Equity and Excellence: Political Forces in the Education of Gifted Students in the United States and Abroad

  • Elissa F Brown Hunter College-CUNY
  • Leigh R Wishney Teacher M.S. 101 New York City Department of Education New York, NY
Keywords: Gifted Education, Politics of Gifted Education, International Gifted Education, Equity and Excellence


Divisive rhetoric and heated political discourse surround the identification and education of gifted students and lead to opposing philosophical issues of egalitarianism versus elitism.  Researchers have long chronicled the ambivalence in the United States over the concepts of giftedness and intellectual talent (Benbow &Stanley, 1996; see also Gallagher & Weiss, 1979). 

 Gallagher (2005) suggested that the two predominant social values reflected in American education are equity and excellence: “The dual and desirable educational goals of student equity and student excellence have often been in a serious struggle for scarce resources.  Student equity ensures all students a fair short a good education.  Student excellence promises every student the right to achieve as far and as high as he or she is capable. Because the problems of equity have greater immediacy than does the long-term enhancement of excellence, this struggle has often been won by equity.” (Gallagher, 2005, p. 32). The ebbs and flows of public perceptions of equity and excellence and political and historical events have significantly impacted the evolution of the field of gifted education in the United States and abroad.  In order to understand these influences on the respective “outlier” student, it’s important to consider the context of the country, significant events, overall educational reform efforts and the implications on the education of gifted students. This article provides a backdrop of the United States’ ambivalence towards gifted education as well as provides an overview of a sample of countries as frames of reference. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.


Author Biographies

Elissa F Brown, Hunter College-CUNY


Dr. Elissa Brown is a Distinguished Lecturer and Director, of the Hunter College Gifted Center. She is an education policy fellow under the Institute for Educational Leadership. Previously, she was the Director of Teacher & Leader Education Programs and Gifted Education at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. From 2002-2007, she was the Director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. She has served as a state director of gifted education, a federal grant manager, a district gifted program coordinator, principal of a specialized high school and a teacher of gifted students. As a professor, Elissa coordinates and teaches the Advanced Certificate program in Gifted & Talented at Hunter College and has served as an adjunct professor at several universities, including Rutgers and Duke University. She is a published author in the field of gifted education and presents widely. She lives in East Harlem, New York. 

Leigh R Wishney, Teacher M.S. 101 New York City Department of Education New York, NY
Leigh Wishney is an experienced teacher for over ten years both in general education and gifted education classrooms. Currently, she is serving on her school's leadership team to implement best practices in gifted education in her Title I school in Bronx, NY. She holds a Masters in Education and a gifted education extension certificate.