Gifted Education and Support Options
Many families hold the belief that, somewhere out there, there must be one specific school that is a gifted utopia. The reality is that gifted students have thrived in every educational environment conceivable. The right educational fit for your child depends on a variety of factors as well as available opportunities such as gifted education programs that offer appropriate levels of academic rigor for gifted students.
What is the Purpose of Gifted Education?
Gifted students need gifted educational programs that meet their abilities and needs so that they can make continuous progress in school. They should be appropriately challenged in an academic environment that can help maximize their potential. Gifted education focuses on these three primary components: enrichment, acceleration and an advanced curriculum.
What Educational Options are Available for Gifted Students?
At the state policy level, many states have no laws mandating gifted education or identification and, of those with mandates, many have no available funding for gifted education. (see more information on NAGC’s Gifted by State page and Gifted Education in the U.S. – State Policy & Legislation.)
Gifted services in your local area may be determined by the individual school or school district. This might include ability grouping, gifted pull-out classes, or access to public gifted magnet schools. Private schools are similarly positioned to determine their own criteria for giftedness and make individual choices on how to meet the needs of this population.
While schools may lack a unified approach to meeting the needs of gifted students, there are a few points of agreement among researchers examining the best practices in gifted education across many types of schools and districts. Highly gifted students benefit from a strength-based approach that includes:
- Access to advanced materials
- Higher-level instruction
- A faster-paced curriculum
We use the term “academic acceleration” for any educational option that meets these goals. There are at least 20 different forms of acceleration, including grade-skipping, advancing a grade in a single subject, and curriculum compacting. The authors of A Nation Deceived and A Nation Empowered synthesize over 50 years of research on acceleration; the overwhelming evidence reveals that acceleration provides academic and social-emotional benefits to gifted students.
Many gifted students also thrive in non-traditional school settings outside of public and private brick and mortar schools. Families may turn to homeschooling as a flexible option to accommodate a child’s advanced abilities or unique interests. Other gifted students find success and meaningful experiences through world schooling. And others still may find eclectic and hybrid blends of many options to their taste.
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Gifted Student Succeed?
Parents may find themselves in many different roles as they support their gifted child. They may act as a teacher, cheerleader, mediator, confidant, or reality-checker. Often parents find themselves in the role of the advocate as they work with various institutions to accommodate their child’s unique learning needs. Working with a school as an advocate might be one way to help your gifted child access acceleration options. This can require flexibility and persistence on the part of the parent who must find areas of mutual gain for their gifted child and the administration. These same principles may apply to gifted homeschooling parents who find they must still advocate for their child to have access to programs or opportunities typically reserved for older children.
Parents will need to stay informed about their child’s educational experience in order to help them advocate for appropriately challenging options. This might mean taking a child’s complaints about boredom in class more seriously and being open-minded about possible solutions.
What Kinds of Programs Exist for Gifted Students?
There are many programs for gifted students that can help provide additional intellectual challenges. This includes after-school programs, weekend programs, summer classes, and distance learning experiences. Gifted enrichment programs and gifted summer programs are two ways many parents support their gifted child’s educational growth outside of the school environment. These options may be used as a supplement in addition to school. For example, students may use an online enrichment class to further explore a unique subject of interest. They can also be important places to form social connections with like-minded peers. A science summer program may be one place where your gifted child feels like they can share their love for subatomic particles with other children their age.
There is no one right educational trajectory for gifted students. Like all students, gifted individuals benefit from guidance, encouragement, and scaffolding throughout their educational experience to help them succeed with their individual goals.