Lawmaker increases focus on gifted education in Missouri
Schaefer wants to require dedicated staffer at state Board of Education
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Last year, Missouri lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon agreed with state Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s idea to require public school districts to report how many students they had who’ve been identified as “gifted,” and whether the districts offer any programs for those students.
Schaefer, R-Columbia, told the Senate’s Education Committee last week he wants the Legislature to take another step and “require the state Board of Education to designate a staff person in charge of education programs for gifted and talented children.”
Schaefer’s new bill also “creates the Advisory Council on Gifted and Talented Children ... to make sure that the review of policy keeps at the forefront that we have gifted children, and that we need to make sure that, while our academic curricula accounts for everyone, that that includes gifted,” he said.
Robin Lady has taught gifted students in Missouri for the past dozen years, with the past six years in the Eureka-based Rockwoods School District.
“According to data we do have (from) the 2011-12 school year,” Lady told the committee, “we have been serving ... approximately 45,000 (gifted) students across the state.”
With the new reporting requirements affecting the districts’ next school report cards, she expects that number to increase.
Of the state’s 521 public school districts, Lady explained, “254 school districts have gifted programs (now).”
But, she added: “The education for these students comes at the local level, and it comes with the teachers who are very dedicated to their students.”
Lady told lawmakers that gifted students generally comprise “between 5 and 7 percent of a school’s population,” and that number likely is growing.
But, Schaefer agreed with Lady’s assessment that the state is doing less to help, because gifted education no longer is a special budget line in the state-aid distribution formula.
Lady said “gifted” probably is the wrong word to describe students with higher scores on certain intelligence tests.
“To be honest, we’ve been fighting for 30 years to make that term more relative, (such as) ‘high ability,’ or ‘high potential,’” she told the Senate committee. “We hear in education about science, technology, engineering and math. Everybody wants STEM.
“Everybody wants us to perform better. These are the students who are going to perform better (and) who are performing better.”
The proposed law is intended to help parents, lawmakers — and the state Education department — recognize that, Lady said.
But, Schaefer added, “Gifted children (also) are an atrisk population. ...
“You’ll find that gifted students have high dropout rates — they have a high rate of failure in the upper grades — because they disengage.”
Carl Peterson, a former president of the Ferguson-Florissant School Board, said his son scored very high on both the SAT and ACT college entrance tests — but dropped out of four colleges in five years.
Peterson reported his son told him: “Dad, I got through elementary school and high school, using about 25 percent of my effort.
“When I got to the University of Illinois, they asked me for 75 percent of my effort — and I wasn’t able to put out.”
Peterson told the lawmakers that today’s failure to help gifted children means: “We are not challenging the kids.
“We are not bringing them together with other kids, so that they learn how to deal with the society that they live in.”
Parents and teachers alike have said for years that gifted students who aren’t challenged in their classes often get bored and quit.
“And that’s a reality,” Schaefer said. “We can show you study after study after study that shows that — so, at some point, we’re going to have to acknowledge that.”
For years, many parents of gifted children have complained that federal laws require services for special needs and disabled children, while schools ignore the “special needs” of bright children.
Schaefer told the committee: “My personal opinion is, DESE has not really been too cooperative with gifted — because of the absence of laws forcing them to do certain things for gifted, they’re going to focus their attention and their resources on populations that, by law, they’re forced to deal with.
“But I think we need to make sure that gifted also gets attention.”
Karen Hayes, whose daughter — a high school senior — attends gifted classes in Columbia’s Public Schools, told the lawmakers: “Columbia spends adequate funding for gifted but, for a high school senior, that has been a little spotty.”
A single mother, Hayes said she’s taken on a second job so she can pay for “additional math tutoring (and) to go to camps. ... There’s nothing else to challenge her.”
Hayes has taught special education classes in Missouri and other states. “The gifted student in Missouri is suffering,” she said. No one testified against Schaefer’s bill at Wednesday’s hearing.