James J. Gallagher Dies at 87; Educator Focused on Disabled and Gifted
James J. Gallagher, an authority on child development whose work expanded educational opportunities for disabled and gifted children nationwide, died on Jan. 17 at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 87.
The death was announced by the University of North Carolina. At his death, Dr. Gallagher was a senior scientist emeritus at the university’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.
For decades, Dr. Gallagher straddled the terrain where childhood education and public policy intersect, lecturing widely, holding posts in the federal government and working in academe.
He was known in particular as the chief architect of the Individualized Education Program, commonly called I.E.P. Inaugurated in the 1970s and used in schools throughout the country, the program centers on instruction tailored to the individual needs of physically and learning disabled students.
“When Dr. Gallagher began working on behalf of children with disabilities, these children were excluded from school,” Mary Ruth Coleman, a senior scientist emerita at the Graham Institute, said on Monday. “Due in large part to his efforts, public laws were passed to ensure that children with disabilities would receive a free and appropriate public education.”
At midcentury, when Dr. Gallagher began his career, public education was directed almost exclusively at students occupying the vast, normative middle: those who were neither conspicuously gifted nor conspicuously disabled.
Dr. Gallagher, as his many books and articles attest, saw the education of the children at either endpoint as a civil rights issue.
“A lot of education was really of average children,” Iheoma U. Iruka, the Graham Institute’s associate director for research, said. “He was instrumental in placing a keen and sharp focus on gifted children and children with disabilities.”
From 1967 to 1970, Dr. Gallagher served as an associate commissioner for education in the United States Office of Education, then part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
In that capacity, he was the first chief of the office’s Bureau for the Education of the Handicapped. He was later a deputy assistant secretary for planning, research and evaluation.
Dr. Gallagher’s work in those posts led directly to the passage in 1975 of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act. The law, known today as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, mandated public education for every disabled child and affected well over a million children.
“He was one of the major advocates who saw to it that this law was written and passed,” Dr. Coleman said. “He knew that children with disabilities would have unique learning needs that required specific educational support.”
One of the law’s provisions, set forth by Dr. Gallagher, was the creation of individualized education programs, which remain in use today.
His purview likewise took in gifted students, whose needs had also gone largely unmet.
“There were programs for students with gifts and talents in isolated areas across the country,” Dr. Coleman said. “However, there was no framework for broad-based state support or federal support.”
Through his work on the Marland Report of 1972 — a report to Congress submitted by Sidney P. Marland Jr., then the United States commissioner of education — Dr. Gallagher helped establish gifted and talented children as a population with special educational needs.
The Marland Report, the first national report on educating the gifted, has informed educational programs ever since.
In 1980 Dr. Gallagher helped found the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a residential high school for gifted students in those disciplines. Believed to be the first school of its kind in the United States, it became a model for similar schools around the country.
James John Gallagher was born on June 11, 1926, in Pittsburgh; his mother, Anna Mae, was a teacher of disabled children there. After Navy service stateside in World War II, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Pennsylvania State College, as Penn State University was then known.
In the early 1950s Dr. Gallagher was the chief psychologist at the Dayton Hospital for Disturbed Children in Ohio. He later taught psychology at what is now Michigan State University and at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
He joined the University of North Carolina in 1970 as the director of the Graham Institute, named for Frank Porter Graham (1886-1972), a former United States senator and president of the university. Dr. Gallagher was also the university’s Kenan professor of education for many years.
Dr. Gallagher’s survivors include his wife, the former Gertrude Cunningham, known as Rani, whom he married in 1949; a daughter, Shelagh Gallagher; three sons, Kevin, Sean and Brian; and five grandchildren.
His books include two influential texts: “Teaching the Gifted Child,” written with his daughter and published in its fourth edition in 1994, and “Educating Exceptional Children,” with Dr. Coleman and Samuel A. Kirk, who died in 1996. Its 14th edition is to be published next month.
Addressing audiences about the challenge of securing appropriate education for gifted children, Dr. Gallagher liked to tell the following parable:
A local school board, petitioned to meet the needs of a group of exceptional students, was asked to furnish them with extra transportation, purpose-built equipment, specially trained instructors and time out from regular classes.
The board demurred, until it learned the precise nature of the exceptional group: the school’s varsity football team.