Oregon is a state nearly willing to paralyze its economy to mothball its natural resources. Once powered by mining, timber, the land and the water, the state has become so nature conscious it is frequently willing to teeter on the brink of insolvency to advance the cause of environmental restraint.

And yet, when it comes to protecting it's greatest resource of all, the state routinely turns its back.

The resource? Oregon's gifted and talented students - those students most likely to become the doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, political scientists, professors, business leaders, artists and creative geniuses - carry the potential to positively shape our future.

There have been far more bills introduced in the Oregon Legislature on behalf of salmon than there have been to fund programs for this state's highly capable students.

Likewise, protection of our forests garners considerably more attention than protecting the educational needs of our brightest children.

In the interest of political correctness and through the influence of powerful lobbying groups, the education agenda has been co-opted by the needs of our most fragile students, groups that for too many years were given short shrift.

That the solution to their needs has come at the expense of some of their classmates creates an unfortunate consequence.

In the race to assure no child has been left behind, massive resources have been focused on those who struggle, not those who excel. Those who already meet the standards provide a convenient opportunity to mobilize educational efforts on behalf of those who don't - particularly in times when resources are scant and expectations continue to rise.

This state and this nation will ultimately pay the price - if it hasn't already - for ignoring that segment of our population most likely to enhance the ability of this country to compete in a global economy.

In our fervent desire for universal equality, we have sacrificed a challenge and promise we made to our children - a promise that they can be everything they want to be.

It's doubtful the architects of "No Child Left Behind" sought to create a nation in which all children become average. A quick look at program design and the allocation of resources, however, would suggest that will become their legacy.

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