While thousands of Kentucky students graduated from high school recently, nearly 50 achieved this milestone in a particularly impressive fashion.
The recent graduates of the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky spent their final two years of high school studying on the campus of Western Kentucky University. These students pursued a rigorous and intensive math and sciences curriculum and graduated with at least 60 hours of college credit, with most having engaged in research and/or study abroad.
The Gatton Academy, which graduated its seventh class this spring, is a crown jewel for math and science excellence in our state, and demonstrates what can be achieved when policy makers commit to developing our top talent.
Next year, the Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics at Morehead State University will open, affording even more students such an opportunity. Resources are scarce to fully address the needs of high-achieving and high-potential students in Kentucky and the nation.
More than 12 states provide zero funds to districts for this work, and another nine states, including Kentucky, spend less than $10 million for this gifted education. Kentucky provides about $6.6 million for gifted education, which has not changed since 1990.
Only nine states — Kentucky not included — report on the performance of gifted students as a separate group, and fewer than 20 states require teachers in gifted and talented programs to have a gifted education credential. Kentucky has required this since 1984.
Kentucky is, in some ways, ahead of the nation. The state provides some funding to support high-achieving students, requires specialized training for teachers who work with them, and allows students to be accelerated by grade or subject. In addition, since gifted students are recognized as exceptional students under the law, each formally identified student has a Gifted Student Service Plan.
The only federal program focused on high-achieving students is the Javits Gifted applied research program. It supports development of practices to help teachers identify and serve high-ability students from under-represented populations. Despite a 20-year record of success, Congress defunded the program in 2011. Earlier this year Congress restored partial funding for fiscal year 2014. Kentucky has had several Javits grants, including one that was defunded in 2011 midway through a five-year grant.
Students today face a dramatic change of course from the second half of the 20th century, when our nation recognized the importance of prioritizing talent development and established a number of programs that did just that. These programs enabled us to win the "space race" and become the world's innovator for a generation and beyond.
Over time, we backed off this commitment, and today we are paying the consequences. Students, even our highest achievers, are outperformed by peers in other nations, few children of color or from poverty reach advanced levels of achievement, fewer students pursue careers in math and science-intensive fields and well-paying jobs are unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers.
We must undertake a serious recommitment that looks to the lessons of the past to build a brighter future for our state and nation.
At the federal level, we need to restore full funding for the Javits program and expand it in 2015 and beyond. Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is well-positioned to help achieve this goal. Advocates need to let Rogers know how important Javits is to providing appropriate educational opportunities for gifted children in Kentucky.
Congress must work to ensure our K-12 education laws adequately support our high-achieving and high-potential students. This can be done by:
■ Requiring states to report on the annual performance of these students to measure year-over-year progress,
■ Providing high-ability learners in Title I, low-income schools with opportunities for advanced coursework,
■ Permitting federal teacher training dollars to be used to prepare educators to work with gifted students.
Kentucky lawmakers can improve our already strong foundation by increasing funding to districts to better support students.
The development of talent must become a priority in Kentucky and our nation if we are to optimize economic development as well as educational opportunities for our students.