The NAGC’s Bold Step and What it Means for Your Gifted Child

What a way to start off a new job … with a bang! Paula Olszewski-Kubilius took over the reigns of the NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children – U.S.) at their annual convention earlier this month. She's also the director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development and a professor in their School of Education and Social Policy.

In her inaugural message to NAGC members, ‘Taking a Bold Step’, Olszewski-Kubilius states, “I suggest that we take a bold step and consider making talent development, rather than giftedness, the major unifying concept of our field and most importantly, the basis for our practice.” Critics were quick to contend that this was a bold statement for the new president of an organization which is considered to be all about giftedness rather than talent development; even going so far as to suggest it change its  name.

Nothing less than a firestorm has erupted in online gifted communities. Perhaps it is just the company I keep, but the cons sure seemed to outnumber the pros. It also re-opened some old debates between the importance of recognizing giftedness vs. focusing on talent development … talent development based upon principles of psychology rather than education. Many negative comments seemed predicated on this conflict rather than on an in-depth review of the underlying reasons why the NAGC has committed to heading in this direction.

It just so happens that yours truly had been plodding her way through a 45+ page monograph for three weeks prior to the publishing of the latest issue of Compass Points. I say plodding because it reminded me of why I dropped out of graduate school (thus my lowly status of blogger rather than college professor). 

To be honest, the monograph, "Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science", was not written for a lay person. The synopsis provided by the journal in which it was published, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, did not do it justice. In fact, in some social media circles it acted like high-quality kindling on a fire that was just getting started. The monograph was written, however, in my opinion to serve as the basis for a fundamental change in direction at the NAGC. It redefined giftedness as “the manifestation of performance or production”, that “achievement is the measure of giftedness”, and that “eminence is the basis on which this label [gifted] is granted”.
The controversy online made this topic almost too hot to handle for this blog. I say ‘almost’ because the more I read about it, the more intrigued I became about digging deeper. Talk about emotional intensity … it’s like an American attending the World Cup! You love the game – fútbol or soccer, as we like to call it – you know some of the players, you have a general idea of who you want to win, but most of the time you feel confused and wish those around you would just stop blowing those vuvuzelas!

So why did the NAGC decide that now was the time to change course? From a review of this year’s Gifted Child Quarterly – the official journal of the NAGC … and yes, I am a member – it became clear that articles were published in anticipation of this move to an emphasis on talent development. It should also be noted that all three authors of the ‘Rethinking Giftedness’ monograph – Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewdki-Kubilius, and Frank Worrell – are also members of the Editorial Review Board at Gifted Child Quarterly. (More on the authors can be found here.)

In the Spring 2011 issue of Gifted Child Quarterly one such article appeared entitled, “State of Research on Giftedness and Gifted Education”. The authors – Dai, Swanson & Cheng – came to the conclusion after an extensive review of gifted research articles between 1998 and 2010 that there needed to be a clearer definition of giftedness that the entire gifted community could agree upon if any forward progress was to be made in gifted education; at least in the U.S. They showed a dramatic increase in the amount of research on giftedness and gifted education, but also an increasing divergence in the direction of that research. Basically, they were calling for new standards in the field.

What were the motives behind this move on the part of the NAGC? Is it their intention to replace the term gifted with talent development? Are the social emotional issues experienced by gifted children no longer valid? What role does the NAGC’s support of The Talent Act sitting in Congress have to do with any of this? And last, but not least, for whom does the NAGC speak? I look forward to hearing from the NAGC should they decide to address these questions.

In the final analysis, this blogger must ask, “What does this mean for gifted children?” Yes, remember them – the children – the reason we teach, research, and for whom we advocate for a clearer understanding of their needs and education? This change of definition will definitely make a difference for future generations, but in reality … probably not for our children today. Which begs the question – should parents even be concerned about this whole issue?

Do I think it’s important for parents to be concerned about the direction taken by an organization who is a major player in shaping gifted education policy in the U.S.? Why, yes,! Just as I feel that progress will only be made when parents step up to the plate and make their voices heard in support of their children. For too long – like forever – parents have sat on the sidelines complaining about the gifted programs in their local schools, the lack of funding at the state level, and the lack of federal mandates to validate the need for gifted education at all. You need to become part of the conversation or things will NEVER change. You will become grandparents complaining from your rocking chairs and wishing you had done something years ago.

A word to my international readers … this is not solely an American issue. All parents need to become advocates for gifted education to ensure a brighter future filled with opportunity for your children. Better still … we must all come together as a forceful reminder to the larger gifted community that it is about … the children!


  1. The reason parents don't sit up and scream for change is that they are exhausted. They're the ones driving their kids to enrichment activities to replace what the school is unable to provide. They're the ones having to deal with the emotional intensities that flare up daily...usually at them. They're the ones who have to navigate the educational system and attempt to convince the Powers That Be that a Fair And Appropriate Education includes those at the far right of the bell curve. They just don't have it in them to push for change because they're so deep in the trenches they can barely see sunlight. And then once they're out? Can you blame them if they have no desire to return? Support the parents, the ones to whom the change makers will listen, and change will come.

  2. Jen, I have been running my kids places for 17 years and worked full time for 13 of those years, so I really do understand. However, there comes a point that you must work to change the system for all gifted children. Mine have graduated, but the fight goes on. I am a strong advocate of using social media to get your voice heard as well as for organizing parents at the local level. It can be done. Don't forget ... we support each other in our online communities, too! ;)

  3. As a gifted facilitator, a member and former BOD member of NAGC, I don't think there is a concerted effort going on to convince others as much as many minds coming to similar conclusions after years of work and research. The current research in psychology (IQ and IQ testing) is showing us strong tendencies toward more malleable intelligence rather than "fixed" intelligence. This leads to a more flexible definition of giftedness in "talent development" rather than labeling "gifted." It doesn't and shouldn't mean that students with obvious potential will not be identified and served. If the major organization in the field doesn't pay attention to this research, it would be sad indeed. There are many implications in this for parents, teachers, and organizations! Many of them are quite positive.

  4. Great post. Couldn't agree with you more. I was stunned to see the direction that was being taken and am uncertain that the NAGC represent my viewpoints anymore.

    I also agree that the parents need to speak up - I'm just worried that this direction of a National organisation will make it even harder for underachieving gifted, 2E etc to be recognised for what they are.

  5. Great post! I really believe that until the academics really make an effort to reach the every day parent; we will not see the gifted community come together and work toward real world solutions. I think parents want to be involved but much of this research does not resonate to their daily lives.

  6. csheets said... "The current research in psychology (IQ and IQ testing) is showing us strong tendencies toward more malleable intelligence rather than "fixed" intelligence."

    This sounds true to me; but it also sounds like a statement that is more about our measurement instrument than anything else: especially, more about the inadequacy of IQ tests to capture the essence of what those within the gifted community call "giftedness."

    Some of the main causes of difficulty in educating and supporting these children are: an asynchronously-developing brain; a characteristic set of accompanying intense personality traits; and increased likelihood of hidden learning differences. Will focus on "talent development" serve these kids any better than we do now?

    In one way, perhaps there is some hope: imagine everyone were to (finally!) adopt the posture that "if you've seen one child, you've seen one child." Schools might then start teaching each individual based on their actual strengths and weaknesses, rather than, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, grouping and teaching according to "date of manufacture."

    In other ways, I doubt it will help at all. At the granularity of the individual child, "talent development" brings us no closer to acknowledging the difficulty of living with that asynchronous, intense brain than we are today...never mind meeting a twice-exceptional child at a place where s/he can succeed. And at the program level, we are far too apt to get stuck in questions about what constitutes talent, who should play what role in that development, and whether the owner of said talent has any say (!) in how fully it should be developed.

  7. I am happy to post comments, but not those who are obviously hiding behind anonymous. Thank you.

  8. I want to know from esheets what they think are the positive implications of all this, for the highly and profoundly gifted, the twice-exceptional gifted, and the culturally diverse gifted.

  9. As a parent of a 2e/PG child, I am concerned that this new focus will lead to setting unrealistic and limiting expectations of children who need lots of understanding and freedom in their learning. It seems that trying to widen the scope of whom we define as having "potential" will do a disservice to those children who are wired differently and need special teaching styles in order to bring out best "performance." I have no beef with trying to bring out the best in each child (I encourage it!), but I fear that we will once again leave a portion of our highest-potential students out in the cold if we start re-defining everything as "talent development."

  10. Lisa,

    Great post. I admire your tenacity to read through the monograph. I followed your link and perused the abstract and outline, but haven't begun to plunge into its subtleties. I am reminded, though, of the humbling Ph.D. graphic that displays the grandiose extent of my knowledge as but a tiny blip. Last year we, as a human race, generated 18 exabytes (10^19) of new information (more than first 5000 years of recorded history). We live in exponentially complex times. We need computers to keep us on schedule and on time. Switching to talent based seems to be the approach of my son's new school (a cyber school). Their traditional gifted program, staffed by one professional person overseeing K-12, emphasizes language arts. My mathematically gifted student doesn't have a LA passion, and asked to withdraw. Yet the school has empowered him to develop his talent by accelerating in math, providing opportunities for robotics and science fairs that build on his comp sci and math passions, have two math clubs he can meet others in, substitute his LA research project for a science and math fair research project and celebrate his voracious reading appetite (while still mandating he read the curriculum). This school atmosphere of empowering individual student talents takes best practices of years of gifted research (diagnostic testing, project based learning, frequent communication, desire for status rewards) and puts them in the hands of each teacher. But it also requires a parent who knows their child's giftedness and communicates clearly with the school and teachers. This new model requires more parent involvement. Although exhausted from running around to extracurriculars, I welcome the change and feel as though I finally how some help and not more adversaries to building a garden of educational opportunities where my child can thrive

  11. I am the parent of 2nd grade taglet twins and have begun to stand up for them...however, this feels like a sisyphean effort. I am not sitting on the sidelines. However, whenever I think the school has agreed to address the issue, nothing actually happens. All of the "plans" we discussed in the spring have come to naught. *sigh* As Jen said above, it is exhausting.

  12. Excellent post! However, you call for parents to advocate more, but do not give directions as to how to accomplish it. As a parent, my voice is heard locally. I meet with the school regularly and the teachers are willing to work with me. But there is just no clear curriculum to follow to the right of the bell curve. The teachers and school administrators tell me that they are willing to do anything I want them to do for my children, but that puts the burden on ME to design a curriculum. I could go on and on here, but I am preaching to the choir... Jen is so accurate in describing parenting gifted children today is EXHAUSTING! So please, don't just ask me to advocate, tell me how. Thank you.

  13. Ellen, Thank you for your comment. After reading more than 350 comments online about this bold move, I don't think the issue is about talent development. The problem is replacing the term giftedness with the term talent development; thus eliminating the idea of a child being gifted all together. I will address this in an upcoming post.

  14. Dear parents of young gifted children ... I do hear you and I do understand how exhausting it can be to parent gifted children. My youngest (2E) of two just entered college. It has been my hope to provide parents such as yourselves with coping strategies and ways to become more involved in gifted advocacy ... which is why I started this blog. Please feel free to look over the archives at right. The fact that you are reading this blog and asking questions is the first step. Joining with other parents in a support group is one of the best ways to overcome the feelings of 'going it alone'. I first organized a group in my district that was very successful in working with our district to expand their gifted program. Once we all became so overwhelmed with trying to meet every month (refreshments, speakers, elections, dues), we took our group online to Facebook where we remain today. It is one alternative for an existing group that how worked quite well for us. Hope this helps!


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