The Alleged Connection between Gifted Student Programs and Special Education

Several years ago, prospective student-teachers enrolled in the school of education at a California university were told that special education once included some of the brightest students in the country. 

A professor for a methods class mentioned that the program once catered to gifted students, as well as those with disabilities. Also, she stated they were labeled as special education students – a designation that didn’t sit well with their parents.

The so-called connection was not welcomed by all, especially the parents of gifted students. They felt that the special education label would be unfairly placed on their child. As a result, parent groups pressured successfully to have state officials separate gifted student programs from the special education umbrella.

The results, however, had an unintended consequence: funding for special education continued while money for gifted student programs vanished.

The story sounds plausible, as well as its message. It seem to expose the problems of funding public education programs, the danger of labeling students, and the type of bias that exists in world of education.

However, this story is likely a myth. Validating this information was not easy. Most websites do not mention any past connections (some even insist that this connection never existed). Also, Internet pages for several state education departments hint that the programs have their own department and funding.

Still, a closer look at each program suggests there are some similarities. While they serve different students and are essentially separate programs, they are funded in similar ways and share a few educational tools.

Possibility for the Confusion

In several states, words “gifted”  and “special” are interchangeable. For instance, in Florida there is call for special programs for gifted students. Upon reading it would appear one would get confused into believing that the two programs were part of the same entity.

In fact, Florida State Department of Education website lists several educational programs for adult education, special education, and gift student education under one category, Special Programs I.

In some cases, states will have individual plans with goals written for gifted students. This is similar to the Individual Education Plan (IEP) students designated for special education will have. However, they will the same type of plan (IEP will have pages for accommodations, transitions, and services, among other things).

The Difference between the Two

Gifted student programs and Special Education appear to be the antithesis of each other. Programs designed for gifted students try to supply advanced studies for students with high skills or intelligence, where as the special education programs cater to students with disabilities in order to help them obtain the same general education curriculum as their non-disabled peers have.

The Similarities between the Two

Both programs, on the other hand, use accommodations or modifications to the lessons offered to the students. Often, gifted students are given a faster-paced curriculum. In special education, the curriculum will either be accommodated with various teaching tools or technology to help the students keep up with the general education curriculum. In other cases, in which the student’s skills are extremely low, they will have textbooks or assignments modified to fit their abilities.

In tboths cases, the work and lesson have been differentiated from the general education population (in an unrelated matter, recent California law pertaining education states that gifted students in the gifted student program must have differentiated lessons in their general education classes).

Also, in elementary shcools, it’s not uncommon for special education students (those who have been mainstreamed) and gifted students to be pulled out for an hour or so each day from their classes. The special ed. student will likely go to their case-carrior’s class or to a learning center. The gifted students may go to a classroom, in which a specialized program is designed to give them higher level work. (It should be noted that both systems are not done in every public school district.) In other cases, gifted students are sent to another school or to a community college for curriculum that may not be offered at their home school.

Are There any Connections?

Surprisingly there is another connection; gifted students can qualify for special education services. It’s not unusual to have students with dyslexia or Asperger’s Syndrome to also have advanced skills in a particular topic or have a high IQ.  One example is Australian author, physicist and poet, Peter Rodgers. Despite having been diagnosed with dyslexia and epilepsy, his IQ was measured at 175 (genius level).

Although learning disabilities have the potential to affect one’s skill in reading, writing or math, it doesn’t erase it. Students may learn different skills or are taught study skills that will accommodate their needs.

In theory, these two programs are supposed to serve two distinct groups. However, there is an increasing number of students who can qualify for both groups. Learning disabilities may affect the students’ ability to read or write, but it doesn’t stop all of them from thinking and learning at high levels of proficiencies