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Obama to Smart Kids: No, You Can’t.

February 11, 2010

Ah, how time flies when you are completely snowed under both literally and figuratively.  Since my last blog entry, so much has happened:  school funding advisory council meetings, State Board of Education meetings, the Ohio eTech conference, questions about Ohio’s value added methodology, the usual Ohio-is-mediocre news in the  Advanced Placement Report to the Nation, a new study on the “other achievement gap” and finally Obama’s (awful) education budget proposal.  There is so much going on, I’m not quite sure where to begin.  Well, let’s use the LIFO method and begin with the last item first: Obama’s budget.  Just for funsies, I think I’ll throw in the new Indiana University study as it seems federal and state proficiency-is- good-enough  policies have had some pretty nasty unintended (?) consequences for poor and minority high ability students.

Last week, the Obama administration released their proposed budget.  The education piece includes some interesting consolidations (a.k.a. cuts).  While it was not unexpected that once again Obama eliminated the one source of gifted funding in the federal budget, the $7.5 million Javits Gifted and Talented Education Program, there were other cuts as well that negatively affect high ability kids:

  • Advanced Placement grant funds to states ($45.8 million) – gone.
  • Arts in Education funds ($40 million) – gone.
  • Byrd Honors Scholarships ($42 million) – gone.

In fact, anything that remotely supported gifted kids in this country was eliminated in Obama’s proposed education budget.  It isn’t as if George Bush didn’t try to eliminate Javits every chance he could.  He did.  But to also eliminate AP grants and the Byrd Honors Scholarships seems particularly brutal.  (Geez, couldn’t Obama have waited until Sen. Byrd actually died before he eliminated Byrd’s namesake program?  Harsh. )

I think what galls me the most about this budget is that the Obamas, both Barack and Michelle, are seen by many poor, bright kids of all colors as the embodiment of the American dream:  If you are smart and you work hard, there is no limit to your success.  But the Obama’s had something (at least Michelle did) that is now less and less available to high ability kids in this country: opportunity to learn at a higher level.   While I am not aware that the president received any gifted services as a youngster, it is well known that Michelle Obama attended a gifted magnet school in Chicago.  Chicago gifted students, like those in Cleveland and many other urban cities, had many more opportunities 20 or 30 years ago than they do today.

In his State of the Union speech, Obama stated,

Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform – reform that raises student achievement, inspires students to excel in math and science, and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to inner-cities. In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. In this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than their potential.

Pretty words, but in fact his budget does just the opposite.  And don’t get me started on Race to the Top, which has nothing to do with getting students to the top.  I wouldn’t be so ticked, if federal and state education policies that only speak to minimal levels of proficiency hadn’t been devastating to high ability kids across our nation.   But these policies have brutalized opportunities for high ability students.  And, unfortunately, where students live is much more important than their potential according to a new study from Indiana University.   The study, Mind the (Other) Gap, is a review Advanced Placement scores as well as NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) long term advanced scores data across different student sub-groups.  The study conclusions are no surprise.  Due to the overwhelming emphasis on minimum test scores, the gap between different socio-economic, minority, and limited English proficient student groups scoring at the advanced levels of achievement is expanding to unprecedented levels.  The Ohio report can be downloaded here. Other state reports can be viewed here.

What does it all mean?  Clearly, our country needs to be competitive at a higher level in order to stay ahead of the Chinese or whatever country is gaining world status.  Most state and federal policy makers get that.  But what they never seem to understand is that without solid PUBLIC opportunities for students of all abilities, including high ability students, we are losing our competitive edge in this country.  What’s more, we are also losing the ability for our children to achieve the American Dream the way the Obamas  did.  Yes we can? Due to strong family support AND opportunities at least in part supported by public schools, yes, the Obamas could and did.  But the message the new federal education budget sends  all the bright young Obamas across the country who hunger for appropriate educational opportunity is clear:  No, you can’t.   And this budget proposal ensures you never can.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2010 3:36 am

    Ann – I’m behind in my comments. This is an excellent post. Very thought provoking and disturbing, actually. Thank you for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive post.

  2. February 13, 2010 3:17 pm

    Thank you for posting this very important, albeit incredibly sad, information for parents of gifted kids.

  3. February 14, 2010 5:53 am

    Great post. FYI, Obama himself attended the Punahou School in Hawaii ( for most of his schooling years, a top-notch private school.

    I, too, am incensed at his lack of support for gifted ed in public schools. When I read the headline in the NYT that he was overhauling NCLB, I was delighted. Until I read the article. Ugh. UGH.

  4. jean Claugus permalink
    February 19, 2010 12:16 am

    Obama needed to save money for his slush fund, like: 1. “You probably wouldn’t guess that a martini bar and a Brazilian steak house would be on tap for stimulus funds. But in St. Joseph, Missouri the two privately-owned facilities are getting $100,000 of your tax dollars.”

    2. “The State University Of New York At Buffalo Won $390,000 To Study Young Adults Who Drink Malt Liquor And Smoke Marijuana.” 3. “The University Of Hawaii Collected $210,000 To Study The Learning Patterns Of Honeybees, And $700,000 Went To Help Crab Fishermen In Oregon Recover Lost Crab Pots.” 4. “Half A Million Dollars Went To Arizona State University To Study The Genetic Makeup Of Ants To Determine Distinctive Roles In Ant Colonies; $450,000 Went To The University Of Arizona To Study The Division Of Labor In Ant Colonies.” This is all stimulus spending. 5. “The Rodent Study At Florida Atlantic University In Boca Raton Used $15,551 In Stimulus Funds To Pay For Two Summer Researchers To Help Gauge How Alcohol Affects A Mouse’s Motor Functions.”

  5. Mary Schorr permalink
    February 20, 2010 12:33 am

    Bottomline: We can’t hang our hats on the belief that our schools can or will accommodate high ability children, which is precisely the belief which I reluctantly accepted over 3 yrs. ago when I decided to homeschool my sons. Pathetic in a country as rich as the U.S. that gifted children are not seen as special needs children (most are at least 2 standard deviations from the norm) who get absolutely no services. Even in my EXCELLENT rated state school district, the most I could advocate for (and I had to fight for it) was pull-out gifted instruction on a Friday afternoon for 2 hrs. Being a gifted, high ability child is full-time! It impacts every cell of their being, 24 hours a day! 2 hours/week for gifted instruction!!! PATHETIC!!! Unfortunately, in a country that is striving to be competitive in a global market, we underestimate and underutilize our most precious gift: our high ability children who not only are our future leaders but the souls who think out of the box and can solve many of our current socioeconomic problems! SAD~!

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