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Back to school: Are we leaving gifted students behind?

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NAGC estimates the number of gifted students at about 3 million, or 6 percent of the US student population. What happens to them is largely left up to local school districts, and when budget screws tighten, gifted programs are among the first to go. "There are many schools doing well with these kids and there are many that are not, so it's just an accident of birth or ZIP Code," Ms. Johnson says. "That's the unfairness in it."

The ceiling keeps us all down?

It might seem that the country has bigger problems to worry about than smart kids who are bored silly. But student success is linked to the success of the national economy, says a bipartisan chorus of advocates for more attention to top students.

There's an "extraordinarily strong relationship between [students] knowing math and science and how fast the country grows," says Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California.

The United States ranks 31st out of 56 nations in the percentage of students with advanced math skills, says Mr. Hanushek. Just 6 percent of American 15-year-olds scored at the advanced level in math on the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That compares with 28 percent in Taiwan and more than 20 percent in both Finland and Korea.

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