What Is Gifted Education? - History, Models & Issues

Instructor: Peggy Olsen
Gifted education is the area of education that focuses on the needs of gifted and talented students. Learn about the history, models, and issues involved in gifted education and test your knowledge with quiz questions.


Gifted education provides gifted and talented students an educational environment designed specifically for their social, emotional and academic needs. Gifted education can be traced back to the 1800s, culminating with the first gifted school opening in Massachusetts in 1901. Research on intelligence provided new information and ways to measure it. Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon developed the intelligence quotient (IQ), measured by comparing the mental age (cognitive score on the test) and actual age. Their research was instrumental in the development of testing intelligence.


Lewis Terman (1877-1956) is the recognized father of gifted education. In 1916, Terman revised the Binet-Simon and published the Stanford-Binet test, which made it possible for schools to assess student intelligence. Terman was the first researcher to do a longitudinal study on gifted children, which began in 1921 and was continued by other researchers after his death in 1956. Terman published the first results of his research in 1925 and reported that gifted students were stronger than the non-gifted physically, emotionally, and academically.

Leta Hollingworth (1886-1939) might be called the mother of gifted education. She obtained a Ph.D. and taught at Columbia University. She was the first to use the term 'gifted' for intellectually advanced children. In 1922, she taught a class for gifted students in New York City. She was also concerned about special needs of gifted children and wrote a college textbook on gifted education titled Gifted Children: Their Nature and Nurture published in 1926. In 1936, she established a gifted school in New York for children 7-9 years old.

Gifted education thrived in the early 1900s, resulting in most cities having schools for the gifted by 1920. However, during the Depression and WWII interests were focused elsewhere. Interest in science during the 1950s and 1960s sparked funding for the most talented students in math and science, resulting in many education acts, including The National Defense Education Act (1958), The Civil Rights Act (1964), and The Marland Report (1972). The Marland Report was the first to define giftedness broadly to include creativity, leadership, and academic ability.


The Education for All Handicapped Children Act passed in 1975 and did not include gifted learners. This focused the attention on raising the skills of low achievers rather than getting the most out of the brightest students.

The Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act passed in 1988 to support and provide resources for gifted programs, but provided no uniform funding for gifted education. The act set up the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented to provide a place for professionals in the field to conduct research and inform other professionals.

The National Association of Gifted Children (founded in 1954) published standards for gifted education programs in 1998 (revised in 2010).

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