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Back to school: Are we leaving gifted students behind?

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Nearly 80 percent of teachers surveyed in 2008 by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington agreed that "getting underachieving students to reach proficiency has become so important that the needs of advanced students take a back seat."

Such criticisms might be legitimate, but they're anecdotal, says Pat O'Connell Johnson, who oversees gifted K-12 education issues for the US Department of Education.

"It's not like there was this golden era that NCLB has ruined. It's really been a sort of constant struggle in America to figure out how to pay attention to the students that are exceeding what the expectations are for most students," she says. "Academic excellence is something we feel ambivalent about. There's this idea that the kids will do well anyway."

There's no national policy requiring that gifted children be identified and served by school districts. There's no national definition of "gifted."

The only federal program to support gifted education, known as the Javits Act, used to supply about $7 million a year, mainly for research on how to better identify and serve poor and minority gifted students. But Congress eliminated it this year.

State policies are a patchwork. About one-quarter of states provide no funding for gifted education, and 13 states bar students from entering kindergarten early, according to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in Washington.

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