A Failing grade for nation’s gifted education programs

The report card is out on the nation’s gifted education classes, and it is not good. The National Association for Gifted Children published it’s annual State of the Nation in Gifted Education report for 2010-2011. Poignantly subtitled, “A Lack of Commitment to Talent Development,” the data shows a lack of dedication and attention given to our nation’s brightest students.


• Gifted and talented programs are not monitored in 20 states.

• Fourteen states do not collect information on gifted and talented students.

• Fourteen states have reduced their funding for gifted programs since the Association’s previous report.

• While 12 states require districts to have administrators for gifted education, only four states require them to have gifted and talented certification.

Grade: Poor

Teacher Preparation

• Only six states require all teachers to receive pre-service training in gifted and talented education.

• Twenty-four states do not require credentials in gifted and talented education for teachers in these programs.

• Only five states require professional development for these teachers.

Grade: Poor

Summary: Gifted education in the United States is in need of major improvement.

• • •

Research has shown that gifted programs are associated with a myriad of benefits. Students identified as gifted and talented adolescents who received services through the secondary level pursued doctoral degrees at more than 50 times the base rate expectations. (The base rate is only 1 percent for the general population, according to Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, & Benbow in their article for the Journal of Applied Psychology.) Further, gifted students’ involvement in their interests, along with their creative productive work, continued well after college and graduate school, according to K.L. Westberg in the Association’s Creativity and Curriculum Division Newsletter.

The United States Department of Education regarded it as a “quiet crisis,” and it is right in doing so. With so many cuts to school funding, it is understandable that administrators view some areas as more dispensable than others.

What isn’t understandable, however, is the historical lack of accountability and funding given to gifted and talented education. The focus in our educational system has veered away from gifted education, in part, because the system is primarily focused on special education.

Federal legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 mandates that special education services be given to all students with a disability at no cost to parents. While the act provides funds to state and local agencies for students with a disability, to date, there is no federal mandate for gifted education.

Giftedness is local. What does this mean? This means the definition of giftedness is highly idiosyncratic, and that along with funding, can be decided on at the state and local level. A student may be defined as gifted in one district or state and not another. In New York State, for example, information is not collected on gifted students and zero funding has been provided for gifted programs as far back as 2006. The identification of gifted students is not mandated nor is the provision of services for gifted and talented education. In other words, there is no legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that requires districts or schools to seek out and identify students who may be gifted and place them in gifted programs. Despite the lack of federal accountability, the NYC Department of Education does aim to identify and place students in gifted programs if they meet eligibility requirements. While the city offers this, suburban schools, such as in Long Island, have fewer opportunities available. Parents may need to relocate or travel further to place their child in a district or school with a gifted program.

So, imagine the bell curve. Mainstream education targets the majority of students which fall within the bell. The left, outermost portion of the bell is two standard deviations below the mean. These are students who may require special education for reasons such as autism or learning disabilities, which is provided via the disabilities act.

What about those students that fall in the right, outermost portion of the bell? At two standard deviations above the mean, these are the exceptionally bright students. They are the future Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the world. Would we have denied these now, ever so prominent figures enrichment opportunities if we knew of their potential? Probably not.

While it is of obvious importance to provide educational curricula for students who need additional support, we cannot forget about those who are exceptionally bright. In doing so, we may be letting the best and the brightest our nation has to offer get lost in the bell.

Parents interested in having their child tested can visit the New York City Department of Education website at schools.nyc.gov/Academics/GiftedandTalented/default.htm for more information. Gifted and talented testing will take place between Jan. 3 and Feb. 10.

Natascha M. Santos is a certified, bilingual school psychologist finishing her doctoral dissertation on the disproportionality in gifted education. She has also been an adjunct instructor of psychology on Long Island for several years and a behavior therapist at the BioBehavioral Institute, where she specializes in the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. Her blog is www.nataschasantos.com.


Lubinski, D., Webb, R. M., Morelock, M. J., & Benbow, C. P. (2001). Top 1 in 10,000: A 10 year follow-up of the profoundly gifted. Journal of Applied Psychology, 4, 718–729.

National Association for Gifted Children. (2011). State of the nation in gifted education: A lack of commitment to talent development. [An executive summary of the 2010-2011 State of the States Report]. National Association for Gifted Children, 1–4.

Westberg, K. L. (1999, Summer). What happens to young, creative producers? NAGC: Creativity and Curriculum Division Newsletter, 13–16.

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