Summer Assignment: Contact Congress

It has been 14 years since the most recent passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), known as No Child Left Behind, with all its negative consequences for advanced students. In major news last week, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives each passed a new version of ESEA and gifted education advocates have reason to be excited. Make plans to communicate soon with your members of Congress.

For the first time since the Javits Act program was added to ESEA in 1988, the Senate–passed version of the ESEA reauthorization bill (S.1177, the “Every Child Achieves Act”) includes specific provisions that address the needs of gifted and talented learners. Make no mistake—this is your achievement. Your work with your Members of Congress over the years has made the difference.

Thanks to Senate supporters, priorities for federal leadership in gifted education from the TALENT Act (S.363) were made part of ESEA. For example, state-level Title II plans must include information about how the state will improve the skills of teachers, principals, and other school leaders in identifying gifted and talented students and providing instruction based on their specific learning needs. In addition, school district Title II funds must address the learning needs of gifted and talented students. These improvements will allow advocates to press for high quality professional development opportunities for all teachers in their district. Also, state report cards will include disaggregated student achievement data at each achievement level, including the advanced level. Publishing the “excellence gaps” in each state will allow advocates to focus on which students do not have access to advanced learning opportunities. And finally, recognizing the link between high quality research activities and best classroom practices, the Senate bill retains the Javits program, which means that research will continue on how schools can better identify and serve high-ability students who may not be identified as gifted through traditional assessment methods. These additions to ESEA will make a meaningful difference to how schools and districts address the needs of high-ability students.

Unfortunately the House version of ESEA does not include the new gifted education provisions or retain the Javits Act. However, with your assistance it will be possible to reverse this deficiency.

The next step for the two bills will be a “conference committee,” which will be made up of members of the House and Senate committees that handle education. The conference committee will be charged with hammering out a single version of ESEA that will go to the full House and Senate for a final vote (and then on to the president if it passes both chambers).

The most important thing advocates can do is to contact your Representative and urge him or her to support gifted and talented students by asking the ESEA Conference Committee to accept the gifted education provisions from S.1177, the Senate version of ESEA, as they conduct their deliberations.

It is especially important to reach out to Representatives who are members of the House Education and Workforce Committee, who will be part of the conference committee process.

Each Representative has an online email form for sharing your message. Also note that House Members will be in the district during the upcoming Congressional August “recess.” You may have the opportunity to attend an event or meet with your Representative in person to share your concerns about the needs of high-ability students and your request that the House agree to increase federal leadership in gifted and talented education in ESEA.

Your Senators have online email forms and also will be in the state during the August break. The message for them is very similar: Retain the gifted education provisions from S.1177 in the final version of ESEA.

We are on the cusp of an exciting, meaningful victory. Please take the time to contact your elected officials this summer to support gifted education provisions in ESEA.