Gifted Students Need New Federal Gifted Legislation

The needs of gifted students are not protected by law.

Need federal legislation for gifted students

Federal gifted students legislation is needed in the U.S. The 110th Congress has begun to take a second look at the reauthorization of Public Law 107-110, and we need to consider one very small population of public school children that is being left behind. The much needed NCLB (No Child Left Behind) act covers the immigrant child, the special needs child, the minority child, the child that lives in an urban school that is under-funded and under-performs. But there is no federal gifted students legislation protecting the gifted child whose needs cannot be met in the school district for which he lives.

That gifted child is likely functioning two or three grade levels above his peers and soaking up new knowledge like a sponge. It doesn’t matter. There are currently no provisions for such a child, nor is there funding. Without federal gifted legislation the NCLB act has forced many states, including Illinois, to reallocate funds from gifted programming toward achieving better test scores among at risk populations [1].

We need new federal gifted students legislation to protect these kids. Gifted programs are drying up fast in Illinois and across the nation. I have such a deep desire to see this population receive adequate funding, both as a parent of a gifted preschool son with currently no resources available to me, and also as a former educator in the public school system. We have to get federal gifted legislation.

federal gifted students legislation map
NCLB exposes need for federal gifted students legislation

I am standing on a precipice much like millions of other families with talented children who have no feasible options. Families of the gifted have to pay out of pocket for educational services that children under IDEA get routinely for free. Why doesn’t the government provide a standard through federal gifted legislation?

My son qualified for a special Saturday school program at a very prestigious in-state University. The program director said that their program is meant to meet the needs of this population in a way that the public school system currently does not. It is a wonderful program but it comes with a price tag of over $900 a year to enroll. This naturally excludes the family with limited income, which is a grievous mistake for our nation. Without new federal gifted students legislation poor gifted children will continue to suffer. Federal gifted education would provide funding for needy districts. It would serve gifted kids who fall through the cracks.

Federal gifted students legislation would standardize grade promotion practices in the U.S. Parents unable to afford the many extra curricular activities that nurture the minds of our gifted children may be surprised to learn that the most least-restrictive and cost-effective solution, that of promoting their child to a higher grade level, is not an option in every school district. There are many schools that will simply not allow early entry to kindergarten despite the fact that they also do not have adequate gifted programming available to meet the specific academic needs of the gifted child in question. Federal gifted legislation could change that.

Without federal gifted students legislation setting a national standard, each state can make it’s own rules. Illinois now has a law that states no child can be enrolled into kindergarten unless they are 5 on September first. In our case, I requested that the local public school consider early entry into kindergarten based on my child’s exemplary test scores from three different sources. I was answered by an emphatic no. I further inquired about skipping kindergarten in 08 and going straight to first grade if testing indicated that this would be a better, more least-restrictive placement. Again, I was told that it was not possible. There’s just no federal gifted legislation to mandate that. I finally asked what was the protocol to qualify my child for gifted services upon enrollment at our public elementary school. Without federal gifted students legislation, there aren’t any. I was told by the principal that my child did not have special needs and that there were no services necessary. With no federal gifted students legislation protecting kids like mine, districts can refuse special services arbitrarily based on financial reasons. She said that there was a teacher that would work with him if the kindergarten teacher noticed that he had exceptional skills. Gifted programs traditionally don’t begin in third grade in most public school districts. Federal gifted legislation could change that.

Federal gifted legislation would create measurable standards for placement. In my situation, placement was subjective, not objective. I asked if this teacher was a certified gifted teacher and was told no. It was a teacher who had taken a class or two on gifted children. I asked what reading group they would put him into and was told he would probably be in a group by himself. So who would be challenging him and teaching him to his abilities, stretching his boundaries? A regular classroom teacher is not equipped, and expectedly so, when she is faced with 25 or more students, many of which have special academic deficiencies that are required by law to be met. And any service personnel that she can avail herself of are provided by funding only for students with academic deficiencies, funding available through IDEA. Federal gifted legislation would standardize the field of gifted education.

As a matter of fact, many public school educators all say the same thing; advanced preschoolers and early elementary children are not necessarily gifted. They claim that children will level out by fourth grade, and parents should not get too excited about how well their child performs at earlier ages. What exactly does this mean? Does the gifted child all of a sudden become average in ability by age 9? At what age, then, does this child stop learning so that his or her peers can catch up?

Perhaps the public school system’s experts believe their NCLB programs offer the average and below average child the tools he or she needs to acquire giftedness by age 9? Common sense tells us these theories are simply not plausible.  And the statement itself is no defense for decades of ineffective funding, programming, and protection of educational rights. This is simply not acceptable. Period. These children are our nation’s future. We need them to be well-rounded, well-challenged, and well-equipped to lead our country through the 21st century and beyond. We need federal gifted legislation.

Federal Gifted Students Legislation for Preschool

Dr. John Medina, founder of the Talaris Research Institute, argues that our children learn best between 0-6 yrs old. When we deny their developing brains adequate stimulation we impede their long-term brain capacity. Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, argues that waiting to formally teach children until they are six years old and in first grade is “dead wrong.” In his article entitled, Why I Don’t Believe in First Grade, he says,

“education in 3000 will not be about a fad, it will still be about learning how to input and then use information inside a living brain. We are learning how the organ works, and what is so frightening for me is to observe how irrelevant aspects of our educational systems are in considering how the brain acquires information.”

He says we must understand the biological phenomenon that he and other scientists are unraveling, phenomenon that “flies in the face of this thinking.”

Medina says,

“We do not have to make children ready to learn. Infants are born already ready to learn. They are born curious, which I believe to be a survival instinct, and if they lose their curiosity, it is not because it naturally goes away, such is the power of survival. By the time they hit our system, they have, in my opinion, wasted a great deal of cognitive time waiting for input they never received. And worst of all, their curiosity is being destroyed. I think it’s because they are bored.”

Despite this research, schools still aren’t addressing the need for adequate educational stimulation for gifted preschoolers. There’s no need, without federal gifted legislation mandating it. This is a shame, when so many scientific studies of brain development show that this is a critical period for neurological development. Parents of gifted children in early elementary schools don’t have a choice, either. They must wait and send their child to kindergarten with same age peers. Gifted kids often sit and review all that they have learned at three or four, in some cases age two. Testing for giftedness, in most cases, is not done in kindergarten or even first grade. This population is rare enough that the highly gifted child will find no peer in any of his or her early grades to share ability grouping. We need federal gifted legislation to set the precedent.

Parents also face the very real and statistically proven possibility that their gifted child will become a behavior problem out of academic boredom and social immaturity. It is not unheard of for gifted kids to drop out of high school. Federal gifted legislation could protect them from preschool. Federal gifted legislation just might foster the kinds of mathematicians and scientists this country needs. Some gifted parents are finding that their best option is to homeschool their gifted child. Without public funding and laws to safeguard their child’s rights, this is the only alternative for middle-income families that can’t afford the high annual tuition rates ($14,000 or more) that private schools for the gifted charge. As a former special educator I was astounded that there were no national laws to protect gifted education like IDEA, and no adequate funding. Why is there no national standard? Why is the funding at a pittance, and only geared toward research and development? [2].

Can Congress promise to consider my son’s future and the futures of all other gifted children in lower-income and middle-class America? Can Congress promise to stand by our nation’s brightest young minds? Can they demand that our schools don’t leave them behind? Will federal gifted legislation demand that they are offered a free and appropriate education? Federal gifted legislation will someday reward our nation with some of the greatest leaders, inventors, scientists, engineers, historians, writers, and artists. Without the federal government’s commitment to gifted children our nation runs the risk of seriously undermining the future of our people and its greatness in our world of tomorrow. We need new federal gifted legislation. We cannot let the brightest minds of the next generation lay dormant in classrooms that are under-funded for their needs and filled with educators that are ill-equipped to teach them. Children that are severely under-stimulated tend to under-perform as adults. This will ultimately put our nation at risk. When our youth are not challenged they do not thrive, and universities are starting to reflect what happens to a nation that does not honor its best and brightest. Ask your congressman to support federal gifted legislation.

“Between 1980 and 2000, the percentage of Ph.D. scientists and engineers employed in the United States who were born abroad has increased from 24% to 37%. The current percentage of Ph.D. physicists is about 45%; for engineers, the figure is over 50%. One fourth of the engineering faculty members at U.S. universities were born abroad. Between 1990 and 2004, over one third of Nobel Prizes in the United States were awarded to foreign-born scientists. One third of all U.S. Ph.D.s in science and engineering are now awarded to foreign-born graduate students” [3].

“Recent news accounts have reported trends that point to a potential loss of “U.S. dominance” in science”,

claims Elias A. Zerhouni, a foreign-born scientist and director of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland,

“as a science policy-maker, I have become convinced that the supply of truly great scientists and engineers is, by its very nature, so limited that it is the scarcest of all strategic resources. Finding, nurturing, and unleashing the power of the best and brightest is the core challenge for scientific strategists in all countries. Borrowing from my early scientific roots in physics, I see this process as not unlike uranium enrichment: One must try to locate and extract that tiny, hard-to-separate fraction that makes the difference for reaching criticality. Really great scientific talent is not an easily produced commodity; its supply is finite in any system of education.” [4].

These are just two examples of scientists reiterating what many more are saying. Can we count on our representatives to make a stand in Washington? The NCLB act doesn’t really make provisions for the gifted child, but a few changes to the re-authorization could make a world of difference to our children’s futures. Tell your congressman that you want new federal gifted legislation for our nation’s gifted children.

In 2007 NCLB allocated a mere 9.5 million dollars for Javits. According to Stephens and Riggsbee,

“there are 2.4 million gifted and talented students in the United States — 5 percent of the K-12 student population — but that figure is conservative” [5].

If this is true, then the Javits funding is the equivalent of $3.95 per child. It would cost the government about the same to buy each kid one happy meal at McDonalds. Without federal gifted legislation protecting them, we won’t get better than this. National provisions are no more effective than that happy meal. Is this all these children are worth?

We need a mandate for federal gifted students legislation, and it needs to be specific. Gifted children come in many packages, much like the special education population. According to Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D., giftedness can be measured by intellectual levels, and service needs for each level are varied [6]. Identification would be much the same as with special education populations. Children performing at exceptional levels would be targeted, assessed, and if they qualified, provided with free and appropriate services. Why can’t we have gifted education co-ops much like the special education co-ops that exist today? Why can’t the federal government mandate that each state require magnet schools within a 15 mile radius to serve highly gifted and profoundly gifted children? Why isn’t there federal gifted students legislation that would provide students the opportunity for grade acceleration if it is deemed least restrictive?

Why can’t we have Federal Gifted Legislation like PL94-142?

  • To guarantee a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for all gifted children, ages 5-21.
  • Gifted Education and related services must be free, provided by the public agency at no cost to the parents.
  • Appropriate education is the provision of regular and gifted education and related services designed to meet students’ individual educational needs.
  • To develop a Gifted Individualized Education Program (GIEP) for each child eligible for gifted education and related services; plan is based on multi-disciplinary assessment and includes a statement of specific gifted education and related services to be provided to the child
  • To the maximum extent appropriate, all children and youth will be educated in the least restrictive education (LRE) environment
  • Parents have the right to participate in every decision related to the identification, evaluation, and placement of their child. Parents must give consent for any initial evaluation, assessment or placement decision. Due process procedures assure parents rights to appeal.

Ask Your Representative to Pass Federal Gifted Legislation

Write your representative today. Ask him or her to consider our sons and daughters, consider children like Devion Ross, a gifted child from Springfield, IL [7] who lost his services due to funding cuts and only got them back after national media attention was brought to his case. Ask them to consider the tremendous work that is being done by Jan and Bob Davidson in Reno, Nevada to service this very special population [8]. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially when you are talking about at least 2.4 million of them.

Here is a Sample letter to your senator in Microsoft Word


  1. Scobell, Beverley, “Education Rewrite: Illinois adjusts to the requirements of federal law” Illinois Issues, June 2004.
  2. Clarenbach, Jane, J.D., Director, Public Education & Affiliate Relations National Association for Gifted Children, “Javits update from NAGC”
  3. Wulf William A, Ph.D., President National Academy of Engineering.
    “The Importance of Foreign-born Scientists and Engineers to the Security of The United States” President National Academy of Engineering The National Academies before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims Committee on the Judiciary U.S. House of Representatives for The Hearing on “Sources and Methods of Foreign Nationals Engaged in Economic and Military Espionage.” 15 September 2005. [link]
  4. Zerhouni, Elias A., M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Science 28 May 2004: Vol. 304. no. 5675, p. 1211 DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5675.1211
  5. Stephens, Kristen and Jan Riggsbee. ”The Children Neglected by No Child Left Behind” Duke University News and Communications. 1 Feb 2007.
  6. Ruf, Deborah L Ph.D. Losing our Minds Gifted Children Left Behind. Great Potential Press, Inc: Scottsdale, AZ (2005).
  7. Golden, Daniel. “Initiative to Leave No Child Behind Leaves Out Gifted” The Wall Street Journal. 29 Dec. 2003: 2.
  8. Donavan, John and Mary Marsh. “Profoundly Gifted Students Find Home in Reno: Frustrated with Mainstream Education, Couple Opens School for Exceptionally Smart Students” 4 June, 2007. ABC News Online.
  9. Davidson, Bob and Jan. Genius Denied: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York (2004).
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8 Comments on Gifted Students Need New Federal Gifted Legislation

  1. It’s a great letter. I too went this route – writing my congressmen a year or two ago, never suggesting a law as you have, but speaking to the importance of not neglecting the gifted population in schools, due to NCLB.

    Unfortunately, I live in a state in New England in which simply saying one’s child is gifted (not to mention that the child needs more than schools supply) is usually looked upon as elitist. Needless to say, I received no responses. Recently, the national Javit’s grants are allowing some funds, however small, to go to selected programs for teacher education.
    Thus far I am not sure if any funds actually funnel to the children and the classrooms themselves. The Javit’s grants should be able to be identified by state via the national gifted organization (nagc).

    Great article I just saw today on this topic:

    Also, an interesting-sounding new book is coming out by a parent of a gifted child called “Infinity And Zebra Stripes” by Wendy Skinner. This is to be released September 1st and is published by Great Potential Press.

  2. I’m hoping to generate enough people to send this letter (or their own modified version of it with personal info) to their senators and congressman. It is a long shot, I know, but collectively we have more of a chance to be heard. Snail mail might be better than email. I already hand delivered one to my congressman last month. I haven’t got a response yet. Even if we don’t get a law out of this, which is likely, perhaps we can get the dialog going. My girlfriend works at an educational think tank. They are very heavily involved in NCLB research and practice on a national standpoint. NCLB may not be the place to push for Gifted funding. Javits is the key. We need to push for legislation but that it is a long shot. Now is the time — as they are re-evaluating the act — for our representatives in Washington to at least think about the whole picture. I want to put a face (my child’s face) to the figure. The more faces they read about in their “in” boxes the more likely they will respond with something, even if it is only more money for Javits.

  3. There’s a (relatively) new book, “How Computer Games Help Children Learn” that talks about the problems of No Child Left Behind–and what we might do instead about education. The book describes about how No Child Left Behind is taking our schools in the exact opposite direction from where they need to go in the age of computer technology and global capitalism—and how the new technologies of computer and video games can help get schools (and students!) where they need to go. From the introduction:

    “Young people in the United States today are being prepared—in school and at home—for standardized jobs in a world that will, very soon, punish those who can’t innovate. Our government and our schools have made a noble effort to leave no child behind: to ensure, through standardized testing, that all children make adequate yearly progress in basic reading and math skills. But we can’t “skill and drill” our way to innovation. Standardized testing produces standardized skills…. But… here’s the good news: The very same technologies that are making it possible to outsource commodity jobs make it possible for students of all ages to prepare for innovative work…. and this book is about how we can use computer and video games to do just that….”

    If you’re interested in the future of schooling, the book might be worth a look….

  4. I searched some recent postings on Edweek and your pledge is right on.
    Here’re a couple examples to support your article:

    November 15, 2006

    “Securing America’s position as an international superpower has never been at a more critical juncture. Yet politicians in Washington have once again ignored America’s most valuable resource: our students. In fact, our elected officials are proposing to slash the only federal program dedicated to identifying and educating students with gifts and talents.
    At a time when the country is confronting numerous global challenges, we need to provide our most advanced learners with the essential resources they need to excel in the global marketplace.”

    April 6, 2007
    By Christina A. Samuels

    “But the complex nature of identifying gifted students remains a challenge for many states and districts.
    First, there are competing definitions of what makes a student gifted. And, unlike in special education, there is no federal policy that oversees how states should handle gifted education. Some states mandate education for the gifted and provide full funding for it. Others mandate it, with partial funding coming from the state and the remainder for local districts. And in still other states, there is no state funding for gifted education, and no mandate from the state that it must be provided, though individual districts may choose to do so.”

  5. A recent blog entry from Edweek’s Teacher magazine draws a thoughtful analogy of gifted students to a lawn nourished by a rich soil (08-14-07):

    “It is inevitable that we teachers, at one point or another, will have students in our classrooms who somehow ended up with great soil. Academically and intellectually, they often seem to blossom all on their own. They are “where they need to be” (or, more often than not, are well beyond) according to state standards for children their age. With – let’s admit it – sometimes very little effort on the teacher’s part, they learn everything they’re supposed to learn that year, or they already knew it before the year began. They are easily overlooked because it’s a safe bet that they will test as “Proficient,” while so many others are in the danger zone. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t put forth every effort to help our struggling students. Of course we should! Part of the beauty of America is that we believe in the possibilities within EVERYONE. […] speaking, do we (as a nation, as a profession) put forth every effort to stretch the students who are already “there”?”

  6. The August 27, 2007, TIME magazine issue also features the problem of American schools failing its geniuses:

    “Many school systems are wary of grade skipping even though research shows that it usually works well both academically and socially for gifted students–and that holding them back can lead to isolation and underachievement. […] our education system has little idea how to cultivate its most promising students. Since well before the Bush Administration began using the impossibly sunny term “no child left behind,” those who write education policy in the U.S. have worried most about kids at the bottom, stragglers of impoverished means or IQs. But surprisingly, gifted students drop out at the same rates as nongifted kids–about 5% of both populations leave school early. Later in life, according to the scholarly Handbook of Gifted Education, up to one-fifth of dropouts test in the gifted range. […] The social impulse behind No Child Left Behind is radically egalitarian. It has forced schools to deeply subsidize the education of the least gifted, and gifted programs have suffered.”

    A co-founder of the Davidson Academy, Bob Davidson, says that not allowing gifted kids skip a grade or more is a grave mistake:

    “That’s criminal to send a kid [who already reads well] to kindergarten … Somebody should go to jail for that! That is emotional torture!”,9171,1653653,00.html

  7. One mother speaking up for her child is considered pushy and annoying.
    Three mothers speaking up for their children is considered a clique.
    30 mothers speaking up for their children from the same school and all of a sudden the community starts to change the way they think.
    300 mothers speaking up for their children and the school district changes their policies.
    3,000 mothers speaking up for their children and they get national attention.
    30,000 mothers speaking up for their children and Congress finally sits down to make a new law.

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