Is American Education Neglecting Gifted Children?

America's 3 million gifted and talented students are getting the shaft in the vast majority of K-12 schools, according to a new report from the National Association for Gifted Children and the Council of State Directors of Programs for the Gifted. The report found that gifted students are being neglected at all levels in the United States, from weak or non-existent policies at the state level to uneven funding at the district level to a lack of teacher preparation at the classroom level.

The report, "2008-2009 State of the States in Gifted Education," pointed to several failures on the part of U.S. education, from a a severe lack of commitment on a national level to spotty services and little or no support to get teachers trained to deal with gifted students.

Some of the findings included:

  • A full fourth of states provided zero funding for programs and resources for gifted students last year;
  • In states that did provide funding, there was little consistency, with per-pupil expenditures ranging from $2 to $750 last year;
  • Only five states require professional development for teachers who work in gifted programs;
  • Only five require any kind preparation for these teachers;
  • Gifted students spend most of their time in general classrooms and receive little specialized instruction;
  • Key policies are handled at the district level, when there are policies in place at all, rather than at the state level, creating "the potential for fractured approaches and limits on funding";
  • There is no coherent national strategy for dealing with gifted students.

Most of those interviewed for the report cited NCLB as a factor that has contributed to a decline in support and resources for gifted students. Participants pointed to a number of reasons for this, including a shift in focus away from academic excellence toward "bringing up lower-performing students and maintaining adequate yearly progress" and a shift in staffing away from gifted programs.

"At a time when other nations are redoubling their commitment to their highest potential students, the United States continues to neglect the needs of this student population, a policy failure that will cost us dearly in the years to come," said NAGC President Ann Robinson in a prepared statement. Robinson is also director of the Center for Gifted Education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. "The solution to this problem must be a comprehensive national gifted and talented education policy in which federal, state, and local districts work together to ensure all gifted students are identified and served by properly trained teachers using appropriate curriculum."

The impact of this neglect is being felt now, according tot he report, with "continued underperformance on international benchmarks, particularly in math, science, and engineering, and in the shortage of qualified workers able to enter professions that require advanced skills."

"The lack of leadership and failure to hold districts accountable for serving gifted students by Washington and the states has produced a largely uneven and inconsistent delivery system, said NAGC Executive Director Nancy Green. "For every local district making an outstanding commitment to gifted learners, we have scores of districts doing nothing."

"Forty years ago, we realized the impact of a sustained commitment to academic excellence when we celebrated the landing of a man on the moon. Future breakthroughs and discovery in science, medicine, and technology will be impossible if we fail to identify and serve today's brightest young minds. The time to act is now," Robinson said.

On the positive side, 16 states in the 2008-2009 school year funded virtual high schools, according to the report. (That number has increased to 25 this year, according to separate research from e.Republic's Center for Digital Education, released today.)

The report was based on interviews with representatives from state departments of education involved with gifted student programs between June and September 2009. Forty-seven states participated in the survey either through their departments of education or through the office of the state superintendent for those states without a designated individual overseeing gifted programs.

Further information about the report, including links to the full report and summaries of findings, can be accessed at NAGC's site here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrnagel/ .