The Connie Belin and Jaqueline N Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development is based in the College of Education at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, South-East Iowa, USA.
The University of Iowa is a public university founded in 1847 with over 21,000 undergraduate students. It is placed at 132 in the The Times Top 200 world universities for 2010-11 (and at 67 in the US).
The College of Education, one of 11 Colleges within the University, was founded in 1872 as the first permanent college-level education department in the US.
It hosts three overlapping entities:
- The Belin-Blank Center
- The Belin-Blank Center Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration (IRPA)
- The National Institute for Twice Exceptionality (NITE)
NITE and IRPA
NITE is under development. It is planned to become ‘a national resource for gifted students who have one or more disabilities…as well as a training center for parents, educators, counsellors and psychologists’. (It is estimated that there are some 360,000 twice-exceptional students in American schools.)
The University received a grant of $165,000 from the Federal Department of Education to found NITE, which will build on the work of the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counselling Clinic with this clientelle.
The Clinic currently undertakes student assessments, provides counselling for students and their families, parental consultations and limited outreach services for child psychologists and educators. It also offers training programmes for the latter.
IRPA was opened in 2006 with funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Templeton was a banker, knighted by the British Queen. His Foundation, established in 1987, has an endowment valued at $1.5 billion in 2009.
It supported the publication in 2004 of: A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students by Susan Assouline and Nicholas Colangelo of the University of Iowa and Miraca Gross of the University of New South Wales. The authors received a grant of $361,800 from September 2002 to February 2006. It appears that part of this funding was used to set up the IRPA.
IRPA has a staff of seven including Colangelo (Professor of Gifted Education and of Counselor Education and Director of the Belin-Blank Center), Assouline (Associate Director of the Center and Professor of School Psychology) and David Lohman (Professor of Educational Psychology). Its declared role is to:
- undertake research ‘on the cognitive and affective characteristics that moderate students’ success with different forms of academic acceleration';
- synthesise research on acceleration for the benefit of practitioners, policy makers and researchers and
- act as ‘an international clearinghouse for research and policy on acceleration’.
The website contains ‘A Nation Deceived’, several case studies of acceleration, guidelines for developing an acceleration policy (November 2009), a policy map explaining how acceleration policy differs between US states, an annotated bibliography, Q and A, a downloadable presentation (registration required) and a few research studies.
It also offers access to two priced resources:
- the Iowa Acceleration Scale – describes as a tool to support grade-skipping decisions and
- IDEAL Solutions for Math Acceleration – a newly-developed online diagnostic tool
And it contains details of research grants awarded to academics elsewhere (nine in 2007, four in 2008) the vast majority based in US universities.
The Belin-Blank Center
The Belin-Blank Center itself was founded in 1988. Its mission is to: ‘empower and serve the international gifted community through exemplary leadership in programs, research, and advocacy’.
In addition to Colangelo, Assouline and Lohman, the Center employs 19 administrative staff, four academic ‘faculty partners’ and three resource specialists making 29 in all. It has a large Advisory Board: all the members are resident in the USA; the majority in Iowa.
Belin-Blank runs its own talent search – BESTS – introduced in 1992, which utilises above-level testing with children in Grades 2-9. The website says over 90,000 children have participated over the lifetime of BESTS, suggesting an annual participation rate of under 5,000.
Several summer programmes are offered for children in Grades 2-11. Most are one week or less in length, but there is a 6-week Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) for Grades 9-11 during which students do scientific research in University laboratories with support from a mentor. The Center also offers Challenge Saturdays in Iowa City and Des Moines and a series of WINGS weekend institutes in Iowa City and Council Bluffs for Grades 3-8.
The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA) has been supported historically by the State Education Department and the Federal Department of Education. Future provision depends on partnership with Iowa’s state Learning Online Program.
Invent Iowa is an open access state-wide competition for talented young inventors in Grades K-12. It began in 1987 but was not taken on by the Center until 1999.
Belin-Blank also administers regional ‘Scholastic Art and Writing Awards’ and runs the regional heats of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS) Program, a national competition for students to present their work to other students, teachers and researchers.
In 1999 it introduced the National Academy of Arts, Sciences and Engineering (NAASE) which enables gifted young people to enrol at the University during their Junior year of high school (age 16+). There were 15 students admitted in 2008, 10 from Iowa, but more recent admissions data is lacking.
Belin-Blank offers endorsement for teachers of gifted and talented children in accordance with Iowa state requirements. A menu of courses and workshops is available to address these requirements, divided into Psychology, Programming and Administration strands, as well as a wide range of other professional development opportunities.
The Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI) is a 4-day workshop to prepare teachers to develop and teach AP courses. There is also a one-week Fellowship Program for teachers of gifted and talented pupils and the biennial Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development (though there is no event in 2012 and details of the next event have not yet been announced). An Advanced Leadership Institute was offered in 2009 and 2011, the latter on Arts and Gifted Education.
The Templeton International Fellowship Program provided support for 50 international educators to attend the Wallace Symposium in 2008. It is not clear whether this has been repeated.
Belin-Blank also administers the Davidson Institute Research and Development Program with an unspecified grant from the Institute. This examines the progress of profoundly gifted students the Institute has identified and will also evaluate the Davidson Academy. Few further details of this relationship are available.
The Research section of the website includes three reports on rural gifted education published by the Center between 1999 and 2006 and there is a rather cursory section on diversity, commensurate perhaps with the fact that Iowa’s population is 95% white.
The Center is proud of its credentials as an international operation, citing:
- collaboration with Miraca Gross’s GERRIC in New South Wales, Australia, to develop an Australian identification system in Australia;
- a partnership with the Centre for Gifted Education at the University of Calgary, Canada, focused on identification of gifted children in Alberta;
- attendance of 50 Chinese students at a 2008 residential summer school, half of whom were expected to register in 2009 for early entry to the University of Iowa (11 eventually did so). The summer school was provided again in 2009 and the intention then was to continue to expand it, to the point where 50 Chinese students registered with the University by 2012. It is not clear whether this China BESTS project continues;
- a Mexican Scholars Program for 20 Mexican students aged 13-15 to attend a 9-day residential school (at a cost of $2000 per student);
- a visiting scholars programme (though only one Korean is mentioned several South Korean teachers of maths, science and technology have attended professional development courses at Belin-Blank);
- a longstanding partnership with the Israel Arts and Science Academy (IASA) – although it is not clear how active this is currently;
- consultancy to the Penta UC Programme in Chile and a new relationship with the Universidad Autonoma de Yucatan (UADY) to create a Center on Giftedness in Merida Mexico.
The overall impression is of a large-scale operation trying hard to balance multiple domestic income-generating activities with an international perspective. The latter is more developed than in most other US centers for gifted education, though it clearly depends heavily on the business secured by its academic leaders and could perhaps be further enhanced.
In addition to its website, the Center issues occasional newsletters for educators ‘Vision’ and for students ‘What’s UP’ and it has just launched a blog.