Jonathan Plucker: The State of States in Gifted Education

Jonathan Plucker: The State of States in Gifted Education

Originally published in the November/December 2020 issue of Equity & Access Pre K-12

Among the most interesting and helpful reports on gifted education are the periodic State of the States studies, produced through a joint collaboration of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), the Council of State Directors of Programs for the Gifted (CSDPG), and university researchers. The purpose of the study is to provide comprehensive data on current policies and practices related to gifted education in all 50 states, and the data are widely used by educators, policymakers, advocates, parents, and journalists. The 2020 edition of the report, covering the 2018-2019 school year, has just been released.

The university team for the 2020 study was from the College of Education at the University of North Texas and included Profs. Anne Rinn, Rachel Mun, and Jaret Hodges, with assistance from a large number of staff and board members from both NAGC and CSDPG. The team did a great job, gathering data from all 50 states and Washington, DC. The researchers relied primarily on data collection via surveys.

Those questionnaires focused on six broad areas:

  1. SEA personnel and funding for gifted education
  2. Factors impacting gifted education
  3. State definitions of giftedness, identification, and gifted students
  4. Programs and services
  5. Personnel training requirements
  6. Accountability

The study provides us with an enormous amount of information about how states approach advanced education, who receives these services, and the level of oversight within each state. This information is needed now more than ever given the urgent national and state conversations surrounding issues of equity and access regarding gifted education. We cannot improve this situation without knowing what that situation is, and without seeing the range of strategies states are using to address it.

The report contains so much rich information that attempting to summarize it here would be a fool’s errand, and I encourage everyone to download the full report at http://nagc.org. But at the 30,000-foot level, I’d like to hit on a few themes. First and foremost, the report contains evidence of significant, positive developments in gifted education. For example, all 50 states plus DC offer some level of services for advanced students, but the level of services varies widely in scope and regional coverage. South Dakota reports that the state does not offer gifted education services and does not have any related state requirements, but that local districts may have gifted education programs. Given the lack of a federal mandate for advanced education, I was pleasantly surprised by the data showing the blanket coverage across the states, albeit more of an afghan blanket with holes and inconsistencies.

In a similar vein, half of the states reported dedicated, gifted education funding for school districts. A notable example is Arizona, which restored funding to the tune of nearly a million dollars. That’s not a huge per capita increase, but it is movement in the right direction and a huge victory for gifted students and their advocates in that state.

Regarding equity, I see lots of good news in the data

Several states report specific actions to address equity concerns, including the use of universal screening, professional development focused on the identification of underserved populations, having a state mandate that specifically addresses equity in gifted identification, and the use of state or federal funding specifically for addressing equity in gifted identification. In addition, 29 states collect subgroup data on students receiving services, with 6 other states collecting these data at the district level – we can’t close excellence gaps without knowing the magnitude of the problem, so this is important progress!

The report also clearly points to several tangible action steps. For example, regarding factors impacting gifted education, respondents from 41 states cited site-based decision making or local control. Again, given the lack of a federal mandate (and only 24 state mandates) for gifted education services, it is not surprising that the majority of decisions regarding services are made at the district or school level. But if decisions impacting gifted education and equity are primarily being made at the local level, it is imperative that all educators and personnel have at least a minimal amount of training in giftedness and advanced education.

As in past reports, the news here remains grim: Only 4 states require coverage of giftedness and gifted education in administrator preparation programs, only 3 states in teacher preparation programs, and only 4 in counselor prep. We have much work to do in this area.

Download the report


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