Get Rid of “Gifted”: Debunking America’s Greatest Educational Myth

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readJan 19, 2024

Felix Jones (PPS ‘25)

Felix Jones
Felix Jones (PPS ‘25)

My parents, like thousands of others, bought fully into the idea that gifted programs promised their child the best chance to get ahead in life, and they weren’t going to let me fall behind. From 1st through 12th grade, I was the beneficiary of these programs. At age five, my parents took me to standardized testing facilities so I could get into an elementary school’s gifted program. Age 11 brought another round of standardized tests to get into a selective enrollment high school, three years before I even started high school. We were dedicated, to say the least.

Plenty of worn-out “gifted” kids have decried gifted programs. Old classmates of mine often lamented about how the high-stress gifted program environment has left them anxious and burnt out before we even got to college. There’s a lot of unrelenting pressure from parents and teachers alike that make it near impossible to take a break or feel like you’ve done enough. I don’t deny that being labeled as gifted can become substantial psychological burdens for kids. But gifted kids are not the victims here. The time has come to give up on the “gifted program” experiment, and not for the reasons you might think.

Intelligence outcomes are a product of interpersonal expectations. If you tell a child that they’re smart and capable, they’ll internalize this and excel. If you tell the same child that they just don’t match up to their peers, they’ll internalize this and prove you right. Psychologist Robert Rosenthal designed an experiment in which he randomly selected a group of students in an elementary school classroom and informed teachers that these kids were “bloomers” (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). Teachers could expect substantial improvement in standardized test scores in bloomers as compared to the “non-bloomers,” who would plateau. This arbitrary prediction came true; bloomers gained as many as 30 IQ points, while only half of the control group gained even 10.

The idea that a young child’s score on a standardized test of intelligence predicts their aptitude for achievement throughout their educational career is the core premise supporting gifted programs, but it’s a lie. Intelligence and academic aptitude are malleable traits that can be developed with encouragement and growth-oriented mindsets. When you designate certain kids as “gifted,” the kids left to the side are locked into a destiny of lower achievement that is incredible difficult to break free from. This is a structural issue in education; the children who perform best on these tests come from well-resourced families who can afford tutors and can dedicate time toward preparing their kids. Networking and pipelines funnel kids from these programs into elite universities, and from there, the upper levels of society. Low-income families face an uphill battle getting their kids into these programs that can singlehandedly determine a child’s academic trajectory.

There is also a local-level brain-drain effect that comes from gifted programs. The highest achievers are increasingly clustered in select schools and classrooms, leaving parents like my own scrambling to get their kids into these schools where all the presumably smart children are. Less and less “gifted” kids remained integrated into regular classrooms, despite research suggesting equal performance in non-segregated learning environments and an increase in friendliness and leadership for these students in integrated classrooms (Kenny et al., 1995).

The solution is to broaden curriculums to incorporate higher-level learning for all students. Course rigor is shown to be the top predictor of college success (Blustain, 2020). It follows that all students should have equal opportunity to take these classes through a schoolwide enrichment strategy, as opposed to only enriching select classrooms. Proponents of schoolwide enrichment recognize that requiring higher-level classes could be a challenge for struggling students, but English teacher Bruce Hecker who has seen these programs firsthand thinks “it’s better for struggling students to be in my classroom and not in some other room wondering what’s going on in those classes…that is completely demoralizing” (Blustain, 2020). We can continue to modify strategies as we go using personalized objectives and collaborative tasks to promote individual success without segregating learning environments. It may not be a silver bullet solution, but it’s an important step toward educational equity.

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities afforded to me through gifted programs, but I don’t feel good about the arbitrary exclusivity of these opportunities. It’s time that we let go of the notion that some children are innately more gifted than others and give every child the chance to succeed that they deserve.

Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. The Urban Review, 3(1), 16–


Kenny, D. A., Archambault, F. X., Jr., & Hallmark, B. W. (1995). The effects of group

composition on gifted and non-gifted elementary students in cooperative learning groups (Research Monograph 95116). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Blustain, R. (2020, October 14). Gifted classes drive inequality. but what happens when schools get rid of them? Retrieved April 28, 2023, from

Felix Jones is from Chicago, IL and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.