The High Flyer

Scott J. Peters

It’s no secret that identified gifted and talented populations are dominated by students from white and Asian American families and that students from African American, Latinx, and Native American families are disproportionately underrepresented. Less well known is the degree of this proportionality at individual schools or school districts. Disproportional representation in any educational service or program cannot be addressed through policy and practice if individual schools don’t know the scope of the problem or how long it’s been going on. Luckily, the data are now available to answer such questions.

Since the 2009–10 school year, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education has conducted a biannual survey of every school in the country on a range of civil rights issues. (These data were part of a large Fordham report entitled Is there a Gifted Gap? earlier this year.) Although this data collection has been going on since the late 1960s, what made 2009 a breakthrough year was that all schools were surveyed instead of just a sample. This universal data collection has continued ever since. What this means for practitioners is that information on gifted education service populations is now available for...

Timothy Daly

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared in a slightly different form on The 74.

Why don’t more low-income and minority students succeed in school? There is plenty of talk about bad schools, insufficient resources, turbulent neighborhoods, and the like. And, yes, lots of disadvantaged students start school behind their more advantaged peers—and, because of these myriad challenges, stay behind. But there are many others who demonstrate success in school, at least for stretches of their educational careers, but fall off along the way. Instead of resigning ourselves to these outcomes, we must instead ask: Why, specifically, does this happen? And how do we fix it?

At EdNavigator, of which I am a founding partner, we have spent the past two years providing sustained educational support to hundreds of families in and around New Orleans, in all types of schools. Each of them has been afforded access to a Navigator—someone with deep roots in their community and professional experience in teaching, counseling, or school leadership—who serves as their personal education adviser. Through this work, we have gained deep insight into the day-to-day interactions of families and schools and the obstacles they confront. Our experience has brought the questions above...


The biggest takeaway from the new National Assessment of Education Progress results is a bleak one: Average scores are flat almost everywhere—fourth grade and eighth grade, reading and math, low- and high-income, black, Hispanic, and white. As my colleague Mike Petrilli wrote today in another Flypaper post, “it’s now been almost a decade since we’ve seen strong growth in either reading or math, with the slight exception of eighth grade reading.”

But lost in that disappointing decade of averages is a decade of fairly steady and unexpectedly universal progress for one set of students: high achievers. Not every top scorer benefited to the same degree—and that’s an enduring and substantial problem—but benefit they all did.

NAEP is administered every two years, and scores can fall into three “achievement levels” dubbed Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The grade- and subject-specific cutoffs are meant to reflect real-life aptitudes. Proficient is defined as “solid academic performance for each grade assessed.” Advanced indicates “superior performance,” and is therefore NAEP’s best proxy for “high-achieving” or “gifted” students.

Table 1 shows how students have fared in fourth and eighth grade over the last decade in reaching the Advanced level in math and...


Massachusetts has earned well-deserved accolades for becoming America’s highest-achieving state, as measured by national academic assessments. But as Bay State leaders know, behind its accomplishments lurk some of America’s largest achievement gaps. And it’s not just that low-income and minority students do worse than their wealthier and white peers on average; there are also big gaps among high achievers, discrepancies that professor Jonathan Plucker rightly calls “excellence gaps.” One cause may be the state’s severe shortage of programs for gifted students.

The selection of Jeff Riley as Massachusetts’s new education commissioner is a perfect opportunity to do better by high-achieving students of color. His sterling record as a principal in Boston and superintendent in Lawrence suggests that he’s up to the challenge. But it won’t be easy.

According to the National Assessment of Education Progress, Massachusetts’s white, black, and Hispanic eighth graders reach the test’s highest level in math, deemed “advanced,” at twice the national rate. But this masks massive academic inequalities. Although one in every five white students is advanced, that’s true of just one in every twenty-five black and Hispanic students—a gap that is also twice what it is nationally.

Given this galling rift, you’d hope Massachusetts,...


The 26,000+ members and supporters of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) should feel pretty good about their efforts and the fruits they have produced in education policy. Together we have successfully inspired change by helping legislators and the public understand the nature and unique needs of gifted children and the supportive environments they need for learning.

A little over two years ago, NAGC embarked on a focused plan to build awareness and increase support for the unique needs of these children. The NAGC Board of Director's bold plan of action to Change Minds, Change Policies, and Change Practices set out to achieve a vision where giftedness and high potential are universally valued, fully recognized, and actively nurtured.

I am pleased to report on two visible markers that show the movement is gaining traction and producing results that are bringing this vision to fruition.

First, the U.S. Department of Education prioritized the needs of students and children with "unique gifts and talents."  Specifically, Priority 5 of the Final Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs emphasizes the need for programs that develop “ opportunities for students who are gifted and talented (as...

The STEM Network Working Group

The NAGC Board voted to support the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) position statement on Providing Opportunities for Students with Exceptional Mathematical Promise. However, a video by Jo Boaler has caused some to question the importance of identifying gifted students. This is a response from the NAGC STEM Network Working Group.

In 1980, in their Agenda for Action, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) asserted, “The student most neglected in terms of realizing full potential, is the gifted student of mathematics. Outstanding mathematical ability is a precious societal resource, sorely needed to maintain leadership in a technological world.” This is even truer today, nearly forty years later as the world becomes increasingly technological and interdependent. In 1995, NCTM appointed a Task Force on what they termed “mathematically promising” students and charged the task force with rethinking the traditional definition of mathematically gifted students to broaden it to the more inclusive idea of mathematically promising students. The Task Force defined those students as ones who have the potential to become the leaders and problem solvers of the future. They averred that mathematical promise is a function of ability, motivation, belief, and experience or...

James Bishop

One of the most illuminating presentations that I attended on the subject of giftedness was given by Dr. Linda Silverman of Colorado’s Gifted Development Center. The talk on perfectionism was the keynote of a regional symposium on giftedness in North Texas. In her presentation, Dr. Silverman took the position that perfectionism, when properly managed, can be a healthy attribute for gifted people. Her position was unsettling to a number of educators in the audience, many of whom held the growing viewpoint that perfectionism is inherently unhealthy.

In one particularly memorable exchange, an audience member took exception to the idea that perfection could be a healthy pursuit or that anything could be perfect. He challenged her with a question, asking if she felt her book, Counseling the Gifted and Talented, achieved perfection. She looked the audience member straight in the eye, and without a moment’s hesitation and with absolute conviction in her voice, replied, “Yes. My book was perfect.” She exemplified, on a personal level, the epitome of healthy perfectionism.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the striving for achievement or production that is without flaw or error. As a disorder, perfectionism is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental...

Christopher Yaluma

Adam Tyner and I recently coauthored a report examining gaps in American schools’ gifted programming. The process made me think about the role of democracy in gifted and talented programs and vice versa. As I learned more about the topic, I became increasingly convinced that the current procedures used to identify high achievers were undermining basic democratic values and principles like individuality, equality, and fairness that functional democracies must observe and preserve. Far too many bright students, especially the country’s most disadvantaged, are denied opportunities to be screened for these offerings. In a school system that should—and often purports to—strive to maximize the education of every child, the treatment of these young boys and girls falls well short of that ideal.

In a great book called On Democracy, the late Yale political scientist Robert A. Dahl asks, “Is equality self-evident?” He argues that, for most of us, it is far from self-evident that all men and women are created equal. Dahl makes an important distinction between inequality in ability and inequality in opportunity, the latter being my main concern. Gifted and talented programs affirm inequality in ability yet fail to provide equality in opportunity by restricting efforts to...


Chris Yaluma’s and my recent Fordham report on gifted education in high-poverty schools shows that the U.S. still has a long ways to go before it closes the “gifted gap,” the disparity in participation in gifted programs among student groups. Even in the earliest grades, black and Hispanic students participate in these programs at much lower rates than their white and Asian peers. But what is the rationale for gifted education in the first place? For those of us who are concerned about persistent inequities in American society and in our schools, “gifted education,” which through its name (somewhat offensively) implies that God or nature has “gifted” a special few, requires a strong justification.

While I would welcome a name change, I believe strongly in gifted education for one main reason: Kids in the same grade are not all at the same level for each subject. This may be intuitive; every child is a snowflake! But the differences within each grade are greater than you might think.

One recent study found a range of more than eleven grade levels in reading fluency and comprehension among fourth graders in a small group of diverse elementary schools. This is...


Fordham’s recent report, Is There a Gifted Gap?, examines income- and race-based differences in gifted programming in American schools and unearths plenty of bad news. Students in low-poverty schools are more than twice as likely to participate in gifted programs than their peers at high-poverty schools, for example, and even when black and Hispanic K–8 students attend schools that offer such programs, they participate at much lower rates than white and Asian children.

The report also offers some welcome-sounding information: Gifted programs exist in 68 percent of U.S. primary and middle schools, and overall they’re equally likely to be offered in low-and high-poverty schools. Yet even this seemingly sunnier news masks the deeply disappointing state of gifted education in America in 2018.

Authors Christopher Yaluma and Adam Tyner used school-reported data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. This is the best source for their purposes, but it also has serious flaws. As Yaluma and Tyner aptly note:

Because of the nature of the data, we use binary classifications of gifted enrollment for students. We do not have data on the quality or characteristics of gifted programming, although this is known to vary considerably...