by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Are you thinking of sending your little gifted and talented youngster to a magnet school program for high achievers? Sa Bui, Scott Imberman, and Steven Craig’s Education Next study will encourage you to revisit the idea. The University of Houston researchers conducted two studies (using different methodologies) of gifted and talented (G&T) programs in an unidentified public school district. In both cases, they found little or no academic growth among students enrolled in these programs.
The results of both studies will be discouraging for those hopeful that current G&T programs provide a means to accelerate the progress of our most capable students. The first shows that barely eligible students who participated in LUSD’s G&T curriculum for all of 6th grade and half of 7th grade exhibit no significant improvement in test scores across a range of subjects, despite their being surrounded by higher-achieving peers and taking more advanced courses. The lottery study corroborates these results, as students admitted to the G&T magnet schools show little improvement in test scores by 7th grade, despite having higher-achieving peers and being taught by more effective teachers. The lone exception is in science, where students admitted to G&T magnet schools performed at substantially higher levels.
They are not sure why students failed to exhibit measurable growth.
It is difficult to know what accounts for these puzzling results. Our best guess, which we discuss in detail below, is that being placed with higher-achieving peers is not all that it is cracked up to be. Students admitted to both types of G&T programs suffer a large drop in their relative rank in terms of grades within their classes, which could have adverse consequences that offset any benefits of improvements in their educational environment.
I agree with the researchers that G&T programs are still valuable. Perhaps neighborhood and charter G&T programs are superior environments for our brightest bunch.