Sputnik in Reverse:
Cutting Funding for Advanced Learning in Texas
by Justin Vawter
When Sputnik floated by, the U.S. panicked–how could we be behind the USSR in the Space Race? The United States immediately began to examine the quality of its schooling. One year later, the National Defense Education Act established the first federally-funded gifted & talented program. Now, those kids who tinker, create, and (in the process) almost blow themselves up aren’t expelled, they’re hired by NASA.
Since Sputnik and the Education Act, the question of what makes someone gifted or talented has waivered and fluctuated–but here’s a simple way to think of it: those with a high ability are gifted, and those who are highly skilled are talented. There’s a clear relationship here. Kids who take the family toaster apart aren’t talented engineers, they have a gift for experimentation and a strong curiosity. The Education Act of 1959 funded programs that allowed these curious learners to cultivate their gifts into talents–skills which eventually put Neil Armstrong on the moon.
Let’s be clear: we need funding to provide a level of schooling for those who show a high ability and a high talent. This is not some elite group–this is the opportunity for a first grader to dive deeper into math, exploring fractals and tessellations in nature. Flash forward, this is a high school student who elects to take Advanced Placement courses. In Texas, these types of learning opportunities are funded by an allotment–the Gifted & Talented Allotment. And currently, there are Texas state lawmakers who are voting to repeal it.
I’ve met lawmakers personally, and they are not cold nor callous–they genuinely care about education. So why is removing funding for gifted & talented education even a consideration? The argument goes like this: stop providing money for gifted and talented programs and put this money into a general fund, that way the school district can choose how to use it. The schools don’t need anyone to hold them accountable, they will use the money appropriately and they will continue to fund gifted and talented programs.
We could speculate on what schools will actually do without direction or oversight, but any argument would only be built on slippery slopes. However, instead of painting a dismal picture, let’s look at Ohio, which has fought this battle before: “Changes to funding are not likely to support our most vulnerable gifted students. Most disappointingly, very little emphasis [is given to] the unique needs of gifted rural students and how educational service centers or other regional partnerships could be funded to support rural gifted services.” Cutting funding means that bright students, and especially those bright students from underrepresented populations, do not receive the quality of education they need.
Here’s another example supporting the importance of funded mandates, and this one will now sound really familiar: About 70 years ago, the U.S. realized that in order to position and secure itself as a global leader, it was necessary to mandate funding for bright learners. The money had been there before the Education Act; we had known as early as the 1800’s that some students want an additional layer of challenge; however, the money was not being used to provide opportunities until a funded mandate, signed by President Eisenhower, came into existence.
We learned a lesson many years ago–our nation’s greatest resource is our minds. Funding for gifted & talented education is not money just for “special folks,” it’s money for all students who need advanced learning opportunities. The money allows schools in high-poverty areas to purchase special tests to help identify students who are often overlooked. The money pays for enriched bilingual and dual-language materials for non-native speakers–students whose gifts and talents would otherwise be passed over because of a language barrier. The funds pay for highly-trained specialists, who know that many curious and high-achieving students need support, direction, and guidance.
Without funds, these programs will not thrive–stifling advanced learning opportunities from our public schools. Let’s learn from the lesson of Sputnik, and rally together to support Texas’s valuable resource–our minds.
Please take a short moment to voice your concern:
- Call Members of the House and Senate Committee and simply say, “I support the Gifted & Talented allotment. Do not reallocate the funds.”
- Email Members of the House and Senate Committee and simply put, ““I support the Gifted & Talented allotment. Do not reallocate the funds.”
- Share this message on social media and encourage your friends to do the same.–tag your story using the hashtag #WhyGT
- “A Brief History of Gifted and Talented Education,” National Association of Gifted & Talented
- October Sky (film), Rocket Boys (book), Homer Hickman
- Paradigms of Gifted Education, Dai & Chen (2013)
- Texas Educ. Code § 42.156
- See “Final Report” Texas Commission on Public School Finance (December 31, 2018)
- Ohio Association of Gifted Children (OAGC) state of Ohio commissioned the Gifted Cost Study