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Battling for Gifted Needs in the Classroom
Q: What is the best way to get my gifted son's educational needs met in a public school? I have done a lot of research on how to parent my gifted son and also on the best methods of educating him. However, my school district does not seem to understand that a gifted child learns differently and requires curriculum and instructional modifications just like any other special-needs child. They think all they need to do is provide him with extra work in the form of enrichment worksheets to keep him busy. I have been advocating for clustering, compacting, and differentiation with little success. Do you have any suggestions?
A: It is clear that you have really done your homework on the educational issues. Too often, parents approach schools with the demand of "do something!" but they really don't have any concrete knowledge or suggestions. Your being informed about such matters is a great first step.
Unfortunately, educational concerns are not always the real basis for objections to special programs. In fact, sometimes the obstacles have nothing to do with education at all. The best advice I can offer you is to find out more about the underlying concerns of the individuals or groups who are disputing the idea of services for gifted students and to try to address those issues. If, for example, the real issue is financial, you need to be prepared with information about the cost-effectiveness of programs. If the problem is limited time and staff to organize a program, see if you can form a committee of volunteers to do the background work. If the district once had a program that did not succeed, perhaps you can find out the history of that effort and try to locate successful models in other nearby districts. In other words, try to be as supportive as possible of the real problems that concern the opponents.
If these strategies are not productive, there are other options. You might want to contact your state consultant for the gifted at your state department of education. There may be policies or regulations that could lend support to your argument. Joining together with other families who have similar concerns would also strengthen your effort. Perhaps your local or state advocacy group for the gifted already has such a group in your area. There will be people who already have battled the very fight you are waging and they may be able to help you think through your approach. If you are unable to locate these individuals or groups, contact the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) or the Council for Exceptional Children (http://www.eric.ed.gov/). In addition to helping you find potential resources close to home, both organizations have a great deal of information that will help your advocacy efforts. Good luck!
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Felice Kaufmann is an independent consultant in gifted child education. Kaufman has been a classroom teacher and counselor of gifted children, grades K-12, and a professor at Auburn University and the Universities of New Orleans and Kentucky, where she created teacher training programs in gifted child education. She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Gifted Children and the Executive Board of the Association of the Gifted.