The topic of gifted education is a frequent one in international school circles. Some schools offer a gifted programme, while others are thinking about it, and still others eschew it entirely.
There are many sides to the debate of whether to include gifted programming, yet what I don’t hear often enough is a questioning of the evidence as to whether such programmes are even effective. Do they truly benefit students that qualify as ‘gifted’?
A recently-released report by the Centre for Education Economics (CfEE) addresses this very question. This paper reviews the literature on” what works in terms of raising the performance of gifted children, in order to draw policy conclusions […]” (v). With so many people writing Twitter and blog posts that incorporate some version of “research suggests that…” or “research says that…”, one of the things I often wonder is just how rigorous this research is. My own experience is that high-quality, reliable, and valid research is not that ubiquitous. It stands to reason, therefore, that the “research suggests/says…” folks are mistaken, perhaps most of the time.
When it comes to research on gifted education programmes, the CfEE report identifies that most research is not sufficiently rigorous, when it comes to proposing policy solutions for such programming. Perhaps more interestingly, it also identifies that, of the rigorous research that does exist, there is little to show positive effects of such programming. “The rigorous evidence that does exist tends to find that neither gifted education programmes, nor streaming, as currently carried out, on average make much difference in terms of generating higher performance among gifted children.”
But it continues: “A couple of rigorous studies suggest that enrichment programmes, combined with self-directed/targeted instruction, have positive effects. This is supported by cognitive research, which suggests that already high-performing individuals perform better using discovery-based pedagogy. Research also suggests gifted children tend to have the characteristics required to benefit from such pedagogy.” In other words, were we to give these students more space to learn, they will drive themselves to higher performance. That’s probably not what policy-makers are looking for, I suspect.
Overall, the report states, the research on gifted education programming and any positive effects is, in reality, quite poor. It concludes that we ought to test (randomised tests) various approaches to gifted education in diverse educational settings, with an appropriate research organisation behind it all, in order to identify clearer paths. What is more, the authors do stress that “It important to note that it is far from straightforward to identify gifted children due to measurement error and differential developmental speed […].”
I recommend that you read and ponder this article and what it means for your school, if you currently offer gifted programming, or are considering it in the near future. It is an important review for school leaders and classroom practitioners.
You can read the report on our community platform, ECIS Connect.