Gifted Children Stuck in the No Passing Zone

No Child Gets Ahead


No Child Gets Out Alive


Double Back Around To Pick Up The Children We Left Behind Act


No Child Left Untested




We’ve all heard some of these mocking twists on No Child Left Behind—the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act  (ESEA) from 2001. Currently, the ESEA is being rewritten and debated in the U. S. House and Senate, and many believe this comes many years too late. 1

No Child Left Behind focused heavily on bringing up the lowest performing students to ensure they met minimum grade-level standards, and schools and teachers were held accountable for meeting the goals of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The focus of our public education system was on the average- and lower-performing students thus ensuring that no child was left behind, and no teachers or schools were left penalized for not meeting the goals of NCLB. Students who met or exceeded the minimum grade-level standards received less educational focus, and they did indeed get left behind.

Many of the students who were left behind during the last decade of NCLB were our gifted children. Standardized test scores have shown that gifted and high-achieving students demonstrated less year-to-year progress than their lower-achieving peers under NCLB. During NCLB, many states drastically cut spending for gifted education because NCLB lacked the provisions, directives and earmarked funds for the education of gifted students. 2

No Child Left Behind was not the sole contributor to inadequate gifted education in the United States.


Even before No Child Left Behind, gifted children, both in and out of school, were stigmatized. Whether due to the envy of a child who is seemingly smarter and better off than most, the misunderstanding of what giftedness really is, or both, gifted children suffered from a lack of an appropriate education and from the negative attitudes towards giftedness in society.

The stereotypical gifted child is one who the vast majority of people believe is smarter than most children, excels in school, is socially and emotionally mature and also well-behaved. Given this stereotype and the widespread belief in it, many in society, as well as our legislators who supported NCLB, and the states and school systems who continue to cut gifted programs, all felt that gifted children already had enough academic advantages making it unnecessary to mandate, fund and implement an appropriately challenging and accelerated education for gifted children.

The  predominant sentiment—they already have more, why do they need more?—is a huge detriment to gifted education. When state and school system budgets need trimming, the first programs to be axed are the programs for gifted children leaving these students to languish in regular classrooms.


Have you ever been stuck in a No Passing Zone with a slow-moving car in front of you? With your destination as your focus, you are anxious to get there as soon as possible. You wait for a chance to pass the slow-moving car in front of you, the double yellow lines no longer keeping you from passing, you edge out a bit only to see your chance to pass curtailed as the double yellow lines appear again. You move back in behind the slow-moving car.

Do you remember how it felt when you repeatedly attempted to pass, only to find yourself in the No Passing Zone again and again? The frustration at not getting to your destination sooner, not being able to go faster than the slower car in front of you, and you trying repeatedly but failing to get ahead of the slow-moving car—it was upsetting, anxiety-inducing and angering, right? It may have even made you lose your cool.

Those double yellow lines exist everyday in the regular classroom for our gifted children stuck in the No Passing Zone.

No Passing Zone

Since NCLB was enacted, high-achieving and gifted students have been short-changed, receiving a less-than-challenging education. Even with strong advocacy on the parts of parents and teachers, states and school systems continued to provide less and less for gifted students.

Why? My guess would be because those legislators casting votes to cut funding to programs for gifted and high-achieving students never understood or believed that gifted education was and is indeed very necessary—the they already have more, why do they need more? sentiment at work. Gifted education is considered expendable, not necessary, an enviable advantage for the already advantaged.

Our high-achievers and gifted children are stuck, unable to pass ahead of the regular classroom, and prevented from accelerating their learning. These children have been held back and left behind, the double yellow lines tying them to a frustratingly slower pace.


If you are one who believes our gifted children already have more than enough, and that educational funds and a teacher’s time is better spent teaching to the middle and focused on students who are underachieving or have special needs, what if I told you that gifted children often themselves underachieve in school likely due to the double yellow lines that bind them? Did you know that gifted children also have special needs? Many gifted children have learning disabilities and are on the autism spectrum which require accommodations. And yet, they are still forced to stay behind.

Let me ask you this: If your child was an average student who most often brought home B’s and C’s on his report card and you learned that your child’s teacher was focusing most of her time and energy on the many failing children in your child’s class, would you be upset? If you knew your child, who was bringing home B’s and C’s, really could be making A’s and B’s if given the chance, what would you do? If you knew your child was capable of learning more and moving ahead faster than the majority of his classmates who were learning at a slower pace, would you allow him to sit everyday in class and wait until his classmates caught up? If your child came home bored, frustrated and upset with school for holding him back, would you tell him it was okay because he was better off than his classmates because he was smarter than most of them?

Every child needs an appropriate learning environment. Every child deserves a challenging education. NO child deserves to be held back and each child deserves to get ahead at his own pace—especially  the gifted children who have  been stuck in the no passing zone for far too long.

NOTE: In my book, Educating Your Gifted Child: How One Public School Teacher Embraced Homeschooling, I go in to more depth about No Child Left Behind and how it has left our gifted children behind in our schools. I also provide strategies for advocating for your gifted child within the traditional school system as well as information and resources for educating your gifted child.

1. What should — and should not — be written into a new U.S. education law, Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, July 8, 2015.

2. No Child Left Behind Act, Wikipedia

21 Comments on “Gifted Children Stuck in the No Passing Zone

  1. Pingback: I’m Not THAT Parent | Crushing Tall Poppies

  2. I love the analogy of the no passing zone. My son is young – going into second grade – but he’s already frustrated with school because it’s so slow. Even with test scores and IQ scores in hand, we can’t convince the school that he NEEDS more than he’s getting. Thanks for putting his frustration into words so well!

    • Christine,

      Maybe the analogy might be something the school could understand and help to convince them your son needs acceleration. Research and studies show acceleration works; I don’t know of any studies that show holding a child back is a good educational strategy. 😉

      Keep on advocating for him, Christine! And thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  3. What a great post. However, I don’t think NCLB is solely to blame for the problems gifted children and their parents face. It certainly hasn’t helped but I don’t really see any alternatives that would better things. In my own personal opinion, America’s egalitarian, overly progressive and idealistic attitude toward education is still the biggest threat to the success of truly gifted children and this threat has been around for a quite a long time. We have done so much to make school fun and exciting for children of average or below average intelligence that we have alienated the truly gifted from actually enjoying school. Whereas the classroom should be the “natural habitat” of the profoundly intelligent child, we have turned it into a place that is nothing short of hostile to them. They become isolated, friendless and just don’t fit in and ultimately their grades fail. As I said before, these problems aren’t new. Anti intellectualism is clearly the culprit and it has reared its ugly head often throughout American history but now it has embedded itself within the very confines of education. The 1940s was when much of America first accepted the notion that education was important. Athletics were utilized as a tool to entice the ignorant masses to take part in education and it has been a downhill path ever since. I remain quite pessimistic about the future of education in general. I live in central Kentucky and I have observed the emergence of a group of so called educational leaders who are politically very conservative, extremely fundamentalist Christian and very anti intellectual yet these same people constantly sing the praises of our overly liberal education system. They adore its liberal structure but would cringe if a liberal concept, such as evolution, were to be taught as fact. I agree that any kind of advocacy for the gifted will be helpful but there has to be some kind of a compromise on behalf of the education we offer to everyone else. The gifted must be allowed to rise to the top and take their rightful place, but in all honesty, with the current attitudes most people have about education and our culture’s utter fixation on athletics and keeping it married to the the public school system, nothing is going to happen.

    • You are right, NCLB was not solely to blame, but my opinion is that it just sealed the deal and gave those who resented gifted programs and special educational accommodations for gifted children (anti-intellectualism) a good reason to not provide the education gifted children need.

      In regard to athletics, I have to agree there, too. Why do we idolize and cater to gifted athletes while kicking down a gifted intellect?

      And yes, it is all disheartening and there is no real agreement on the best place to focus advocacy efforts. And this entire unacceptable situation gifted children find themselves in explains why anecdotal evidence points to the fact that gifted children are the single largest student population leaving public schools for homeschooling.

      Thanks, Jeremiah, for your comment. You said it all better than I could have!

  4. I am new to all this, as my child hasn’t started school yet. But has anyone tried to band together and insist change or at least call attention to this issue? It is unacceptable that this nation’s future scientist, engineers and doctor’s aren’t taught to their potential because all the money goes to the least common denominator. We need to band together, there are power in numbers.

    • Christina,

      You are absolutely right–we need to band together, but to my knowledge there has been no single gifted advocacy group. There are many large, national groups that support and promote advocacy, but even among these groups, there is said to be infighting–some encourage parents to advocate for changes in the public school system, and some support advocacy for the needs of all gifted children despite where the children are educated. From my experience, it seems many of us are advocating on our own or in smaller groups. Unfortunately, many families of gifted children have just given up the decades-long fight and turn to homeschooling so that their gifted child can get immediate relief from the neglect in traditional schools.

      There is power in numbers and parents have the most power. The more we all speak up and advocate, the louder our collective voices will be heard. Yet, advocacy on any level can make positive changes. Emailing legislators, providing information to teachers who do not understand the real needs of gifted children, making speeches at school board meetings and starting local and regional support groups for parents of gifted children all have a place in this advocacy campaign. We simply cannot afford to stop speaking out in any way, shape or form.

      Thanks, Christina, for sharing your thoughts, and something tells me that you’ve got a strong,formidable advocacy voice just waiting to help our gifted children!

  5. School helped turn my daughter into an underachiever.
    No one can see/know how frustrating it is to have a gifted underachiever.
    Especially when the school just perpetrates it.

    • Natalie,

      I understand completely; I know about gifted underachievement first-hand. It only takes one teacher to say, “well, if you are gifted, you should be making better grades and turning in your homework” to set a gifted child backwards. Or letting a young, eager-to-learn gifted child know that it is unacceptable to get ahead of the class as though his burning need to learn more and faster is a negative trait.

      More information is needed at all levels in education. Superintendents, school boards, principals and teachers all need to know the that gifted children have real, significant needs of their own that MUST be considered and met. And they need to know that the consequences of not supporting gifted children do happen.

      As parents, we need to all advocate for our children and for all gifted children–email, call, use twitter–to let your legislators and school board members know that our gifted children matter.

      Oops, sorry, Natalie. You got me up on my soapbox because hearing about a gifted underachiever hits close to home and tugs at my heart. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and I sincerely hope your daughter can regain her love of learning!

  6. It is also worth noting that gifted students that do receive the academic support they need often times will fail NCLB testing because the focus on meeting the needs of lower preforming students results in a gifted student to be penalized for being gifted. This in my experience was most common in English classes where students would fail the essay portion of the test because they wrote according to the college standards they were taught instead of the style the graders required that would have caused them to fail an essay if used for normal assignments.

    • Wow, Rachel, that is something to think about. Another reason to not like NCLB and all of that standardized testing. And another strike against our gifted students.

      Thank you for sharing that with us!

    • Paula, I saw your post through LinkedIn! Thank you and I will pass it on! (accent: option key then E key on a mac)

      Thank you, Paula!

  7. Your analogy ROCKS Celi! This is classic….. I will give credit, but really want to be able to quote you on this….. GREAT article

    • I was inspired, almost knocked over with the idea, when I was letting my 15 year old drive one day and he was trying to pass a car. It hit me how this is what gifted children must feel like, so I had him drive me around some more to take pictures of all the NO PASSING ZONE signs. I know we can all feel that frustration, that need to get ahead of the slow-moving car. Multiply that by everyday sitting in a regular classroom!

      Thanks Sharon!

      • Brilliant analogy that everyone can understand. I want to send this to every school board and school district superintendent.

        • Thanks, Marcia, and go ahead and send it to whoever you like–there are way too many people who need to understand the real needs of gifted kids!

  8. Celi, I love your comparison to the “No Passing” zone. That’s exactly what it feels like for gifted students and I bet a lot of teachers feel the same way. I am anxiously awaiting the final vote on the TALENT Act. Fingers crossed.

    • Yes, I can’t wait to see what comes of the TALENT Act and what the U. S. Senate does with the rewriting of the ESEA. Both have the potential to change gifted education!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *