Academically gifted and talented students in this country make up approximately six to ten percent of the total student population (three to five million students). These students differ from typical students in terms of learning style, depth and complexity of understanding, and potential. This difference from the norm for their age group means that the education program for gifted students should be modified to meet their needs. However, most gifted students receive the majority of their K-12 education in a regular classroom, taught by teachers who have not been trained to teach high-ability students. For many gifted students, much of the time they spend in school is wasted; they have already mastered the material and are marking time until they are allowed to skip a grade or are permitted to take college-level courses.
The school situation for high-potential students from low income and minority backgrounds is especially troublesome. Data from every state reveal large "excellence gaps," the gaps at the top achievement levels between minority and white students and between low-income and more advantaged students. These gaps indicate a failure to identify high-ability students of color and from disadvantaged circumstances and support them to reach the high levels of achievement of which they are capable. These gaps also suggest there is a tremendous amount of talent being squandered. For those from families who can afford it, many gifted students attend private schools, attend weekend and/or summer enrichment programs, or have private tutors to compensate for what the schools fail to provide. Clearly, we can and must do better.
In the absence of a federal mandate, gifted education programming decisions are made at the state level, or more often by local school districts. A few states could be said to be leaders in the gifted education field, based on one or more of the following: funding, identification practices, oversight and reporting, supportive policies, and teacher preparation. However, a far greater number of states provide little, if any funding to local schools, leaving both funding and service delivery issues to local school districts. In addition, variations in the definition of gifted and talented, coupled with a common view that gifted students do not need specialized services contribute to a vast disparity of programs and services across states and often within states, leaving many high-ability students without the supports they need to achieve at high levels, which is a disservice to them and to the nation.