.

So no I do not find “this huge imbalance of attention and resources” troubling or unreasonable at all. Implementation on both ends is sometimes wanting, but that is a matter of execution more than overall needs of the different populations. IMHO.

I’m not an educational theorist, but count me skeptical. What good does it do the smarter kid if, once he’s mastered a concept, he has to slow down and spend time teaching it to the slower kid instead of moving right on to the next challenge? I would think this would be even worse for the smart kids than just whiling away in the average classroom – the pace of learning would be set by the slowest kids in the room. It sounds like a very frustrating system to me. Add in that smart kids are not necessarily good teachers and may be intimidated by teaching their peers, and it sounds like you’d end up with smart kids doing the work for two people. Any teachers with more experience in this?

What do you need a teacher’s opinion for - you’ve easily figured out it’s crap on your own.

You’re right, and I’m not sure how to find the information on how much money local school districts spend on remedial vs. gifted education compared to the federal government. (Which is why I included my own personal experiences and observations in local schools, and those of the professional woman I referenced, however imprecise that information may be.) In this thread, in which the topic comes up somewhat tangentially, Zoe cites figures (by memory, unfortunately) that “for every $100 spent on children with learning disabilities, three cents is spent on gifted students,” though it’s not clear even there if she’s talking about federal funds, local funds or what.

But even if we do only consider federal funds, the question remains: why the big imbalance? Why is no federal money being spent on gifted education?

In an utilinarian sense, money would be better spent on gifted students. Money spent on “slow” students might lift them up to average levels. Money spent on gifted students might lift them up to much higher levels. And society would benefit more from the future potential of these people than it will from the future potential of additional “average” people.

Politics probably. Few people want to see their tax money being spent on people who already have an advantage. Funding a gifted child program is basically saying, “we’re giving these kids more money because they’re worth more than your kids” - it may be true but it’s not going to be popular.

Because education is not really a federal concern. The federal government got involved in education spending in the 1950’s, IIRC, in order to give funds to school districts that had large military installations or Indian reservations because these districts were losing money due to the fact that federal land does not pay property taxes (Impact Aid). Then in the Great Society the feds decided to give money to districts that had a large number of poor kids in them (Title I funds). Then in the 70’s the feds said that any school districts that accept federal funds had to provide a free and appropriate public education to kids with disabilities. As part of that, the feds gave money to school districts to help with this.

The latter two are the main federal expenditures on education. Other programs grew up since the 70’s as one Senator or Congressman decided that his/her favorit cause (gifted and talented education, civic education, etc.) should be encouraged through grants from the federal government. These are much smaller programs, though, and are not as extensive as Title I or special ed funding.

So, basically, little or no money is spent on gifted/talented education because it is not the job of the federal government to do so. It’s like asking why the feds don’t give more money to home ec or shop programs. Federal education funding was never intended to pay for every program offered in a school.

Well, I suppose that might be a decent argument for how federal money is spent on education, if that is indeed the government’s goal, but I think it makes for poor educational policy on the ground level. I guess the crux of the matter is whether or not local dollars are making up the difference and doing their best to educated the gifted; my observations say “no,” but I’ll try to find some figures to back it up one way or the other.

I’m not a teacher, but I have lots of experience. My school district has an advocacy group for parents of GATE kids, and I was on the board. This involved a lot of interactions with our district GATE person (used to be full time, now 4 days a week.) Both my kids were GATE identified. We sponsored lots of talks by outside experts for our parents on GATE issues. I owned the membership list (we usually had over 200 dues paying members) and I read their concerns on their form.

The GATE experts specifically said that smiling bandit’s idea is just plain awful. Let me put it in a way that most of America can understand. Say you have a group of students selected for the football team, guys who are fast, agile, strong, well coordinated. Then you have a group of dweebs like I was - weak, slow uncoordinated. How would you feel about the football team, instead of practicing their skills, spent all their time trying to get the dweebs to become good football players.

Wouldn’t it be better to have each kid get the training best suited for him or her?

The buzzword in our district was differentiation - which is exactly that. One specific example our GATE specialist advocated is that kids should be pretested on their spelling words, and those who got them all right should be given an assignment that would be useful, and excused from the writing the words in sentences busy work.

The philosophy seems to be mixing kids in classrooms, and expecting the teachers to have 30 different lesson plans. Nice in theory, but probably not likely to happen in practice.

If we treated smart kids half as well as we treated athletic kids - especially in the area of awards and recognition - we’d be in much better shape.

As for the OP, I’m sorry to say that even if there were federal funding, I think it would be wasted unless schools were serious about gifted education. California gives some money - I think it amounts to $12 - $30 a student per year, which can be amassed and used for some special activity. Not very much, and I know a lot of the schools don’t really care about it. I was on the site council of our high school. One of the requirments for the money was to have a GATE plan signed, and our principal basically didn’t think the small amount of money was worth the effort.

Most of the issue is at the elementary level. In junior high and high school there are honors classes, which GATE identified kids have guaranteed access to, but which aren’t exclusive to them. Our AP classes are open to all. This seems to work reasonably well - but don’t get me started on kids who don’t want to take honors classes because they think they’d have better grades in regular classes.

No, society would benefit more with a higher universal standard of “average” than it would from dramatic discrepancies in educational levels.

Well, the actual plan for mixing advanced and slow students was not to have the gifted students redo mastered material, but to give them extra practice once it was taught. For teachers, there was less time spent directly teaching and more spent on moving from group to group helping out as needed. The small groups developed their skills together - the quick picked up the knack and tried it out many times, so they were much better than they otherwise would have been. I don’t know that it’s a good idea, but I’m not certain it was a bad idea.

In any case, I should probably point out that these were not “developmentally challenged” cases. The students were slower and had trouble learning, but were not neccessarrily less intelligent than their peers. They simply didn’t learn well in classroom settings (which is not uncommon, really). I did not propose mixing advanced and incapable students.

I didn’t think you were talking about incapable students - perhaps my analogy overstressed by feebleness. :slight_smile: Another thing the experts stressed is that the proper “enriched” homework for GATE students is not to assign 60 math problems from the back of the chapter because they can do them twice as fast, but to assign enriched problems. They often don’t need the extra practice.

Besides that, I think it might be a bit insulting to teachers (not intentional, I’m sure) to state that ten year old GATE students can do a good job teaching average kids. In my experience, just the opposite. One big reason I did not choose to pursue an academic career is that I found that I saw stuff very differently from the students I taught when I was a TA and an instructor. I was fine when I taught the brilliant kids I had in my classes, but I sucked at teaching the average ones. How is a kid who just sees the answer to a math problem going to take other kids through all the steps? I’ve never heard this kind of program involve instruction on how to teach for the kids.

Again, it falls down to what you consider the proper role of government to be. Are we going to fund each student to achieve her highest potential? That’s a lot of money and individualized programs for everyone. Do we sort out the top 10 percent, call them gifted and talented and spend additional money on them? What about the gifted art student or musician who might not be gifted academically? How do we decide what’s most important?

I’ll be honest with you, when I’m hiring engineers I stay right away from those 4.0 GPA geniuses. Give me some solid “B” students with a good work ethic, and they’ll work rings around prima donnas who are only interested in how long it will take to be the CEO. I think that what gifted programs develop best is a sense of entitlement.

I don’t really have any hard data, so I couldn’t compare it. The only real argument I might have for is that I’ve been told by someone who was, in fact, one of the gifted children, that it worked very well, and both groups scored quite high at the end of the year. Couldn’t make any promises. Never experienced it myself.

FWIW, Charles Murray (he of The Bell Curve) thinks we should put a lot more emphasis on educating the gifted (defined as those with IQs of 120 or higher) because they are the ones who, as adults, really make society function. He sets forth his arguments here, in a recent WSJ editorial. Articles by him on related topics (education of the below-average and the average) here and here.

All of which were brought to my attention by surfing the website/blog of SF writer and paleocon Jerry Pournelle.