Sunday, January 01, 2006

"Gifted" Education Debate Rages

This Washington Post column stimulates a Matt Yglesias reply. Matt writes:
The idea is that, well, no child should be left behind. It's an essentially egalitarian aspiration -- the school system should try to do well for the hardest to teach kids, included ones coming from difficult backgrounds and ones who simply for whatever reason have a hard time with school. The idea of "gifted" programs is basically the reverse vision -- that the school system should focus on the easiest cases and push them to the highest level of achievement possible.

Julian Sanchez at the Daily Dish makes the point that even the lower-performing students get some benefit from the success of higher-performing students. I would contend that those benefits are fairly small on a dollar-for-dollar basis. After all, while geniuses could be anywhere in our midst, they will probably be successful and genius-like even without "gifted and talented" programs (see Albert Einstein.) (By the way, why does Julian think that Steve Jobs is a genius?)

But, as a society, we shouldn't squander the potential of kids from "almost genius" on down to "above average." As the Post column notes,
Shockingly, studies establish that up to 20 percent of high school dropouts are gifted.
That seems to indicate that there is a problem with incentives. If you are lucky enough to be one or two standard deviations above the mean (or whatever "gifted" means) then returns to education should be quite high; dropping out should not be an attractive option.

Spending more money on lower-performing students reduces the cost of being a lower-performing student. Spending more money on higher-performing students increases the (opportunity-)cost of being a lower-performing student. So perhaps spending more money on higher-performing students will increase the number of higher-performing students.

On a different note, I think that the terminology "gifted" should be dropped. There's no discrete difference between kids who are "gifted" and "not gifted," it's just a matter of how many standard deviations out on the normal distribution they are. "Giftedness" is continuous, why shouldn't policy attempt to be continuous as well?


Post a Comment

<< Home