The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was instituted in 1975 and governs all aspects of the special education services for children in the United States. This law mandates that all children, including those with special needs, have access to a free education in the least restrictive environment possible. Depending on the type of special needs a child has, services can include an all-day aide, a pull-out program for reading or math, or accommodations for special equipment or supplies.
Through meetings with parents, IEP's (Individualized Education Plans) and other methods, the school and family together decide if the child's needs are being met using the programs and services put into place specifically for that child. Depending on the occurrence of these meetings, changes can often be made to the amount of services required or the education goals outlined on the IEP if the child's needs have changed. While this solution for children with special needs may be far from perfect, it does function well when all parties involved do their part. Any time parents partner with schools, there is a positive effect on the child's education.
Since there is no law governing the identification of academically gifted children, nor any federal law governing the educational services that need to be provided to challenge an academically gifted child, we may be doing them a disservice. Children who are not challenged in the classroom can often create a disturbance to those around them, requiring discipline. Also, teachers are expected to meet the needs of all of the students in their classroom, including gifted students as well as those with special needs. Lesson planning and curriculum creation become more of a challenge for teachers with mixed ability groups in school districts where no special gifted services are provided.
In school districts with available funding for gifted education programs, academically gifted children are served in several different ways. One way is through accommodation in the regular classroom through extra work, challenging projects or accelerated lesson plans. Other school districts have once a week pull-out programs for gifted learners or full-time grouping for students with similar abilities. Less common, but still an option is acceleration or "skipping a grade".