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).

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed by Congress in 2001 expanded the Javits program to include grants for states that applied and won the competitive grants. NCLB also redefined gifted and talented to students as, '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.'

The No Child Left Behind Act placed the emphasis on children who were behind rather than providing an environment for the brightest students to achieve their full potential. In 2004, the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa published A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students.

According to a report from the National Association for Gifted Children, in 2008-2009 there was 'inadequate commitment to gifted and talented children'. Twenty-five percent of states provide no funds for gifted programs. Very few states require any special preparation of training for gifted education teachers and students spend most of their time in the general classroom.

In 2011, all funding for the Jacobs K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act was eliminated.


There are many models of gifted education. Models vary greatly state to state. Few schools offer self-contained gifted classrooms, except in school for the gifted. The most common gifted education models are acceleration, enrichment, and adaption.

Acceleration moves students through the school curriculum at their level. For example, a 4th grade student might attend a high school class for math. Academically this meets the student's need, but there are concerns whether it is best for social and emotional development.

Enrichment activities can be accomplished in the classroom by 'cluster grouping' gifted students and providing them with supplementary independent projects. This can also be achieved with pull-out programs similar to those for special education students in which students attend their gifted class for a few hours each week for enrichment.

Adaption requires teachers to individually adapt materials and their instruction for gifted students. This requires organization and time commitment from the teacher. Students also need a comfort level with their giftedness to prevent them from feeling uncomfortable with being different from other students.

There are also several models that use a broader view of giftedness to help all students develop their talents.

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