Conducting research focused on gifted education and talent development is central to our mission. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute, featuring A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students (2015), is a prime example of how gifted education research assists educators and policy makers in better understanding and developing the talents of bright students. While gifted education research has had many advocates, there were perhaps none whose reach has extended quite as far as Jacob K. Javits.
Q: Who was Jacob K. Javits and what does he have to do with gifted education?
A: In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the only federal legislation for gifted and talented education. It was named in recognition of its primary advocate, Jacob K. Javits, a long-serving Congressman (R-NY, 1947-1954) and Senator (R-NY, 1957-1981). As the National Associated for Gifted Children explains, the “purpose of the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act is to orchestrate a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities that build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students.” Javits grants typically focus on students who are traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and the Javits Act provides opportunities to better understand best practices in gifted education.
Q: How does the Javits Act fit into current federal legislation for education?
A: Federal legislation for education has existed for more than 50 years (first passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA; currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA). Ten years later, special education programs became mandatory with the 1975 passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (re-authorized and re-named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, in 1990). The original IDEA legislation was an essential mandate to ensure that every student had the right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. IDEA protects society’s most vulnerable individuals, which is essential to any society.
Q: What does ESSA or IDEA have to do with gifted students?
A: Importantly, when the 1990 IDEA was re-authorized in 2004, there was – for the first time – recognition that gifted and talented children may also have diagnosed disabilities or disorders. These students are referred to as “twice-exceptional.” Shortly thereafter, when the 2005 request for proposals for Javits Grants was issued, the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Department of Education submitted a proposal to further investigate a specific group of underrepresented students, those who are twice-exceptional. That proposal was funded, thus launching our work in the area of twice-exceptionality and significantly impacting the field.
Q: Has the Belin-Blank Center been awarded other Javits grants?
A: Yes! We were awarded a second Javits grant in the late 1990s to investigate gifted and talented students attending alternative schools. Most recently (2017), the Belin-Blank Center and the UI College of Education were awarded a third Javits grant to explore the effects of a talent development model along with a career intervention program on underrepresented gifted students.
Q: How much funding is available from the Javits Act?
A: The short answer is, “not that much.” This is a true statement in absolute terms, as well as relative to other education initiatives. Since 1988, annual funding has varied from $5 million to $12 million, which is about 1 to 2 cents for every $100 spent on education. In 2013, no funding was available and in 2011 and 2012, there were no new awards presented. It is important to know that, even at the modest levels at which monies are allocated, Congress must reauthorize funding for the Javits Act each year.
Every year, the Javits funding is tenuous. However, the impact of Javits awards on participating students, teachers, and schools is far from tenuous. We have experienced the positive impact first hand.
In addition to the Javits demonstration and scale-up grants awarded to states, there is periodic funding for a national gifted and talented center. The original Javits legislation funding in 1988 resulted in the establishment of the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented ([NRC/GT]; 1990-2013), housed on the University of Connecticut campus. After the funding was re-established in 2013, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), also on the University of Connecticut campus, was established. Current Javits funding supports the NCRGE, which offers a prolific research agenda. Most recently, researchers presented an impressive study investigating the (mis)alignment of identification for gifted programming and the content of the programming. This NCRGE research project, in addition to three other relevant projects, was reviewed in a recent Education Week article, “4 Ways Schools Help or Hinder Gifted Students,” by Sarah D. Sparks.
There is no shortage of excellent research in the field of gifted education, and we are grateful that the Javits Act has advanced the field in significant ways over the past 31 years. We are also grateful that we have had a role in that advancement. We look forward to continuing to contribute to a broad research agenda and collaborating with teachers to improve programming for gifted students.
Hope springs eternal for continued funding to support this important research!