Serving gifted children

Don’t they have “special needs” as much as, say, dyslexics?

The contrast between the resources lavished on “special needs” children in public schools and the widespread lack of any programming for very-high-performing children is stark. And of course No Child Left Behind discourages paying any attention to high performers, since they’re nowhere near the cutoff scores. It’s widely believed that kids with very strong cognitive abilities don’t need any help; “they’ll make it anyway.”

A friend who has been looking at the literature reports that the data say otherwise. Apparently very-high-IQ kids, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, are so different from “normal” kids that they risk being misdiagnosed with everything from ADHD to character disorder. And their sheer boredom in classrooms that don’t challenge them may lead them to drop out. High-IQ girls face social pressure not to seem “too smart,” which no doubt helps account for the paucity of female math and physical science professors. Similar forces may be at work black and Latino boys. Yet no one seems to think that improving K-12 education for extra-smart girls and extra-smart minority boys is part of the solution to the “diversity” problem.

So here’s the puzzle: is there any justification for not treating high-IQ kids as having “special needs” and therefore entitled to individualized instruction? Yes, yes, I know that in the South “gifted” programs have been used as a technique of within-school resegregation. But that doesn’t change the real needs of very bright kids.

I don’t know how the special-ed laws are written. Is there a potential lawsuit here?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: