Are Gifted Students Being Challenged Enough?

Andy Smarick, a partner at the non-profit Bellwether Education Partners and author of the guidebook, “Closing America’s High Achievement Gap,” states that the American public school system’s policies support focus on struggling students to get them up to speed, but leaves high achieving students without a challenging education.

Smarick argues in his guidebook that by not providing students who are capable of high achievement with challenges, these students won’t meet their full potential — and this would serve as only a detriment to the country at large in the aspect of international competitiveness.

Alison DeNisco writes in District Administration that a survey from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute asked teachers which students were most likely to get one-on-one attention. More than 80 percent in 2008 said struggling students would get more attention, while only 5 percent said advanced students would.

“We’re in an extended period where gifted kids are an afterthought at best,” Smarick says. “These students are at risk for dropping out of school if they are not challenged enough,” he adds.

A 2011 Fordham Institute study found that between 30 and 50 percent of advanced students descend and no longer achieve at the most advanced levels.

“Having our brightest kids languish in a classroom is leaving talent on the table, when there are so many complex issues our country is facing that these kids can help us solve,” says Nancy Green, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.

In 2002, with George W. Bush’s signing of the No Child Left Behind act, which expanded the federal government’s footprint in schools by mandating regular standardized testing and punishing schools based on those results, many schools focused on struggling students even more.

However, there are 3 million students who are considered academically gifted in the United States. Gifted students are defined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as those “who give evidence of high achievement capability” and “who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school to fully develop those capabilities.”

Despite a new waiver system by the Obama administration for states to no longer abide by the strictures of NCLB — which expired years ago and has yet to be rewritten  – there is still no federal funding for gifted programs.

Almost all decisions about gifted education are made at the state or district level. Just 26 states require some form of program for gifted students, according to a 2013 National Association for Gifted Learning report.

There are resources available at little to no cost for schools and teachers to provide gifted students with the challenging curriculum they need, Green explained. Many high schools can also take advantage of working with local community college and establish dual enrollment programs. By granting gifted students the option to take college level courses, teachers will be freed more to focus on struggling students as needed.

Teachers can also group students according to academic ability to offer more advanced and rigorous curriculum. With supplemental online courses and the increasing availability of Massive Online Open Courses, most of which are free, there are many available resources for teachers of gifted students — and less of a reason, with each passing year, to shortchange the gifted.