The High Flyer

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...

Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D.

The new Fordham Institute report, Is There a Gifted Gap?, gave me a lot of food for thought this week.

Let’s start with some important positives: Although gifted education research is in many ways thriving, attention to policy research has been woefully underdeveloped, and this study is a major contribution to filling that void. I’ve also been encouraging colleagues to dig into the U.S. Department of Education’s Office For Civil Rights data for a couple years, and it’s nice to see someone do so, and with a substantial payoff. The results also line up with other recent research, providing valid evidence for the findings. For example, the six states with more than 90 percent of high-poverty schools offering gifted programs are similar to those that score highest on an upcoming Jack Kent Cooke Foundation report on state-level policies to close excellence gaps (the first edition is available here). The recommended solutions in this report are also right on the money, which I’ll return to in a bit.

There are, however, some important caveats that readers should consider:

  1. As you work down to the local level, I suspect the results will look different. For example, only two years
  2. ...
M. René Islas

A newly released report, Is There a Gifted Gap?, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute sheds further light on the many challenges gifted students from underserved populations face in being identified and served.

The report confirms our knowledge that students living in poverty, from racial and ethnic minorities, and who are English learners, are often overlooked for gifted programs.

Data taken from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and the Office of Civil Rights shows that high-poverty schools are just as likely as low poverty schools to have gifted programs available. (See figure 1 from the report.) This key point highlights that the underrepresentation of gifted students from poverty backgrounds is not for lack of programs in high-poverty schools.

Figure 1. High-poverty schools are generally just as likely to have a gifted program as low-poverty schools.

The report should sound an alarm for all advocates for social justice and incite action for changes in policy that create supportive learning environments for all learners, especially for well qualified children from poverty and minority backgrounds who are repeatedly overlooked for gifted programming.

NAGC supports recommendations...


The United States wastes an enormous amount of its human capital by failing to cultivate the innate talents of many of its young people, particularly high-ability girls and boys from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. That failure exacts a great cost from the nation’s economy, widens painful gaps in income, frustrates efforts to spur upward mobility, contributes to civic decay and political division, and worsens the inequalities that plague so many elements of our society.

All of this was reinforced in a widely noted recent study by Alex Bell, Raj Chetty, and colleagues at the Equality of Opportunity Project, which highlighted the inexcusable number of “lost Einsteins” among American students, most of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Their team found that, as early as third grade, math scores help to predict who will be awarded patents in later life—that’s the metric they used for “Einsteins”—but also that such scores explain less than one-third of the “innovation gap” between those growing up in high- versus low-income families. Because this gap grows much wider in the later grades, Bell and Chetty suggest that “low-income children start out on relatively even footing with their higher- income peers in terms of innovation ability, but...