Frequently Asked Questions about Gifted Education

Is there a definition of "gifted"?

Yes. The current federal definition of gifted students was originally developed in the 1972 Marland Report to Congress, and has been modified several times since then. The current definition, which is located in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, is:

Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities

Note: States and districts are not required to use the federal definition, although many states base their definitions on the federal definition.

Read other definitions of giftedness.

How many gifted children are there in the U.S.?

NAGC estimates that there are approximately 3 to 5 million academically gifted children in grades K-12 in the U.S. (approximately 6% - 10% of the student population). No federal agency or organization collects these student statistics. Although we are not aware of national studies of the incidence of artistic talent in the student population, the number of gifted and talented students increases, depending on the number of categories of giftedness used in the estimate.

Learn more about Gifted Education in the U.S.

Who makes decisions about gifted students' experiences in school?

Almost all decisions about gifted education are made at the state and local level.

Although many school districts recognize that gifted and talented students are individuals with unique needs, state laws, local policies, and available funding vary widely, resulting in disparity of services between school districts and uneven protection for gifted and talented students under the law.

In many instances, gifted students must rely on a persistent parent, a responsive teacher, or an innovative school administrator to ensure that they are adequately challenged in the classroom. Because this task isn't always easy, NAGC is committed to increasing awareness of the importance of quality gifted education programming for high-ability learners. In many ways, we all have a voice in determining how schools value and nurture students' gifts and talents.

Find practical advice about getting involved and making your voice heard at all levels in the Advocacy Toolkit.

What are the different ways gifted students are served in the classroom?

Because every child is different, NAGC recognizes that there is no “one perfect program” for teaching gifted students. Instead, the NAGC Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards state that “a continuum of services must exist for gifted learners” at every level.

What exactly does this mean? Essentially, a “continuum of services” provides administrators, teachers, parents, and students with a menu of educational options that are respectful of individual student differences and mindful of classroom and community resources. In most cases, the decisions about the range of services offered are made locally, and may include pull-out programs, advanced classes, varied grouping strategies, acceleration, differentiation of curriculum and instruction, dual enrollment, magnet schools, and specialized, self-contained schools (e.g., high schools for performing arts).

 This range of services can be organized in a variety of ways:

  • Accommodations in the regular classroom
  • Part-time assignment to both regular and special classes
  • Full-time grouping with students of similar abilities
  • Acceleration or grade advancement

Bear in mind that some district practices (e.g., early entrance to kindergarten or dual enrollment in high school and college) are governed by state policy, which often supersedes local policies and practices. Become familiar with state and local law and policies and review the Glossary of Terms.

Learn more about Gifted Education Practices.

How do I know if a gifted program is of high quality?

In any school district, high-quality gifted programming requires careful planning, maintenance, and evaluation. One of the best ways to determine whether a gifted program "measures up” is to compare the various components of the existing programs and services to the NAGC Pre-K-Grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards. The Standards were written by a distinguished panel of educators who represent a wide range of expertise and geographical areas. The Standards establish a set of minimal and exemplary criteria for seven different aspects of effective programming: Curriculum and Instruction, Program Administration and Management, Program Design, Program Evaluation, Socio-Emotional Guidance and Counseling, Professional Development, and Student Identification, and can be used for planning purposes or as an evaluation tool.

What kind of training does a teacher need to work with gifted students?

You might think twice before sending a tennis coach to baseball’s spring training season; although there would be overlap in general kinesthetic and sports psychology knowledge, the nuances of the two sports are very different and require disparate sets of coaching skills. Just as a baseball team needs a coach who understands baseball, gifted students need guidance from well-trained, challenging teachers who understand their educational needs.

Teacher training requirements for working with gifted students are determined at the state and local levels. Although gifted and talented students are in every school and classroom, few districts require that all classroom teachers receive training to address the educational needs of advanced learners.

Research indicates that teachers who have received training in gifted education are more likely to foster higher-level thinking, allow for greater student expression, consider individual student strengths and weaknesses, and provide a variety of learning experiences to challenge students. This vital expertise that benefits all students is not developed merely as a result of one-hour training sessions; refining teacher skills requires high-quality professional development, time, materials, and continued support.

Read the knowledge and skills in gifted education that all teachers should have. 

How much does the federal government spend on gifted education?

The federal government does not provide funding directly to local school districts for programs and services for gifted and talented students.

The only federal program for gifted children is the  Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act, which focuses on identifying and serving students who are traditionally under-represented in gifted and talented programs (minority students, students from low income backgrounds or who are English language learners, and children with disabilities) to help reduce gaps in achievement and to encourage the establishment of equal educational opportunities for all U.S. students.  The program funds applied research and the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. 

Do The Common Core State Standards address the needs of gifted students?

The Common Core language arts and mathematics standards have been written to uphold and advance high standards for all students. For advanced students, however, fidelity to grade-level standards will limit learning. The drafters of the Common Core did not write standards for advanced learners and have acknowledged that some students will be ready to move beyond these standards before the end of the year.

NAGC provides an in-depth look at the standards and gifted learners.

How much money is spent on gifted education?

No federal agency gathers information about the total expenditures for gifted and talented students. As stated above, the federal government does not provide funding directly to districts specifically for gifted education. NAGC gathers information about the amount of funding states spend for gifted education, although it is not possible to know the amount districts are spending from local funds.

Not all states spend money for gifted and talented education. Among those that do, not all designate funds based on numbers of gifted students but instead use a range of funding formulas and implementation procedures that do not always result in an equitable distribution of funds. In states without state funds for gifted students, education for gifted and talented students can continue only in communities that can provide the services without state or federal help.

Learn more about the current level of funding in your state.

Do any states have "academies" for advanced students?

Yes. Several states have statewide public high schools for advanced math and science and/or arts and the humanities.  Although the admissions requirements vary, these high schools are typically residential schools for juniors and seniors from within the state; most of the schools are located on university campuses.

Whom do I contact in my state?

The state department of education is one of the best places to start for seeking state-specific information related to gifted education. In most cases, they will be the repository for education laws and policies and they may also have lists of public and private schools that serve gifted students as well as designated personnel and website information specifically for gifted education.

In addition, many states have organizations affiliated with NAGC that work on state-specific initiatives and training. NAGC Gifted by State provides information and link to state departments of education, your state association (if one exists), and data about your state funding and services.

There may be other resources available to you in your local region. Visit the NAGC Gifted and Talented Resources Directory.

Are there any national reports about gifted students or gifted education?

There are two federal reports that are often cited when discussing gifted education: A Nation at Risk (1983) and National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent (1993). They both highlight the missed opportunities to identify and serve gifted students in the U.S. resulting in a call for additional research and programming in the field of gifted education.

The issuance of national program standards by NAGC in 1998 also helped solidify the field’s intent and provide school districts across the country with a set of programming criteria. Published in 2004, A Nation Deceived reported on the advantages of acceleration for gifted children, which illustrated America's inability to properly meet the needs of its most able students despite the overwhelming research supporting acceleration practices in schools. 

What are the most common myths confronted by supporters of gifted and talented education?

For decades, myths related to gifted education have had detrimental effects on providing quality instruction for our nation's high-ability learners. These myths have affected every facet of the field, and in turn have distorted the perception of not only what gifted students need in the classroom but also what they can offer the nation now and into the future.

NAGC has compiled a list of the most prevalent myths in gifted education, complete with supporting links with evidence explaining why the myth is untrue. Information contained on subsequent pages provides you with the arguments and facts needed to rebut, and hopefully dispel, these myths. View Myths In Gifted Education.