My most recent journal article, Promoting Privilege: Selecting Students for a Public Gifted School, was published one year ago this month. In the article, I scrutinized a large school district’s criteria for identifying gifted students, as well as the district’s procedures for admitting children to its prestigious gifted school.
The article caught the attention of the superintendent and other district leaders because it addressed flaws in their gifted identification process – defects that have contributed to the underrepresentation of Black, Latine, and economically disadvantaged students in the district’s gifted programs, including visible racial inequities at its gifted school. Because the district’s criteria for identifying gifted students are typical of gifted identification procedures across the US, the article’s content is generalizable to other school districts.
This is the first installment of a multi-part blog series that analyzes the reasons behind the underidentification of certain identity groups for gifted services. The series also re-examines the school district’s gifted eligibility criteria and gifted school admission guidelines relative to its core values. The core values are as follows:
Put Students First.
Be Open to Change.
Do Great Work Together.
I invite all readers, especially people who work for the district of interest, to comment and/or ask questions as this blog series progresses. Please use the “Leave A Comment” box below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you prefer a private response.
“Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”
At the time Horace Mann wrote these words, three million Black Americans were the lawful property of mostly middle- and upper-class White Americans. Eighty-nine years after this type of bondage was abolished, the Supreme Court struck down legal segregation by ruling that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional. It’s been 68 years since Brown v. Board of Education, and tens of millions of Black Americans—plus other people of color and economically disadvantaged Americans—still do not have the same educational opportunities that most middle- and upper-class White Americans enjoy (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2006; Cook, 2015; García & Weiss, 2017).
Arguably, the main challenge that gifted and talented programs currently face is identifying and serving students from underrepresented populations. This is not a new concern. In 1998, renowned author and gifted education expert Donna Y. Ford wrote, “Abundant data suggest that gifted programs are the most segregated educational programs in the United States.”
Additional data gathered over the next 24 years indicate that the problem has not yet been adequately addressed. Among these data are statistics from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). During the 2020-21 school year, Black students comprised 22% of all students in Virginia, but only 12% of the state’s identified gifted students were Black. Hispanic students accounted for 17% of all students, though only 10% of gifted students. During the 2019-2020 year, economically disadvantaged students made up 44% of all Virginia students, but just 20% of gifted students.
Even more striking than the state percentages are the differences between the ethnic/racial composition of one school district’s overall student population and the ethnic/racial makeup of the student body at the district’s school for intellectually gifted students, as shown in the pie charts below.
The pie charts are based on data collected by schools and districts this past September for the 2021-2022 school year’s VDOE Fall Membership Reports. It should be noted that the percentages above are marginally different from the percentages in similar pie charts created for the 2020-2021 school year. Last year’s charts appear on page three of Promoting Privilege: Selecting Students for Public Gifted School.
In addition to its longstanding racial/ethnic disparities, the gifted school has failed to serve another population equitably. During the 2020-2021 school year, economically disadvantaged students comprised 41.1% of the district’s enrollment, but only 14.2% (188 out of 1,327) of the gifted school’s students were economically disadvantaged. Although the percent of economically disadvantaged students across the district climbed to 43.6% in 2021-2022, the number of economically disadvantaged students at the school remained the same at 188.
Education has the potential to be society’s great equalizer if every student has equitable access to opportunities that will lead to their future success. For many schools and districts—in particular the district of interest—this means putting all students first, seeking growth, and being open to change. I still stand by the words I wrote towards the end of my June 2021 article: “In order for real change to occur, the district’s leaders must first acknowledge that the gifted school admissions process favors children of privilege over underserved children.”
In the next installment of this series, I will begin describing the procedures used by the district to identify candidates for gifted services, along with alternative methods that should be considered. As I stated earlier, readers are most welcome to comment or make inquiries throughout the course of this blog series. Please write in the “Leave A Comment” box below or email me at email@example.com.