The advent of the new millennium has created a new willingness to accept change as a natural event. Change in the way we prepare personnel to work with gifted students is one that is needed (Gallagher, 2000). The education of gifted students has been a part of the American scene for over seven decades. During that time, the focus of these special efforts has been mainly on the elementary and middle school levels (Clark, 1997; Gallagher & Gallagher, 1994; Maker & Nielson, 1996). The education of gifted students at the secondary level has been comprised of acceleration (moving the student more rapidly through the secondary program), advanced placement or honors courses, and, occasionally, special schools like the North Carolina School of Math and Science or the Illinois Academy of Science and Mathematics (Kolloff, 1997). Rarely have secondary education teachers had special preparation for meeting the needs of gifted students or even for working with a specialist in gifted education who could provide them with technical assistance on this topic.
Is There a Need for Personnel Preparation?
Certainly many secondary school teachers believe that the rigorous curriculum that they present to bright students in their classes should be enough to meet the academic needs of these students. However, there is a variety of evidence to suggest that gifted students are often being shortchanged in their secondary education programs.
Gallagher, Harradine, and Coleman (1997) surveyed 871 gifted students in nine school systems (K-12) in North Carolina, asking them about their experiences in these public school programs. In response to the question as to whether their academic subjects were challenging, 20-40% of the secondary gifted students surveyed answered "No," and many added comments that they were bored by the pace and the nature of the instruction that they received.
Students who call for a more rigorous challenge are a surprise to many administrators who are used to students trying to avoid schoolwork, often in rather creative ways. Yet, these gifted students were asking for more complex and sophisticated content and for ways where they could work more independently in mastering important, if difficult, content.
An education "wake up" call for educators came with the results of the Third International Math and Science Study, which compared American students with students of 20 or more foreign countries (TIMSS, 1997). American students were far from outstanding in their performance, particularly at the higher levels of mathematics (precalculus) and science. These results were a direct challenge to United States secondary programs, particularly programs for bright students.
Even at schools such as the North Carolina School of Science and Math (NCSSM), a review of the school program found that the instructors' understanding of gifted students or methods to stimulate their creative and critical thinking was a weakness in an otherwise outstanding program (Gallagher, Coleman, & Staples, 1989).
What and Who Should Be the Focus of Training?
There are two groups in the secondary programs that need distinctive instruction: the classroom teacher and the specialist in gifted education who can provide support to the classroom teacher.
First let us consider specialists in gifted education and what their role should be. They should operate to aid the classroom teacher with technical assistance, meaning providing access to special materials, demonstrations, and advice. They should be the windows to the broader world of instruction and knowledge about gifted students and their learning.
The specialists in gifted education should also provide services for middle schools, and these individual should have credentials in gifted education. They should play an analogous role to the specialist in learning disabilities, whose task is to provide access to special materials and methods and to aid the classroom teacher in creating an effective learning environment for children with special needs. …