Tuesday, November 17, 2009


By Cheri Carlson  | Ventura County Star

Funding cuts may leave gifted kids behind

Photo by Juan Carlo - Fifth-graders Huy Ho and Izzy Stewart read books at Camarillo Heights School. The federal government’s support for gifted children now stands at only 2 cents of every $100 it spends on K-12 education, according to a report from the National Association for Gifted Children.

Monday, November 16, 2009  - Tyler Tsuji and Lauren Zibell want extra schoolwork.

The fifth-graders at Camarillo Heights School have been identified as gifted and talented students and don’t want a bunch of easy questions. They want something that really makes them think.

“It gives us more chance to study what we like,” Tyler said of the Gifted and Talented Education programs at his school. GATE programs also can keep students from getting bored and backsliding academically, experts say. But as California’s public school funding plummets, many advocates worry that gifted kids will be the children left behind.

“The gifted program is the first to be eliminated or cut,” said Margaret Gosfield, a retired Ventura teacher and former GATE coordinator. “It’s seen as an extra, instead of a necessity.”

There’s a myth that gifted students do fine without special instruction. They have special needs, Gosfield said, and without services, they are at risk of dropping out, either physically or mentally.

“If they’re not challenged ... they will just regress,” said Lisa Stafford, the Hueneme School District’s GATE coordinator.

In California, state money for gifted education dropped by 15 percent this year, funding that has always been small compared with other educational programs. The federal government’s support for gifted children, which pays for research in the field, now stands at only 2 cents of every $100 it spends on K-12 education, according to a report from the National Association for Gifted Children.

Plus, the state this year put GATE money into a funding category that allows school districts to redirect it to their general funds in light of all the other education cuts. Districts now can use GATE money, for example, to instead preserve teacher jobs or prevent class sizes from ballooning even higher.

Some districts kept GATE intact, while others eliminated everything, said Martha Flournoy, an Oxnard teacher and legislative chairwoman for the California Association for the Gifted.

“The state is in an extraordinarily bad financial position,” said Flournoy, former GATE coordinator for the Oxnard School District. State cuts “are hitting the core of everything” in schools, not just GATE programs. But whatever happens with funding, the needs of gifted kids still need to be addressed, she said.

The Ojai Unified School District used its GATE money, about $30,000, for its general fund. Former GATE stipends for teachers were lost, as were some materials and other support.

The district, however, is continuing tests to identify gifted children, and teachers still provide GATE instruction for groups of students in their classes.

“We didn’t want to make any cuts,” said Assistant Superintendent Dannielle Pusatere. The state cut millions from the Ojai district, so it used cash from several flexible funds this year, including textbook, GATE and library money. By doing so, it balanced the budget and kept class sizes lower, Pusatere said.

The Rio School District also moved GATE money to its general fund, and it is forming a committee to identify ways to keep some gifted services in schools. The Oxnard School District eliminated a GATE coordinator position but kept its gifted magnet school program this year.

The Ventura Unified School District has less money overall this year but made a commitment to maintain GATE funding at individual schools, officials said.

The Hueneme and Pleasant Valley school districts both kept their GATE funding intact, officials said, although there is less money because of the state GATE cut.

In Hueneme, Stafford said, the major push is staff training. About 20 teachers have gone through the advanced UC Santa Barbara GATE certification program so far. Others have received in-house training.

Training is key, officials said, because teachers must find ways to challenge each student in classes with a wide range of abilities. GATE instruction is a very small piece of regular teacher credential programs, Stafford said.

Pleasant Valley dropped a symposium program for gifted kids and shifted its GATE coordinator responsibilities to a principal with a background in gifted education. Funding this year will be about $46,000, down from $63,000 last year, said Darci Knight, the district’s state and federal programs director.

In the past, most of the money supported the symposiums, she said, but those voluntary sessions only served third- through fifth-graders for a few hours a week.

“We knew we had to get back into the classroom, where the instruction is occurring,” she said. “Losing that symposium ... it really did allow us to be more creative and really put our money where our biggest bang would be.”

Gifted students are now clustered in small groups in classes. The district is offering more support for classroom teachers, including having a lead GATE teacher on each campus as a coach. A parent group also is trying to raise money for the university certification program.

Camarillo parent Carolyn Triebold said Pleasant Valley is doing a good job trying to keep services in place. But there’s no guarantee for the future, she said. She wants to see mandated funds for gifted education.

“These kids are easily overlooked,” Triebold said. “I wish the state would say that these kids are a priority.”

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