Skip to main content

Should “Gifted and Talented” Programs Be Open to All Students?


Gifted programs are structured to cultivate and maximize the strengths of an individual. Through enriching instruction and engaging curriculum, students in gifted education are put on a path to achieve their full potential. But shouldn’t these ideals be applied to all students?

In New York City, a panel appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio thinks so. It has proposed eliminating the city’s gifted and talented programs, which largely enroll White and Asian American students, in favor of an approach that reduces inequality and segregation that is often perpetuated by gifted programs.

“Simply put, there are better ways to educate advanced learners than most of the current ‘Screened’ and Gifted and Talented programs, which segregate students by race and socioeconomic status,” the panel wrote in a report to de Blasio. “Today they have become proxies for separating students who can and should have opportunities to learn together.”

In a new episode of our Critical Window podcast, Dr. Yvette Jackson, adjunct professor at Teacher’s College at Columbia University and a senior scholar at the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, shares her knowledge about gifted and talented programs, what they tell us about how we structure our education system, and what we can learn from these programs.

We learn quickly that Dr. Jackson, who previously was the director of Gifted Programs for the New York City Board of Education, doesn’t like the term “gifted” or other terms frequently used to label students. We asked her about this term and others that have been used to categorize students in the United States and what these words convey about students.

Dr. Jackson: One [term], like you said, is gifted. The other term would be low-achieving, the other term would be subgroup, the other term would be minority, disabled, we can go on and on…I think those are enough, though, because immediately you get an image of you’re either talking about those who have intellectual capacity when you label them as gifted, or those who, when you say low achieving, the expectation is there is nothing about them that could be termed in a high achievement world because they’re low achieving.

Dr. Jackson then compared terms used for muscle development to child achievement to emphasize how terms change the way we go about addressing underachieving students.

Dr. Jackson: If you say that you have weak muscles, that’s very different than saying you have underdeveloped muscles. Underdeveloped means if you just worked out with the right program, right strategies, and that’s what I’m saying also for these terms. That children are not low achievers, they could be underachieving. They could be in situations where there are cognitive misfirings because of what they’re in but they’re not low achieving because that then puts the onus on the child. The issue is the onus is on us as the pedagogues to bring forward what the child innately has to offer.

But before you think Dr. Jackson is talking badly about the effectiveness of gifted programs, she’s not. In fact, she’s saying that there are a lot of things that we can learn from gifted programs that we should apply to the education of all students, such as:

1. Believe that all students have the potential to achieve at high levels.

This is a key foundation of gifted programs, explains Dr. Jackson. Students are brought into gifted programs because they are believed to have the potential to get to the next level. While in these programs, they often have access to a more expansive curriculum reflective of what is going on in the world, says Dr. Jackson. But these opportunities should be available to all students to develop their strengths and help them grow academically.

2. Pair teachers from gifted programs with those not in gifted programs.

Schools can create professional development opportunities that involve teachers from gifted programs learning from teachers who are not in the gifted program. What types of strategies are the gifted teachers using to elicit high performance and higher-level thinking from their students?

3. Adopt opportunities and experiences offered in gifted programs.

At the district level, explore the experiences and opportunities that are being offered to students in gifted programs, advises Dr. Jackson. How can we expand these chances to engage in field trips to ensure more kids are excited for school? What local resources, including businesses, museums, and after-school opportunities are available to give more students exposure and connect their learning to the real world?

Listen to more from Dr. Jackson in the episode below. And if you’d like to hear even more from Dr. Jackson, check out another podcast episode with her on the pedagogy of confidence, or teaching with the transformative belief that all students have the potential to achieve at high levels.

[powerpress url=”″]

Critical Window is a podcast from the Alliance for Excellent Education that explores the rapid changes happening in the body and the brain during adolescence and what these changes mean for educators, policymakers, and parents. Subscribe to Critical Window on Apple MusicStitcher or wherever you find podcasts.