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A Ghoulish Gifted Halloween Tale (and It’s all Frighteningly True…)

October 31, 2012

It’s official. Service levels for gifted students have dropped to a new low. In the 2010/2011 school year, Ohio districts served approximately 52,470 gifted students. The figures just released for 2011/2012 show a decrease of almost 5% to 49,947 students. In fact, since the 2008/2009 school year, which was the last year Ohio saw a stable and coherent funding system for gifted students, service levels have dropped by almost 35%. That year, 76,440 gifted students were served.  Ohio now serves less than 19% of the total identified gifted student population – a statistic that is artificially high as districts are also identifying fewer gifted students as well.  In school year 2008/2009, districts identified 280,720 students as gifted. That figure is now down to 263,688 a drop of 6% with over half of that drop from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012. This would make sense if the number of students overall was decreasing, but in fact the number of students attending school districts increased in the last school year.

While these numbers are certainly not encouraging, when we actually view this from a historical perspective, they are downright frightening.   Ohio districts provide service to fewer than half the gifted students in 2012 that were provided in 1999. In that year, 103,087 gifted students were served – and this was based on criteria that were far more restrictive than the flexible methods of service that can be counted today.  If we want to go a bit further back, say 20 years, 86, 592 gifted students were served.

So here’s the scary situation faced by gifted children and their families in Ohio: While the number of districts labeled as “excellent” has increased to ridiculous new high levels (387 out of 611 or over 63%), gifted students are being provided service at record level low numbers. In fact, 260 districts decreased services from 2010/2011 to 2011/2012. This is in addition to the 124 districts that chose not to serve any gifted students in either year.

In terms of gifted staffing, the situation is equally chilling. Along with services, licensed gifted staffing levels have likewise plummeted. Currently, there are approximately 1500 licensed gifted professionals working in the field in Ohio districts and ESCs. Considering that over 15% of Ohio’s student population is identified as gifted, this level is highly inadequate. In school districts, licensed gifted staff has decreased by 17% since the 2008/2009 school year. Gifted coordinator numbers have decreased by 32% while the number of gifted intervention specialists has decreased by 14%. In ESCs (educational service centers), where specific funding was maintained but not tied to gifted units until this past year, the decreases were less dramatic with a 7% overall decline, a 9% decrease in gifted coordinators and a 5% decrease in gifted intervention specialists. Interestingly, there was a slight increase in gifted staffing in ESCs this past year as funding was once again tied to actual gifted units.

So, to recap, 384 districts have decreased services or continue to serve no gifted students, while 387 districts are regarded as excellent this year. Services have decreased have dropped by 35% in less than four years while gifted staffing has decreased by 17%. And, of course, this is despite the gifted maintenance of effort provision that the General Assembly intended to ensure that gifted student services would be maintained over the past four years.

It is indeed a scary Halloween story for gifted students, their parents, and ultimately for all Ohioans. Let’s hope that the 130th General Assembly will do something to rectify this terrifying situation.

If Districts Aren’t Responsible for the Growth of Gifted Students, Who Is?

September 17, 2012

Last month I had the opportunity to testify in Akron before the House Finance Extended Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education. This is the subcommittee that will be exploring ways to overhaul school funding in Ohio. The topic for the evening was categorical and weighted funding. As each witness was provided only six minutes to speak, much of what I wanted to share with committee members was included in written testimony. Despite the short length of time to testify, I was gratified that the subcommittee member questions were quite thoughtful. One question in particular cut to the core of why gifted students are so poorly funded and served in Ohio — as well as in many states across the country. The question was how can we dispel the myth that gifted education is elitist and that gifted kids can “get it on their own?”

It is more than a little discouraging that we are still asking this question. There are decades of research about the distribution of gifted students across the soci0-economic and racial spectrum as well as research on impact of quality services for this population. Unfortunately, the public-at-large and general educators,  in particular, are loathe to take responsibility for the needs of gifted students largely because they do not see any need to do so. While I could have answered the question several different ways, I chose to answer with what I truly what believe will help gifted students the most: data — more specifically –performance growth data.

Ohio, like many states, has dumbed down expectations of our highest achieving students by maintaining a singular focus on achieving low levels of proficiency. Almost 60% of our districts are rated as “Excellent” or above within an accountability system that appears to be created solely for the benefit of making districts look and feel good about student performance. (See OAGC’s Grading on a Curve for more details). Meanwhile, true student performance continues to stagnate or decline on international benchmarks. If are we only going to judge district performance on the basis of proficiency, that is all we will achieve. This approach works largely for adults in the system, but not so much for children – especially gifted children.

As Ohio overhauls the district report card, we have a rare opportunity to look not just at performance and value-added growth of all students as a whole, but of student sub-groups as well. Ohio’s initial ESEA waiver (click on Full Wavier and go to page 62) included information about breaking the performance and growth of gifted students as a sub-group. Unfortunately, the Ohio Department of Education has done little if anything to move forward with this promise, but that is a blog post for another day…

Are there potential problems with measuring the growth of gifted students? Yes, there may well be. We may have issues with low population sizes and low test ceilings. And we surely will need to determine a better method for assessing accelerated students. However, until we actually move down the growth data path, we can never begin to resolve these issues. The truth is that for far too long in Ohio, as well as other states, districts have had a free pass when it comes to accountability for gifted students. We know that is has had a negative impact on gifted student performance, and smart coordinators gathering data at local districts can show just how negative the impact has been. But this data is largely hidden from the public. We need to begin collecting the data at the state level, and shine the light on the issue. Until we do, gifted kids who can hit proficiency level scores in their sleep will continue to languish in schools across the state. Growth data on gifted students as a sub-group could eventually give us a tremendous amount of information about the types of services that are most effective, the value of gifted coordination at the district level, and the impact of service or lack thereof especially with gifted students in high poverty areas. So back to my title: if districts are not responsible for the growth of gifted students, who is? Without state-level growth data to show what is or what is not happening for gifted students in this state, the answer is “no one.” And we simply cannot let that continue to be the case.

Educating High Ability Learners? Bah Humbug!

December 14, 2011

One of the great things about being the executive director of a state gifted organization is that I get to meet some pretty sharp people from all over the country. It makes the more painful aspects of the job (lack of funding, general disrespect from the gen. ed. community, etc, etc,) much more tolerable. It is great to routinely network with some of the brightest folks in education to share information and ideas.

My good friend from Indiana, Ginny Burney, (Indiana Association for Gifted Children) passed on a gem to me, yesterday. Written by a (very clever) student of hers, The High Ability Carol by Rhonda Cheney is a rewrite of Charles Dicken’s more famous A Christmas Carol.  The main character Scrooge is replaced by a school superintendent named Clutch. Clutch’s general disdain for gifted students combined with natural miserly ways leads him to the conclusion that he should do less for students of high ability.  His opinion, shared by so many was, “If these kids were so smart, why couldn’t they educate themselves?”

The night before Christmas, Clutch is visited by three spirits, the Ghost of Individual Impact, the Ghost of Social Impact, and the Ghost of Global Impact. The Ghost of Individual Impact shows Clutch what his life could have been. Unfortunately, his “dreams and hopes for the future died at a young age because no one ever showed me what I could be capable of in life.” The Ghost of Social Impact is a little feistier, breaking Clutch’s window as his delivers his message, “I’m not satisfied with my life, but what else am I supposed to do? My background of poverty, behavior issues in the classroom, and achievement test scores all hid the fact that I was a student with high abilities. No one identified me for what I could be.” Finally, the Clutch is visited by the Ghost of Global Impact who shows that the effects of not educating high ability students at an appropriate level were far reaching.

The United States could no longer compete in a global market because of a lack of workers with problem solving skills and creativity. Businesses moved to other countries where they could find the employees they needed. Civil and individual effort towards improving lives dissipated as cultural apathy grew.  Scientists no longer looked for cures to diseases, and entire cities were eliminated by viral infections. Institutes of high learning closed their doors with so few applicants. Those looking for more education had to find it in another country.

The story ends on a high note with Clutch waking up to reverse course and embarking on a journey to do whatever he could to meet the needs of high ability students.

And this is where I have to become the Scrooge in the story and offer up a  hearty “Bah Humbug.” I am ever optimistic about moving things forward for gifted children in Ohio and the rest of the country. However, I know from years of experience that policymakers and others, even when presented with the stark evidence of the impact of ignoring the needs of gifted children are not as easily convinced to do the right thing.

Business magnates don’t necessarily care that we don’t produce great thinkers. Their answer is to outsource or expand the H1B visas to bring in foreign talent. Policymakers who view the state and national score comparisons of our brightest students against international talent prefer to believe that the comparisons are unfair, even while there is a good deal of evidence that international benchmark tests are extremely well-vetted to make sure comparisons are accurate.

What is it going to take before policymakers and others get a clue? I honestly don’t have an answer to that. What I do know is that advocates of gifted children need to continue to serve as the Ghosts of Individual, Social, and Global Impact. Let’s chip away at the Scrooges of education policy and work toward a happy future where public education blesses every child with appropriate opportunities.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Shouldn’t College and Career-Ready Students be a Given?

November 21, 2011

The Columbus Dispatch ran an article recently entitled “College, School Erase Remedial Courses.”(11/20/11)  The gist of the article is fairly straight-forward. Reynoldsburg City Schools has embarked on a new program with Columbus State Community College designed to eliminate the need for remedial coursework at the college level. The computer-based math courses were designed by Columbus State, required special training for the teacher, and ensures that students master 85% of the material of each module before they can move on in the course. So far, so good, right? Who can argue that this is a bad idea? Not me. But then I read the following quote and just about choked on my morning coffee. Jack Cooley, the dean of arts and sciences at Columbus State says,

“I give the high schools immense credit for coming to realize the discrepancy between being able to graduate and being college-ready.”

Okay, so I actually think Reynoldsburg is doing the right thing here, but really is this how stupid we have become in Ohio? Do we really have to give “immense credit” to high schools for turning out graduates who are college- or career-ready? Silly me, I was under the impression that this was the whole purpose of high school. Of course, I already know that Ohio’s high schools are not always preparing their students for college or careers. The average remediation rate for students graduating from  Ohio districts was 41% in 2009 according to the Ohio Board of Regents. That is an astounding figure. Pictorial, it looks even more interesting:

For those of you having trouble reading the index, the deeper blue color denotes a lower college remediation rate. Deep red means the remediation is high. As one can see from the map, there is a whole lotta red going on in Ohio’s districts. Given that almost 60% of Ohio’s districts are rated excellent or excellent with distinction, it seems counter-intuitive that there are so many districts that are turning out students who are not prepared for college or career level work. How did Ohio get to this point? As with so many issues there is no single best answer to this question. But one thing is crystal clear to me. Until we have an education accountability system in Ohio that relies less on minimal mastery of low standards and more on measures such college remediation rates, we will continue to see highly-rated districts that are doing little to address issues such as college remediation.

For now, kudos to Reynoldsburg. They are doing the right thing for students even though Ohio’s current accountability system provides no reward for their efforts. Surely, that makes no sense.  I wonder how long Ohioans will have to wait for policymakers to develop a more coherent education accountability system that looks at measures beyond minimal standards?  If we are to be competitive on a national and international basis, we cannot afford to wait too long.

Grading on a Curve: The Illusion of Excellence in Ohio’s Schools

November 14, 2011

Three years ago, I sat in a Senate Finance committee hearing where a number of superintendents spoke of the need to eliminate spending requirements for excellent-rated school districts. Their logic was simple: Excellent districts are doing a great job, and they do not need the state to tell them how to spend their money. Just give them funding and step aside to let them do their high-performing work. Of course, the first thing I knew that would be cut if spending requirements were eliminated would be gifted education. So, with that motivation, I decided to take a look at just how excellent these districts were. I was frankly a little shocked by what I saw when I delved into the data. I continued to do the analysis annually and provided key policymakers with the statistics, but while many were appalled at what they saw, nothing happened.

This year, at the urging of many individuals, I took the analysis a step further. With the help of my colleague, Colleen Grady, we put together a report that looks not just at excellent school districts, but the accountability system as a whole. We wanted to answer the following questions: How accurate are the annual school and district ratings handed out by the Ohio Department of Education? Does the level of student performance in Ohio warrant a quadrupling of the number of districts in the excellent category over the past decade? Are highly rated districts meeting world-class levels of performance?

Our report “Grading on a Curve: The Illusion of Excellence in Ohio’s Schools,” finds that actual educational excellence may be far more elusive than our ratings would lead us to believe.

Some of the report’s findings are sobering:
• 67 districts rated excellent or excellent with distinction had zero students take AP exams.
• 109 districts rated excellent or excellent with distinction had average ACT scores below the state average.
• 160 districts rated excellent or excellent with distinction had fewer than 20% of their graduating class receive diplomas with honors.
• 136 districts rated excellent or excellent with distinction had college remediation rates above the state average.
• 220 districts rated excellent or excellent with distinction serve fewer than 20% of their identified gifted students with 85 of the highly rated districts reporting no gifted services at all.

It would be easy to dismiss this report as just another assault on public school districts. But that truly is not the intent of the report. Ohio’s accountability system is deeply flawed. It really does a disservice to policymakers, the public at large, and of course, students, when we pretend that the majority of our districts are doing a stellar job when in many cases it just isn’t true. Gifted services are being reduced at a record pace. Part of the reason is funding, of course. But services have been dwindling for a number of years. I am convinced that one of the main reasons for the decline is an accountability system that includes perverse disincentives to districts when it comes to serving gifted students.

Briefly, the report recommendations include the following:

• Incorporate high quality metrics such as college remediation rates, ACT/SAT scores, Advanced Placement performance and graduates qualifying for Honors Diplomas.
• Move to nationally normed or internationally benchmarked high school assessments such as the ACT or SAT.
• Eliminate the labeling of districts until a meaningful system can be developed.
• Incorporate an automatic trigger to increase cut scores as more districts receive higher ratings.
• Reevaluate how the value-added growth measure is used and provide results by performance quintile.
• Eliminate multiple pathways to ratings in favor of a single pathway with multiple components.

I hope you will all take the time to read the report. To download a copy, please go to the following link: . I will be the first to admit, it is not a fun read. But hopefully, it will cast a light on a problem that has been hidden too long.

Ohio’s Gifted Services in Grave Jeopardy

April 29, 2011

Advocacy Alert – 4.28.11 – Action needed now!!!! The House Finance committee released the substitute budget bill HB153. I am stunned to share with you there were no positive changes for gifted. No increase in funding, no maintenance of effort provision, no softening of the budget blow from Governor Kasich’s executive budget. The only change made was to allow principals to serve as gifted coordinators if they are qualified under the operating standards. Of course this change only makes it less likely that gifted children will be appropriately served in districts. We need phone calls and testimony for April 29, April 30, and May 1.

How You Can Help

  1. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to call the following selected members of the House Finance Committee and House Leadership every day until Tuesday. Tell everyone you know to call them. When you call, you will either get an aide who will take your message or voice mail. Please be polite but passionate about your request that gifted funding be fixed. The message is simple:
    1. Gifted education is taking a disproportionately large cut relative to the education budget (89%).
    2. District services will be drastically cut if there is no additional funding or at least a district maintenance of effort requirement for gifted. A survey of districts indicates that gifted services could decrease by 50 – 70% next year with no changes to in the budget.
    3. Allowing principals to now serve as gifted coordinators will mean an even further deterioration of support for gifted students.
    4. Why are gifted students being singled out as not deserving of adequate education and funding?
    5. Here are the people for you to call:
Speaker William Batchelder 614-466-8140
Rep. Ron Amstutz (Chairman) 614-466-1474
Rep. John Carey (Vice Chair) 614-466-1366
Assistant Majority Floor Leader Barbara Sears 614-466-1731
Assistant Majority Whip Cheryl Grossman 614-466-9690
Majority Floor Leader Matt Huffman 614-466-9624
Speaker Pro Tempore Lou Blessing 614-466-9091
Majority Whip John Adams 614-466-1507
Rep. Richard Adams 614-466-8114
Rep. Marlene Anielski 614-644-6041
Rep. Troy Balderson 614-644-6014
Rep. Peter A. Beck 614-644-6027
Rep. Dave Burke 614-466-8147
Rep. Mike Duffy 614-644-6030
Rep. Randy Gardner 614-466-8104
Rep. Dave Hall 614-466-2994
Rep. Richard Hollington 614-644-5088
Rep. Jeffrey McClain 614-644-6265
Rep. Ross McGregor 614-466-2038
Rep. Mecklenborg 614-466-8258
Rep. Bob Peterson 614-644-7928
Rep. Lynn Slaby 614-644-5085
  1. In addition to making phone calls, please come to the Statehouse to testify Friday, April 29 beginning at 9:00 AM; Saturday, April 30 at beginning at 10:00 AM, or Monday, May 2 at 10:00 AM. The hearing is in Room 313, which is on the West side of the Statehouse on the 3rd floor. The easiest way to get to the committee meeting room is to park under the Statehouse and make your way to the green and glass elevator as you enter the Statehouse through the garage.  You will need to climb a flight of stairs and veer to the left as you get up the stairs to get to the elevator. Take the elevator and go to Room 313. There are only two hearing rooms on the 3rd floor, so you will find it.  If you have to park somewhere else, just ask folks how to get to the House Finance hearing room, and you will eventually get the right directions.  If you get lost, ask someone. Also, if you cannot make it by starting time, don’t worry. It would be good if you could email me to let me know if you plan to come so that I can give your name to the House Finance staff. Each person who wants to testify or submit written testimony will be asked to fill out a witness slip. A scan of the slip can be downloaded at . Fill out your name and contact information. Under the section marked “Please give a brief statement of the grounds on which favor or oppose such enactment” write that you are opposed to the elimination of gifted funding as a separate and accountable line item in the budget.  The chair of the committee would like everyone to bring 50 copies of testimony.  But if you can’t bring that many or any, come anyway. Technical aspects to testifying:

Here is the standard way to address the committee:

“Chairman Amstutz, Ranking Minority Member Sykes,  members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on HB153. My name is _______……”

Questions? Please email me at

No Spring Break for Gifted Advocates — State Homework with Extra Credit Federal Assignment

April 19, 2011

The Issue

Ah, spring break — the time to relax for a few days before finishing up the school year refreshed and rejuvenated.  Sorry, everyone, but spring break is canceled this year for gifted advocates.  Too much to do. In Ohio, gifted education funding is suffering, once again, from the unintended consequences of a funding system overhaul. Actually, the overhaul hasn’t taken place yet. Instead of an actual funding formula, every bit of funding not tied to federal maintenance of effort requirements (including gifted funding) was lumped together in one big line item, which will distributed to Ohio districts. Districts will be able to spend the funds on anything they see fit.

This kind of free-for-all district spending formula usually doesn’t bode well for gifted students. In California, which allowed gifted funding to be redistributed in 2009, gifted funding was reallocated by 69% of districts to fund other areas. In Ohio, surveys of districts show that without a change to the executive budget to ensure that state gifted funding goes to serve gifted students, there will be a similar plunge in services next year. OAGC is predicting a decrease of 50 – 70%.

What You Can Do to Help!

What’s an advocate to do? Fight back, of course!!! While the budget bill is being re-written in the Ohio House, gifted advocates need to contact and re-contact their representatives and senators.

How You Can Help

  1. During the break, please contact or re-contact your individual legislator to let them know of your concerns about gifted education. I know that there have one or two groups of gifted parents and educators who have contacted their legislators to meet with them personally on this issue. It is very helpful for legislators to get a local feel for what is going on. If they only hear from me, they do not think it is a problem. They need to hear from you! After the House votes the budget bill out (probably the first week in May), the budget moves to the Ohio Senate, so it is not too soon to begin contacting your senators now. To locate your legislators, use one of the tools on . To see if your senator is on the Finance Committee, go to .
  2. Possible points to include in your emails and phone calls:
    1. Gifted education is taking a disproportionately large cut relative to the education budget (89%).
    2. A survey of districts indicates that gifted services could decrease by 50 – 70% next year.
    3. Gifted funding should be restored to gifted units and supplemental identification funds.
    4. Districts should be held accountability for the performance of gifted students. Local control should dictate how they are served not if they are served. Thirty one states mandate gifted services. Why doesn’t Ohio?
    5. It is a waste of taxpayer dollars for gifted students to sit in classrooms learning very little.
    6. There is evidence across the state that unserved gifted students are showing up in credit recovery programs more frequently and that the performance of gifted students who are no longer being served is decreasing.

Questions? Please email me at

Special Assignment for Extra Credit

As you may be aware, the federal “Talent” Act was recently introduced. If passed, it could be a game changer for states that are routinely ignoring the needs of gifted students. Here is a summary of the act:

Success in the 21st century requires a commitment to developing student talent as early as possible.  To address this urgent need, gifted education supporters have introduced legislation to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide responsible federal leadership in meeting the needs of gifted and high-ability students.  To Aid Gifted and High-Ability Learners by Empowering the Nation’s Teachers (TALENT) Act, which replaces the Javits Act, has four key emphases:

1.  Changes to Assessment and Accountability Systems: The TALENT Act seeks to ensure that assessments are able to accurately determine student mastery of state content standards, which will enable teachers to make appropriate instructional adjustments.  The Act also makes changes to the accountability and assessment system to ensure that all students make learning gains.

2.  Emphasis on Classroom Practice: Identifying gifted and talented students and supporting their needs in the classroom requires specialized knowledge and skills, yet more than 60% of teachers have never received training in gifted education strategies.  To address this paradox, the TALENT Act expands professional development opportunities in gifted education pedagogy for teachers nationwide and develops research-based best practices.

3.  Focus on Underserved Populations: The TALENT Act responds directly to the concern that advanced students of color and those from low-income backgrounds are losing academic ground compared to their more advantaged, high-ability peers.  There is strong evidence that these students do not move into the top achievement levels over time, and those who do reach high levels do not remain in the top achievement percentiles.  The bill recognizes the traditional federal role in addressing the needs of students in poverty and focuses on students in Title I schools and rural schools to ensure they have adequate support to achieve their full potential.

4. Emphasis on Research and Dissemination: The TALENT Act recognizes the development of best practices in gifted education through research and data collection as essential to effective teaching and learning.  The bill addresses these essential components and importantly, includes a critical dissemination requirement so that more districts have access to the latest developments in the field.

Your Assignment

Yep, you guessed it! Contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives and urge them to support the act.

Contact information for Ohio Senators is here.

Look up your individual Ohio Representative here.

Okay, everyone, those are your spring break assignments.  Enjoy!

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