21 Gifted and Talented Programs Pros and Cons

Many schools around the world offer gifted programs for students who show an aptitude for higher learning. These children usually take several tests as a way to identify their higher intelligence, unique creativity, or other talents that make the traditional learning process inadequate for their needs. Many parents want their kids to participate in this program because it can provide a clear path toward success.

Gifted programs can range from intra-school pods that give kids with high testing scores an opportunity to be together to segregated classrooms where the instruction given to them is at a much higher level. Some students even score high enough to qualify for home-based opportunities that the local school district provides.

The truth about these gifted and talented programs is a little more complicated than what one might see on their first glance. There are some distinct benefits that a child receives when they receive this alternative education, but there are also some severe consequences that can occur because of it.

Some gifted children struggle to find ways to be healthy and happy in these programs, and it is far from a guarantee that their participation will lead to a lucrative career in the future.

List of the Pros of Gifted Programs

1. It can offer intelligent children a boost in their self-esteem.
Intelligence is something that gets equated to elitism in modern politics, so that attitude toward “being smart” filters down in the family environment until it eventually reaches the school. Although gifted kids have taken labels like “geek” and “nerd” to own them so that they no longer have an adverse stigma to them, being identified as the smartest kid in class makes a child a target for bullying.

When these kids can enroll in their school’s gifted programs, then an immediate boost to their self-esteem occurs. Being around others who face similar challenges can make it feel like you’re less alone. More importantly, children in this situation get to feel better about who they are and what they can achieve.

2. Gifted programs offer an academic challenge.
When gifted children are in the classroom, the most common complaint that teachers hear is that the work is too easy. That creates feelings of boredom in these kids because they are not being challenged. Receiving an education through these programs works to alleviate that issue because the kids are given assignments which allow them to progress at a pace which is suitable to their academic level.

Most gifted programs place students in classrooms with others at a similar level so that they can push each other to achieve their highest standards of work each day. These situations allow the children to reach their full potential when compared to the traditional school environment.

3. It allows students to stay engaged with their academic pursuits.
Kids who have higher intelligence struggle to stay engaged in the traditional classroom because they feel like they know the material their peers are learning. This perspective causes them to disengage because they start to seek out alternative activities which are more interesting. Some children might sneak books into the classroom. Others get into trouble because there is nothing better for them to do. Thanks to gifted programs, an increase in the difficulty of the work being asked of them can help them to reconnect to the environment.

4. Gifted programs can help students focus on subjects of interest.
The standard classroom in today’s school focuses on core subjects that are necessary for all-purpose success as an adult. Items like reading, writing, and mathematics often take a priority over creative subjects like art or music. Gifted programs can give a student some extra time to pursue something they are passionate about in the academic realm. When children get an opportunity to start exploring their creative interests from an early age, then the progress they make often remains intact as they reach adulthood.

5. It benefits the teachers who are put in charge of these programs.
Teachers must work to raise the level of instruction they provide when they are leading a gifted program in their school. By “teaching up a grade” in this setting, their vocational skills expand so that they can become more versatile in the entire curriculum. If there are non-gifted children that receive instruction from them during the day as well, then these kids receive an improvement in their education as well. It is not unusual for students who do not initially register as a gifted and talented kid to reach that level when their primary teacher is in charge of the higher instruction programs at their school.

6. Gifted programs lead to higher levels of student achievement.
There is evidence to suggest that gifted programs help students to achieve greater levels of success when compared to their peers who stay in the standard classroom environment. Ability grouping and acceleration programs have significant positive effects on the academic achievement of each child. There are instances when this advantage does not occur, but from a generalized perspective, children who get to use their intelligence in an approved school setting usually create a life that meets or exceeds their dreams.

7. It sets the stage for their future success.
There is a link in place for students who use gifted programs at their school and the post-graduate academic success they achieve later in life. Longitudinal studies often show that children who receive gifted and talented services during their K-12 years will achieve higher levels of post-graduate education. A significantly high percentage of them earn doctorates in their chosen field. Although there are many more very successful people who obtain this level of success without a designation of their gifts in their youth, the additional resources these students receive can help them to build a foundation for success.

8. Gifted programs allow children to become more social.
Many gifted children question their every move. They choose not to engage with other kids their age because it makes them feel uncomfortable. It is not unusual for them to lack in confidence before entering their school’s program. “I’m not as smart as people think I am,” is a common statement heard in this group, especially at third grade or below.

By having a gifted program available that allows these kids to pursue interests which are often different than those of their peers, it gives them a chance to feel like they belong somewhere. It becomes a lot easier to make friends and accelerate their socials skills compared to those who do not receive these services.

9. It allows parents to nominate their children for testing too.
One of the ways that a school district takes the pressure off of its teachers on the identification of highly capable students is to allow parents to send through nominations for children to be part of the local gifted program. This process often starts in the second grade, and it can go all the way through to a child’s senior year of high school in some districts. This structure helps to ensure that everyone can achieve their maximum potential without limiting the restrictions that some adults place on the system.

10. Gifted programs can still keep kids in their classroom with their peers.
Although some gifted programs will take students into a segregated classroom, many districts use cluster groups as a way to provide legally-mandated services to highly capable students. Not only does this advantage offer all-day instructional opportunities that are not always available with enrichment efforts, but it also keeps the student in their classroom with their friends. Everyone benefits from the process because an improvement in the instruction of one child often creates an overall improvement over the norm.

List of the Cons of Gifted Programs

1. Gifted programs can further stigmatize children in uncomfortable situations.
Schools who identify gifted children will often take them out of the standard classroom to facilitate a more challenging environment. Although this can help them academically, it does not always benefit them socially. Rural districts can often be small enough where only 1-2 kids from each grade level test into the gifted programs that exist. By separating them from their peers, the school creates a rift which communicates that these kids are better, so they deserve more.

This issue results in two adverse outcomes. The first is a deepening resentment by the student body of the gifted programs since they offer more resources to qualifying students. Then you have the problem of the child becoming less confident of themselves because there is no longer an academic advantage over their peers.

2. It can place unreasonable expectations on the student.
Expectations can play a significant role in how parents treat their children at home after school. They will sometimes push their kids too hard if they believe that they should qualify for the local gifted programs. Some parents even expect their kids to complete their work easily with this designation, so they might be unsympathetic if their student struggles in specific areas.

It is essential that we remember kids with a higher intelligence still have varying academic strengths. Some students may be gifted in math and science, but not writing or reading. The reverse can be true as well. Being in an advanced program can make some kids feel like they are a failure because they’re not perfect at everything.

3. Gifted programs can cause some students to stop trying.
It is not unusual for parents to recognize a gifted child right away because if their daily family interactions. This conduct usually results in the parents telling their child that they are smart, intelligent, humorous, or even perfect. If kids hear these compliments enough times, then they will believe the adjectives about themselves. This structure can lead to a child believing that they can accomplish tasks easily. If they begin to struggle with any of their classroom materials, then they can beat themselves up pretty badly because they experienced difficulties.

Students in this situation often stop trying because they fear failure. They choose to attempt tasks that have a high level of success, which eliminates the benefit of being challenged on a regular basis.

4. It can change the work ethic of the child.
Gifted children sometimes struggle with their work ethic as an adult because most tasks came easy to them at a young age from an academic standpoint. As they grow older and find a job, they may not have a positive work ethic when their position all responsibilities become challenging. Teachers and family members can counteract this issue somewhat by emphasizing the importance of hard work, but it can also be difficult to break a bad habit if it has become ingrained in the child’s behavior.

Research from Florida State University finds that having a high IQ level can help you to initially grasp a new skill, but there is no relationship between one’s intelligence and an opportunity to excel in that activity. It is only through practice and effort that an optimal performance can be achieved. Students who struggle with this disadvantage will always find themselves trying to catch up, despite their abilities.

5. Gifted programs require extensive funding to be effective.
Gifted programs in the United States are funded at the local and state levels. Because the focus of a school district is to create general student proficiencies, there is not as much money allocated to the gifted and talented students in the community. The overall goal is to create higher scores on the statewide achievement tests instead. There are only four states who fully fund their gifted programs each year. The old adage that “you get what you pay for” certainly applies with this disadvantage.

6. It often uses teachers who are not adequately trained for their student’s needs.
School districts define the job requirements for teachers who will be placed in charge of the local gifted programs. There should be special certification criteria to receive an employment opportunity to work with these kids, but that is not always the case. It happens far too often that a teacher with no expertise is placed in charge of the program even though they have little knowledge on how to instruct a highly capable student.

When a school district uses compacting or grouping strategies to create their gifted programs, it is possible for a majority of the instruction to be conducted by a teacher without any related certification. The program might provide a certified teacher at certain times during the week, but it is not a full-time experience for the enrolled students.

7. Gifted programs do not identify all of the possible forms of intelligence.
Gifted and talented children are often identified as having the potential to be highly capable by an elementary school teacher before the second grade. This identification occurs because of their academic performance more than their creativity or artistry. Once this process starts, standardized testing scores are used to determine qualifying factors for enrollment in the local gifted program. Even if the student is only a couple of points off of a threshold, they will not be permitted to enjoy the full benefits of this designation.

There are several critical disadvantages to consider when using this identification method to find highly capable students in the community.

  • Teachers may not have the knowledge, understanding, or observational skills necessary to recognize a gifted student in their classroom.
  • Highly capable children who would qualify in other districts may not do so in their local school because other kids score higher on the standardized tests.
  • It does not encompass all facets of intelligence.

It could even be argued that are standardized test favors the wealthy because they have more opportunities and experiences to incorporate into their education when compared to poorer families.

8. It does not create a continuous process.
Gifted programs often use constructs as a way to identify students, but the problem with that approach is that it is neither dichotomic or static. If a child tests as being highly capable in the second grade, then there is no way to determine if that identification should continue several years down the road. Some kids have a bad day during their test and do not score as high as they could. Even equipment malfunctions have caused some students to miss out on the chance to receive this designation.

Far too often, gifted programs create an all-or-nothing proposition. Having a cutoff line is not a fair assessment to see if a student is truly gifted. By labeling kids at an early age, we set the stage to create a self-fulfilling prophecy on who they can be in the future.

9. Gifted programs promote disparities in the community.
One of the most controversial issues found in gifted programs is the racial and socioeconomic disparities that get highlighted in each community. Racial minorities in the United States are under-represented in these programs by at least 50% in most communities. When looking at the overall wealth of a district, 12% of students in richer schools participate in these programs, but poor institutions see about half of that number.

There are several reasons to consider when looking at this disadvantage. Schools without resources are less likely to offer gifted programs because they cannot afford them. Even the process of screening a student comes with a financial charge that some communities would rather funnel into textbooks, building maintenance, or other general education needs. There may be issues with identifying giftedness in minority children as well.

10. It may lead to issues of teacher bias in the classroom.
Because teachers are often responsible for the identification and naming of students with giftedness, their conscious or unconscious bias can play a role in the future success of some children. Vanderbilt University found that white students were twice as likely as African-American students to be identified for placement in a gifted program despite having similar scores.

No one is saying that teachers or school administrators are actively racially profiling students. What is being said is that this disadvantage is a real phenomenon which must be addressed if we are going to challenge every highly capable student.

Conclusion of the Gifted Programs Pros and Cons

The provision of gifted programs will always have its proponents and critics. Despite receiving challenges from the academic community in recent years, the structure of labeling students based on their intelligence is not going to go away anytime soon. At the same time, we can all agree that there is a genuine need for curriculum improvements so that gifted students can receive the challenges they need each day in the classroom.

There are times when receiving a highly capable designation can lead to unrealistic expectations. It is also worth noting that students who do not receive this label are not always able to reach their full potential either. We must find a way to balance the individual needs of each child while still offering advanced learning opportunities to those who require them.

The pros and cons of gifted programs sometimes struggle to find success because there is no one around who can implement a successful classroom experience. We must provide resources at the state/provincial and local levels to ensure that the next generation can receive all of the tools necessary to reach the dreams they have.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.