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What Makes for a "Gifted" Education? Exploring How Participation in Gifted Programs Affects Students' Learning Environments
What does it mean for students to be in a gifted program? While about 7% of students nationally participate in gifted programs, relatively little is known about the experiences of students in these programs or how they vary across districts. Combining administrative and survey data, we describe the structure of gifted programs across nearly 300 school districts in Washington State. Using covariate adjustments and student fixed effects, we find that participation in gifted programs increases access to advanced courses, high-achieving peers, smaller classrooms, and more qualified teachers. These effects are largely concentrated in larger urban and suburban school districts that frequently run large, self-contained gifted programs. Effects of participation are much smaller for small school districts, rural or town school districts, and districts with small gifted programs. While gifted participation changes the educational environment for the average student in the state, the median school district program effect is near zero across the measures of educational environments we consider. This divergence is driven by a pattern of large school districts, high-income school districts, and urban and suburban school districts having programs with significantly larger effects on learning environments. Finally, we find that gifted program effects are larger for some student subgroups, but this is entirely due to district treatment effect heterogeneity, not differential effects on subgroups within districts.
Citation: Benjamin Backes, James Cowan, Dan Goldhaber (2021). What Makes for a "Gifted" Education? Exploring How Participation in Gifted Programs Affects Students' Learning Environments. CALDER Working Paper No. 256-0821