Few special educators recall that, at least in New York, the gifted population is part of the field for which we trained. That being the case, if a single chapter in four years of undergraduate training was devoted to giftedness, it was a lot. Assumptions such as the "smart kids will succeed regardless of what instruction is provided" and giving them extra work is enough to meet their needs abound in education.
The goal of federal education policy appears to be to narrow the gap between the brightest and the most struggling. The graph below demonstrates achievement gap comparing a low performer who achieves, an average 8 months of academic growth per year, with a high performer who achieves two years of academic growth per calendar year. While it is important to increase the performance of our lowest achievers, many of who do not actually reach eight tenths of a year's academic growth in a school year, it is also important to ensure that our high achievers are reaching their potential growth rate, which may vastly exceed two years per year. Further, research indicates that for the gifted population the line should be curved upward in an exponential growth rate not a linear growth rate. Based on innate learning characteristics captured by IQ, the gap will widen, not shrink.
In Who Rises to the Top? Early Indicators by Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, and Camilla P. Benbow point out that a "nation's gross domestic product is directly influenced by the aggregate accomplishments of its residents with high ability in science, technology, engineering and math" (p. 648, emphasis added). This means that as important as it is to increase the performance at the low end of the continuum, it is at least as important to increase performance at the high end of the continuum. The high achievers are the movers and shakers of the economy and the country. Furthermore, the highest of the high achievers are significantly more capable than their high ability peers. The authors refer to Cambridge University research that points out that the highest ranked of the top 40 of its 100 honors students of math performs demonstrates twice as much knowledge as the second ranked student and approximately four times more than the lowest of the top 40 (p. 657). Our highest achievers deserve attention and focus, much the way our struggling learners do. Lubinski is interviewed at this location and there is a link to the article as well.
So what does this mean for teachers? It means that adolescents with extraordinary talent benefit from learning environments that present information at a level on pace with the rate at which these students learn. High ability students need more complex work presented at a faster rate than their peers in order to stimulate their motivation, work ethic and interest. Extra work that is just busy work, peer tutoring that just holds them steady with their classmates is often frustrating, and differentiation that only allows for appeals to multiple intelligences, does not make the grade. That "they will learn if they are left in a room with a rock" reasoning is not only wrong, but detrimental to their productivity and the future productivity of the nation. We need to change how we approach gifted education as a national necessity, not a whim of the elitists.