Jefferson envisioned instruction that was adapted to fit the age, ability, and circumstances of those enrolled, including appropriately advanced instruction for the nation’s most able students. This vision of a free and public education, fitted to the needs of individual students, remains an elusive goal.
Since the turn of the 20th century, educators and policymakers have made intermittent progress on behalf of gifted students, yet little effective change has taken hold across the country. According to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, only 38 states mandate special services for gifted youth, and only four of the states with mandates have fully funded programs. Another 24 of the 38 states with mandates have partially financed gifted programs, and the remaining nine states mandate services but provide no funding. Of the 13 states with no mandate for gifted education, five provide partial money for programs; the other nine provide no funding for gifted students at all (“Support for Gifted Programs,” n.d.).
The Institute for Educational Advancement (IEA) approached The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation with a proposal to fund a symposium as the first phase of a broader public policy initiative to advance programs and services for gifted youth. In November 2015, IEA formed a policy consortium of eleven leaders with expertise in business, technology, education, politics, and innovation to attend this inaugural symposium to try and understand why our educational system continues to fall short for gifted children and what can be done to make effective change.
Two issues emerged during the conversation. The first was that changing the status quo would require a wide array of advocates beyond the field of gifted education. Parents of gifted children and professionals in the field do what they can to promote programs at the local, state, and national level; however, they comprise a small portion of the American public, far too small to institute and sustain lasting policy change. A majority of the American people must be willing to advocate for gifted students to create lasting impact within funding and district policies. Consequently, citizens must understand why it is necessary to invest in the nation’s most advanced learners.
Discussion about which groups were already sympathetic to gifted education, and whose sympathies could be cultivated, led to the second consideration: although there are many assumptions in the field about how the American public feels about gifted education, there is little evidence to support those assumptions. It became evident that gathering evidence about American attitudes towards gifted education was the necessary precursor to all other action. The group discussed several areas which required clarification, including: (1) Does the public understand the term “gifted” and its many alternatives? (2) Does the public really believe so-called “myths” about gifted students? What is the level of public concern about gifted education, both singly and relative to other issues in education? (4) Does public support exist for commonly recommended program provisions for gifted students? (5) What is the public response to messages frequently used to advocate for gifted students? (6) Is there public support for funding for gifted education?
With additional support from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, IEA engaged two nationally recognized polling firms, the Benenson Strategy Group and The Winston Group, to gather information regarding public opinion. The firms were selected to ensure the results were bipartisan and to minimize potential bias within gifted education. This report presents findings from the poll.