Fifth, the field of gifted education lacks convincing research as to what works. My coauthor, education expert Jessica Hockett, and I became more aware of this problem when researching our recent book, Exam Schools. We found just two smallish studies focusing on the actual effectiveness of selective-admission public high schools. Worse, those two studies found scant advantage for the selective-admission schools.
This means the burden of proof is now on such schools and their backers to generate data and analyses. In the past, these schools have been able to trade on reputations, friends in high places, and evidence of strong demand. Maybe that was sufficient yesterday, but not in today's world of rigorous evaluations and comparisons.
Sixth, whether due to elitism angst or a shortage of resources, the gifted education world has been meek when it comes to lobbying and special pleading--not to mention heavier-handed political engagement, such as financial contributions and doorbell-ringing on behalf of friendly candidates.
Seventh, and finally, we return to bad ideas in Educatorland. I noted earlier the wishful proposition that "differentiated instruction" would magically enable every teacher to succeed with every kid in a mixed classroom. This is a close cousin of other false beliefs -- for instance, that tracking, even ability grouping, is inherently pernicious; that competition is bad for kids; that selective admission should be forbidden in public schools; and that every opportunity should be open to every child regardless of actual preparedness, prior attainment, or other qualifications. Another culprit is the "multiple intelligences" claim that everyone learns differently and is surely gifted in some way, even if some forms of intelligence aren't reflected in test scores. One could easily extend this list.
Some are convinced that such ideas have merit. Of this, however, I'm certain: They rule our education system, and they are bad for gifted children. And those likeliest to be short-changed are poor kids and those without savvy, obsessive (and generally upper-middle class) parents. There are too many bright students whose families don't have the information or means to navigate the system, prep their children for admission into gifted programs, lean on the political system, or, if need be, move to another district or into the private sector.
I'm not worried about my three granddaughters, all of whom (I will posit) have immense potential. Their parents can navigate this system and, if they need backup, my wife and I and sundry others are available for additional pushiness, navigation help, or resources. But how many millions of high-potential young people lack such supports and are therefore falling by the wayside? Today's education system is missing the motivation to find and counsel and push them, much less to do right by them in class, much less to provide them the additional help they may need outside school. If you stick with the "talented tenth" view of giftedness, we're talking about roughly 5.5 million school-age kids. How many of them do you suppose are currently being educated to the max?