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Why Gifted Education?

Keeping a child who can do sixth-grade work in a second-grade classroom is not saving that student’s childhood but is instead robbing that child of the desire to learn. – Ellen Winner, Gifted Children: Myths and Realities

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. – William Butler Yeats

According to the National Association for Gifted Children and other experts, about 5 to 7 percent of children are gifted.  In the Rochester Community Schools, this would be up to 1,000 students.  But even with this large number of students, gifted children and the need for gifted education is little understood and often overlooked.  Gifted education is essentially non-existent in our elementary schools, limited in our middle schools, and present as honors and AP classes in our high schools.

I want examine why advanced and gifted education is necessary in our schools to make students college-ready, career-ready, and life-ready.

Two of the most important qualities our school system can help instill is a love for learning and the ability to overcome adversity. That requires an appropriate level of instruction, academics that stimulate the intellect, and a pace appropriate to the learner. How would typical students fare if they were placed a year or two behind their grade level? They might ace all the exams, but they would be bored, not learn, not develop study skills, and wouldn’t fit in. According to The Marland Report on gifted children in 1972, “because the majority of gifted children’s school adjustment problems occur between kindergarten and fourth grade, about half of gifted children became ‘mental dropouts’ at around 10 years of age.”

Our children are sent to school to learn.  To learn, the material must be new.  Most people only learn how to swim once.  You wouldn’t put someone who knows how to swim in a beginners class no matter his age.  And once you’ve learned the front crawl, you want to move on to other strokes like the butterfly.  Spending time swimming laps while your classmates are still figuring out side breathing is time spent not learning.  The classroom is no different.  Some children are ahead of classmates their age in academics.  Re-learning the material makes no sense for them.  Some children learn much quicker than others.  Giving them additional worksheets (swimming laps) will not teach them more.  We need to focus on what material is academically aligned, not age aligned.

More importantly, our children are sent to school to learn how to learn.  To do this, the material must be appropriately aligned and paced to the child.  When much of the material is review or the pace is too slow, the students do not learn as much as they should or could.  They do not acquire necessary skills in how to study, how to learn, and how to work hard to achieve a goal.  Not having those skills will harm them in their careers and lives more than any lack of knowledge.  A person who never has a challenge is a person who never really succeeds.

Often there are concerns about how gifted education will affect a student socially.  Will a child accelerated a grade or put in an advanced cluster group be out of place in the classroom?  In the vast majority of cases, placing a child with his intellectual peers helps him fit in socially by not sticking out so much.  Being with other advanced peers allows a gifted child to understand his uniqueness better.  Students appropriately placed into gifted programs are much less disruptive in the classroom as their minds remain occupied.  In addition, overcoming obstacles and earning success improves self esteem more than easy accomplishments.

Gifted education helps keep advanced learners engaged in school.  In 1991, the dropout rate for gifted students was estimated at 18-25 percent, far exceeding the U.S. dropout rate of 12.1 percent at that time.  Two major factors were lacking or inappropriate gifted education and poor social adjustment.  Both are improved by gifted education.  Not having gifted education is leaving gifted children behind.

Gifted education is needed to provide academically aligned education for advanced students, to teach gifted students skills needed in their careers and lives, to meet their social and emotional needs, and to keep them engaged in school so they don’t drop out.  It is important that this group of students not be overlooked in the schools simply because they can “get by” without much assistance.

Gifted Education is Equal Education

Public schools are supposed to meet the needs of all learners, not just the average learner.  This has long been the purpose of public schools and is reflected in the mandate to educate special needs students.  We understand that curriculum must be appropriately paced and at the level the student can understand, yet still promote learning by presenting new knowledge and stretching the student’s skills.  This is true of any student and many public schools have done a great job of doing this with both the average and special needs learners.

The question that should be asked regarding each student is “Is he learning?”  This is a much more important question than “Can he pass the material?” or “Will he ace the test?”  Education is only equal if each student is learning.  Placing a typical third grade student into a sixth grade classroom or a typical six grade student into a third grade class does not result in learning and is unfair to the student whose academic level is asynchronous to the rest of his classmates.  While gifted children in a standard classroom often ace the exams, they are not learning at the pace they should be.

Children come in all sizes and all abilities.  To provide the same education to all students is as fair as providing size medium pads to all the football players.  They will fit many players, but the larger kids will be cramped and the smaller kids will be weighed down and the performance of both will suffer.  Your football players will be most effective with equipment tailored to that player.

Gifted Education is Not Elite Education

We live an egalitarian society.  Egalitarianism can take two forms.  The first, egalitarianism of opportunity, is that all people are equal in fundamental worth and social standing.  Skin color, intelligence, or wealth does not give you additional political or civil rights.  The second form, egalitarianism of results, is the redistribution of assets to compensate for differences in abilities and effectiveness.  Each person gets the same.

The United States was set up to be egalitarian in opportunity and founded on statements like “All men are created equal.”  Unions are often set up to be egalitarian in results, where pay and job retention are not based on abilities and effectiveness.  This accounts in part for the bias against gifted education in many public schools.  To achieve equality of results, not only must additional resources be expended to raise up those struggling, but resources must be reduced to bring down those who are excelling.  This egalitarianism of results is contradictory to egalitarianism of opportunity.

Public schools have become an unusual mix of egalitarianism of opportunity and egalitarianism of results.  Egalitarianism of results rules in academics and teacher pay.  Egalitarianism of opportunity exists in athletics, student politics, and social life.  Star athletes are not benched until everyone else catches up.  Students do not take turns being class president.  Friends are not redistributed from popular kids to outcasts.  In contrast, gifted students are often do not receive academic stimulation until the rest of the class catches up, are not called on when they know the answer, and asked to mentor students who are behind.

What parents of gifted students desire is a change from egalitarianism of results to egalitarianism of opportunity.  Let our children also struggle to achieve a grade.  Let our children also learn new things at a pace appropriate to them.  Let our children have a curriculum that fits them.  Respect the individual differences in learning for all students.

Having Gifted Education Can Be Inexpensive

There are many types of gifted education or acceleration.  Many are very inexpensive to implement.  Early admission, grade-skipping, or partial acceleration are essentially free.  Other options such as magnet classrooms or magnet schools can have initial start-up costs with teacher training or redistricting to open up space at a school.  However, the costs after that are similar to a standard classroom or school and funds are just shifted with the students instead of added.  Pull-out programs can also be fairly inexpensive, adding 1/2 to 1 teaching resource per school.

Other forms of acceleration such as curriculum compacting, telescoping, or mentors can be more expensive as they can require additional teaching resources.  While schools often are compensated for special needs children, they are not compensated for resources spent on gifted students.  These forms of gifted education may be too costly for many schools.

Not Having Gifted Education Can Be Expensive

Gifted children who are not accelerated can create additional costs for school districts and society.  Bored children can become turned off to learning or be troublemakers.  Gifted students who are not in accelerated programs drop out at higher rates, have more psychological problems, and more often become underachievers.  Many gifted students, particularly girls, hide their giftedness so that they can fit in.   Gifted students in gifted programs have better self-esteem and have an easier time making friends.

Not having gifted education in a school district also often results in parents of gifted children removing from those schools for other options: local public schools of choice, charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, parochial schools, and home schooling.  Each time a student leaves, their funding leaves too.  Many school districts are reducing services because of falling enrollment.  A good gifted and talented program will attract students who will bring their funding with them.

Gifted Education Benefits Everyone

Many times people look at the resources devoted to gifted students and ask why their student who gets average grades doesn’t get added resources.  First, in many gifted and talented programs, gifted students do not get additional resources, but the same amount of resources allocated differently.  Second, when gifted students are pulled-out of the regular classroom either through pull-out programs or magnet schools, other students can benefit.  With pull-out programs, the gifted students may be sent to another room for a few hours a week.  This means that the classroom teacher has fewer students to instruct and more time can be dedicated to the rest of the class.  With grade-skipping, partial acceleration, and magnet schools, the teachers in the standard classrooms have a narrower range of students to teach to and do not have to spend as much time with differentiation.

Pulling out the gifted and advanced students also allows other students to answer more questions and to gain self-esteem by becoming top performers.  Athletic teams understand this and often have freshman and junior varsity teams as greater participation, more interaction with the coach, and the chance to be a star help the athletes gain skills they would not if they were playing on a team with the varsity players.

Gifted programs have also created many of the innovations seen in the regular classroom that have improved academics.  Problem-based curriculum, literature-based reading, and self-directed learning were all born in the gifted classroom.  These adaptations, meant to challenge gifted students, have moved to other classrooms because of their effectiveness.

Why is Advanced and Gifted Education Necessary?

  • It is equal and fair learning conditions for advanced and gifted students.
  • It meets the unique needs of gifted children
  • It helps gifted students to achieve their potential
  • It aids other students in achieving their potential
  • It is inexpensive compared to the results of not having gifted education


16 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda McCormick permalink
    January 15, 2014 6:01 PM

    thank you for your article…. I have been teaching gifted students for 17 years and I still have to answer why we have programs for our gifted students.

  2. January 27, 2015 3:07 PM

    I am a gifted student, I’ve read this, and you rock!!

  3. January 27, 2015 3:09 PM

    I am a gifted student and thank you for writing this down now I understand

  4. March 10, 2015 3:58 PM

    Thank you for putting my many thoughts into words. I am a parent who has done exactly what you spoke of: pulled her kids out of public school because while the education may be free, it most certainly isn’t appropriate. May I quote your article?

    • March 10, 2015 4:03 PM

      Thanks for asking! Yes, you may certainly use selections from my article. Please credit through a link back to the article.

      And while public education may seem free, it is our tax dollars being used to fund schools that ignore the needs of our children.

  5. March 17, 2015 12:01 AM

    I wandered to your site while searching for pro- gifted education arguments. I don’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak, as I’m from a different country…but as I’m studying educational policies, I try to keep up with the global/country specific discourse.

    It is wonderful that you’re passionate about GE, but I disagree with some of your premises:

    1- “To learn, the material must be new.”
    A blanket statement which only holds true when the content is very superficial and targeted at the lowest denominator. Even if the content is not rich, Isn’t a teacher the key to transcend the content and make it available to all kinds of learners?
    Your analogy of swimming seems simplistic..academic learning, which is highly related to cognitive functioning, cannot be equated to swimming which focuses more on physiological and procedural factors.
    I do agree though that *all* children need to be challenged at their own respective levels. But, I disagree that segregating gifted children is the solution to the lack of challenge for gifted children.

    2- “Gifted education benefits everyone”
    I disagree that gifted education that is based on the idea of segregation (whether full or partial) benefits ‘everyone’. Its likely beneficiaries are only gifted children and their teachers. I do agree that educational innovations such as PBL etc do benefit everyone, but only when used by everyone. Is there research data that shows such innovations being used in regular or mainstream schools?

    I am all for equity in schooling and firmly believe that all children, irrespective of their IQ need to have their needs met. But, I am not in favor of segregating children (whether gifted or LDs) in separate schools like magnet or GT schools.

    My daughter, age 9, is in an inclusive classroom. I know that her needs are not met academically, but I know that if I focused on her academic strengths alone, as gifted schools are wont to do, she would pay the price in her emotional well being. And at this point, considering the issues we already face with her High IQ (> 140), I choose to focus on her emotional and social well being….which is addressed in a diverse classroom at present.
    Maybe her needs will change…but I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

    • March 17, 2015 9:43 AM


      Thank you for reading this post and your comments on it. Experts in gifted education are not a monolithic group and there certainly exists some discussion on what is best for gifted students. Also, what is best for one gifted learner isn’t always what is best for another.

      Perhaps swimming is too different to be an effective analogy, but I was looking to cross domains to a non-academic area. While one can delve deeper into an academic area already known, similar to perfecting one’s stroke, the return on investment becomes less and less compared to learning new material. Also, educators do not typically have the time or impetus to explore the deeper areas with a gifted student. Once the student knows that 2 + 2 = 4, few teachers will explore the theory behind addition with a gifted learner while they still have students trying to figure out 2 + 2.

      As for the removal of gifted learners from the standard classroom, I recommend reading Marcia Gentry’s work on cluster grouping. Reducing the number of levels of learners in a classroom benefited all students. Removing gifted students from a classroom was also of great benefit to the above average learners who now had a chance to shine as the academic stars of the classroom.

      I know of no study that shows that either gifted learners or other students benefit from being in a heterogeneous classroom, but there is plenty of evidence that gifted learners in a heterogeneous classroom will not be given academically appropriate material. There is also considerable evidence that gifted learners need intellectual peers for appropriate social and emotional development.

      I highly recommend reading “Gifted Children” by Ellen Winner and “Smart Girls” by Barbara Kerr. They explore the social and emotional aspects of giftedness in far greater detail than I can here. “Smart Girls” will also help you explore a middle school pitfall for gifted girls, hiding intelligence to fit in with peers.

      I’m sure that there are some gifted schools who only focus on the academic needs of gifted learners, but the ones I’ve encountered have placed great emphasis on the social and emotional needs as well. Where I have seen a lack of understanding of social and emotional needs has been schools that only provide acceleration or pull out programs as the means of meeting gifted learners’ needs. Both the Roeper School and the Davidson Academy, two of the premier gifted schools in the nation, have a strong focus on the social and emotional needs of gifted children.

      I wish you the best of luck in your research and finding the appropriate environment for your daughter.

      • March 18, 2015 11:28 AM

        🙂 Best wishes to you too. Thanks for recommending those books..will certainly look them up.

  6. Mira permalink
    March 17, 2016 10:41 AM

    Is this applicable for Elementary as well? And, what would be the criterial for ‘getting’in? Lottery? Entrance exam? I think this is a GREAT program!

    • March 17, 2016 12:22 PM

      Mira, referring to the Avondale Gifted Magnet School, the plan is to have K-12 programs. There will likely be some form of entrance exam. That and more will be discussed at the March 24th meeting at 6:30 PM at the Avondale administration building. I hope to see you there!

  7. Victoria permalink
    April 25, 2016 7:43 PM

    The School Board is thinking of taking away the Gifted Program, and is inviting gifted kids to talk about the benefits of the program. Thank you so much for the wonderful article.

  8. cemab4y permalink
    January 11, 2017 11:35 AM

    I am an enthusiastic supporter of schools like the Illinois Math and Science academy. A residence prep school for gifted/talented. What a terrific idea.


  1. Article: “Why Gifted Education?” From Rochester SAGE, Supporting Advanced & Gifted Education
  2. The Importance of Gifted Education Programs in the K-8 Years - Oak Crest Academy

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