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Provide adequate public education options for our gifted children!

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Public schools throughout Vermont are failing to provide our brightest students with an appropriate education. Parents have to choose between paying for a private school, homeschooling their children, or leaving them in an inadequate educational situation. Low-income families don't even have these choices!

I first became aware of this issue when my own elementary-aged children began to have issues in school. My eldest son, in first grade, would beg to stay home and his behavior in school was problematic. We ran the gamut of testing, including neurological issues, medical issues, ADHD, psychological evaluations, etc. The results all the tests were clear: we had a very bright and creative boy whose cognitive abilities outstripped his age. In short, he was an "intellectually gifted" child who was bored and acting out.

As I began to research how to help him, many people told me that I would need to homeschool. This is not something I wanted to do. However, I was told repeatedly by parents and professionals that "Vermont schools do not address the needs of gifted children." Over the past year, I have realized that this is absolutely true. I've met dozens of parents who have chosen to homeschool their children because their local schools ignore or refuse to address their specific academic needs. 

One Chittenden County mother told me of her profoundly gifted son who, in 2nd grade, was achieving between a fifth and tenth grade level. However, he was still required to sit in the classroom with his age-mates doing the same level work as the rest. "In first grade," she explained to me, "he became frustrated with the 'new math', because it required him to draw several ducks and add them to more ducks and then count the total and show his work. It took quite an effort on my part to explain to his teacher that he was far beyond adding ducks." The best teachers in the world would struggle to educate a child who is three to eight grade levels removed from his peers.

Acceleration, in many forms, has been shown to be the single most effective intervention for these bright students. However, Vermont schools almost unilaterally state that this is "socially damaging" to the child, despite ample research to the contrary. I have spoken with dozens of parents whose local schools have refused acceleration of their academically talented students, citing "social" reasons. (A synthesis of research on acceleration and its effectiveness for gifted children can be found here: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10004.aspx )

This is not just a Vermont issue. A recent article in Education Week wrote about how, in this time of increasing budget pressures and the need to ensure all students "meet the standard," our country is neglecting our brightest students. (Read the full article here: http://tinyurl.com/7udd46t)

Vermont's education statutes define "gifted and talented." Additionally, under Title 16, it also states, "each public school shall develop and maintain an educational support system for students who require additional assistance in order to succeed OR TO BE CHALLENGED in the general education environment." (emphasis added) This is not happening.

Schools say, "We don't have the funding or the mandate. We wish we could do something. It would be great if gifted children could have an IEP, but that's not what the law says." State legislators say, "Talk to the local school. This is a local issue. We believe in local control. It is a local decision." I say, this is NOT a local issue. This is an issue endemic throughout the state! Vermont school children should receive a grade-level appropriate education! Children deserve to experience academic challenge! 

This is a complex issue. What are possible solutions? The National Association for Gifted Children supports the bi-partisan TALENT ACT, which focuses on four key areas. The text is available here: http://www.nagc.org/legislativeupdate.aspx ;



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