Affluent elementary school students are much more likely to be admitted into gifted and talented programs than their peers in lower socio-economic brackets, according to a new study. And it’s not just about money — race also plays a part, as the programs are made up of mostly white students, District Administration reports.
An advisory group in New York City blamed segregation for its lack of racial and socio-economic diversity in its gifted programs, and in Sarasota, Florida, black children at a public school for gifted learners make up only 1% of the student body.
Some districts are attempting to level the playing field by screening all students for gifted programs and finding tests that don’t favor English speakers: Minnesota’s Mankato Area Public Schools, for example, overhauled its identification system and has since increased the number of black students in its gifted programs.
Districts around the country grapple with the problem of inequity in gifted programs. Many argue the problem isn’t that there are fewer low-income, minority gifted students, it’s that they often go unidentified. Whether it’s because they are in schools that don’t test everyone or that those tests contain innate language barriers, the problem means many highly intelligent students aren’t given the same opportunities as their affluent peers.
Some districts are pushing to dismantle gifted schools and programs all together. Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau is pushing to end the district’s Highly Capable Cohort program. In the district, 67% of HCC students are white, but only 47% of the overall student population is white. Black students make up only 1.6% of HCC students, but account for 15% of district students.
Some Seattle parents urge administrators to widen the program rather than dismantle it, pointing to success in Miami schools that expanded the definition of gifted to include more than just IQ tests and also set up a socio-economic sliding scale for admission.
In New York City, a Student Diversity Advisory Group appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio recently recommended scrapping the city’s gifted programs and selective admission process at most schools. Though the move is meant to further desegregate the schools, there may be parent pushback from those very groups it's meant to protect, as some black and Latinx families will want to preserve gifted programs at their local schools.
Minnesota’s Mankato program, mentioned above, altered its screening process to use tests that don’t favor English speakers and now uses local norms to identify students. The district also asked more adults to recommend potential gifted student candidates. The program is now made up of 11% black, Latinx and Native American students, compared to 3% in 2013-14.