Shortchanging gifted students


FOR all the focus on helping underachieving students in public schools, far less attention is given to those who are gifted, and that's unfortunate.

Given the plethora of learning problems, it's not surprising that administrators tend to ignore children who do really well. After all, they are smart enough to figure it out on their own, right? That's exactly the approach many schools have taken, but it's wrong.

The Ohio Board of Education, at its February meeting, will be weighing how to improve services to academically gifted students. In the 2006-07 school year, 288,818 children, or about one out of six public school students in Ohio, were identified as gifted.

One key problem: The state requires school districts to identify students who are gifted but there is no companion requirement for special instruction, as exists in 31 other states.

Last year, only about 75,500 gifted Ohio children received special services tailored for their needs, about 10,000 fewer than in the 2003-04 school year.

Meanwhile, the pressure created by the federal No Child Left Behind Act to utilize standardized tests has resulted in the siphoning of significant resources from districts, which spend a lot of their money struggling to aid average and below-average students and ensure that they pass the tests.

Gifted children often are lost in the mix. One teacher in Elyria, for example, spends the equivalent of 36 days all year with her gifted students. In the context of a 180-day school year, that's not enough.

The danger is that overachievers, like their underachieving brethren, will lose interest in school and develop learning or behavioral problems. They may need as much guidance and instruction as do special-education students.

Perhaps if school officials began to think of the gifted as students with special needs, then they might more readily consider how to address their needs and be less likely to cut services for the gifted when they face budget problems.