Writing for The Hechinger Report, Jill Barshay reviews the research basis on gifted education. Excerpts of the piece appear below:
Researchers have been studying ways to diversify the ranks of gifted-and-talented programs. David Card, an economist from the University of California, Berkeley, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics in October 2021, has found that bright students of color especially benefit from being surrounded by high-achieving peers.
Testing all students rather than relying on teacher recommendations and parent initiative has helped districts identify more students of color who qualify. But even with universal screening, the numbers of Black and Hispanic students selected for gifted-and-talented programs can remain disappointing. One popular idea is to cream the top from each school, creating a threshold for giftedness that varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. While that qualifies many more students of color from low-income schools, they would still be underrepresented in gifted classrooms, researchers have calculated.
A second, equally important line of research is whether gifted-and-talented programs are worthwhile for the students who are in them. Several studies have found that students aren’t learning any more when they receive gifted services. A 2011 study in the Southwest found that gifted-and-talented programs throughout the district generated no discernible impact on math or reading. The study did detect higher science scores but only for students who attended a particular gifted-and-talented magnet school.
Perhaps it should be no surprise that students aren’t achieving more in gifted classrooms when most educators admit they don’t even try to teach advanced material in them. A 2019 survey of teachers in gifted programs found they primarily focused on “enrichment activities” such as creative, fun projects and critical thinking exercises and discussions, keeping children on grade-level material, rather than moving them ahead to advanced academic content.
The research consensus, by contrast, argues for propelling high-achieving children ahead with accelerated lessons. Scholars say advanced lessons in specific subjects targeted to student talent might be more effective than current general enrichment practices.