A friend just sent me a link to a discussion board that posted this question. I LOVED it because I think some of the confusion with gifted education comes with the battle between pushing the children and how the curriculum is approached with gifted children. Sometimes meeting needs of the gifted is not how far you push them.
One person’s answer was amazing and wanted to share it:
Galloping around the track, the horserace, is about finishing the race quickly and strategically. Like Academic Rigor, the horserace is about finishing fast.Academic rigor is characterized more by having a curriculum like a horse race. It typically includes activities involving rigorous testing/scoring and competition/rankings, such as doing an academic decathalon, taking a zillion advance placement (“AP”) classes, learning Latin, history, maths, sciences, English Literature (or literature in one’s native language), Writing, Classics, and playing games like Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy. I have seen many high school students take a rigorous course of study with many AP classes, get advanced standing in college, test well on standardized tests, memorize much — and move quickly into grad school in any field. The goal of academic rigor seems to prepare students to take the next step in their educational/professional lives. The study which pre-med students do — biology, chemistry, botany, physics, maths — prepares students via academic rigor for the study of medicine.
The steeplechase requires a horse and rider working as a unit to analyze what’s coming and to prepare an approach so as to finish first most gracefully. There are all kinds of configurations and maneuvers for horse and rider to learn together. The configurations require agility and flexibility. Like Gifted Education, there is a focus on meaning, ability, and expanding capabilities. Gifted education provides a more qualitative experience for the student. That is, the pursuit of individual excellence guided by inquiry — using a student’s interests and abilities — creates the academic excellence we see in those who are motivated by using all of their capacities, ideally without regard to competition. Gifted education goes deep into subject matter of interest, connects interdisciplinary resources, and provides for an education that has depth and breadth, and does not always include the goal of standardized testing, competition, ranking, etc. The goal is the expansion of the student’s abilities to the fullest extent possible. Rigor can be part of that expansion, but it isn’t always necessary unless the academic goal is competing against those who have had an academically rigorous education.
Gifted education is much more intrinsically motivated, more fluid, and sometimes rigorous. Academically rigorous education is traditionally never fluid, is historically structured externally, and is even now designed to narrow the pool of students competing for X.
I have seen students move from gifted education to rigorous academic education. I have seen others move from rigorous education to gifted education. The students who receive gifted education during elementary school and then switch to rigorous study during middle and high school seem to me to be the most well adjusted and successful students of all.
 Here is a description of steeplechase (a type of horse racing) for those unfamiliar with the event: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steeplechase
*Picture from Wikipedia