Montgomery County, Maryland is considering replacing gifted classes with magnet classes for everyone.
Classes for mentally gifted children exist for a reason. Gifted kids are bored and frustrated in most regular classrooms. I know I was. It was like a breath of fresh air during the years when gifted classes were available. I don't talk about my own background much, but in this case it's unavoidable. It's hard to describe what a child is missing when education is not at his or her appropriate level.
Try this: Imagine how your child would feel if you put him or her back two grades and made him or her stay in that classroom all year. It would be fun for about two days; then it would slowly begin to grate. On the surface things would be O.K. because your child would be getting good grades, but your child would not be learning much, would not be enjoying the excitement of growing academically, and would often be frustrated and discouraged by the slow, daily repetition of things your child already knows.
In my case, I was reading sixth grade books when kids in my class were working on "See Spot run." I was constantly raising my hand to answer the teacher's questions and being mostly ignored in the interests of including the rest of the class, understandably but to my continual frustration. Thank God for the opportunities I and other kids in some of my classes were given during some of those years to study at our own level. When I was in gifted classes, it was a blessing. It was fun. It was challenging. It was inspiring. I was like a sponge soaking it up. I know that my experience is not unique. Ask around; many adults will tell you about their own similar experiences.
You might think that the solution is just to move the gifted kids ahead a grade level or two, but that's no answer at all in most cases. Kids moved into classes with more mature peers often suffer from social isolation and even ostracism. They are forced to grow up too fast. I've seen it cause emotional damage that was probably more harmful in the long run than letting the child suffer in silence in a classroom below the child's learning level.
Gifted education, like special education, exists for a reason: it's needed. Devoting at least one class per grade level to gifted education is not asking too much in most schools of normal size.
We all want our kids to be learning at the gifted level, and it can be discomforting to realize that our own child whom we dearly love and would give the world to is not at the top of his or her class. But not every child can be, or needs to be, a star at everything, every year. Every child has different combinations of talents, strengths, and aptitudes, and kids don't all need to excel at the same thing simultaneously.
What kids really need is to challenged and excited and taught at whatever academic level they are at, from special ed to regular classrooms to gifted ed. That is the true meaning of excellence.