One of the big justifications for gifted-and-talented education is that high achieving kids need more advanced material so that they’re not bored and actually learn something during the school day. Their academic needs cannot be met in a general education class, advocates say. But a large survey of 2,000 elementary schools in three states found that not much advanced content is actually being taught to gifted students. In other words, smart third graders, those who tend to be a couple grade levels ahead, are largely studying the same third-grade topics that their supposedly “non-gifted” classmates are learning.
The survey found that instead of moving bright kids ahead to more advanced topics, gifted classrooms are preoccupied with activities to develop critical thinking and creativity, such as holding debates and brainstorming. The third most common focus in gifted curriculums is to give students more projects and games, so-called “extension activities” that are tangentially related to their grade-level content. Accelerated math instruction ranked 18th on a list of 26 items that gifted curriculums could focus on. Advanced reading and writing instruction ranked 19th. Teaching academic self-confidence, leadership skills and social emotional learning all ranked higher than teaching above grade level content.
“Teachers and educators are not super supportive of acceleration,” said Betsy McCoach, one of the researchers and a professor at the University of Connecticut. “But it doesn’t make sense to pull kids together to do the same thing that everyone else is doing.”