Back to School Means Back to Segregated Gifted Programs for Some; New Book Provides Solutions

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Are gifted programs truly equitable and fair for all students? One professor says "no," and has made it her life mission to see this change, offering up solutions for schools to ensure all students are treated equally.

Education is reportedly the greatest equalizer; thus, our Black and Hispanic students need and deserve access to gifted education. To deny them this right is indeed inexcusable, indefensible, and intolerable!

Vanderbilt education professor Donna Y. Ford has made it her mission to end segregation in gifted programs—a mission she’s not backing down from without a fight. Her recently released book, "Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education" (published by Prufrock Press Inc. this summer), details Ford's participation in a 2013 court case in which one Illinois school district was accused of discrimination against Hispanic students in its gifted program (the full report of the court case was released to the public in July 2013) and provides solutions for schools looking to ensure equity in their gifted programs.

Ford passionately calls out to schools to find new ways to recruit and retain culturally different students in their gifted education programs: “Education is reportedly the greatest equalizer; thus, our Black and Hispanic students need and deserve access to gifted education. To deny them this right is indeed inexcusable, indefensible, and intolerable!”

Her clarion call for change in gifted education programs is not without just cause; multiple examples of programs favoring White students have continuously popped up in national media in recent years.

For example, one New York Times article, “Gifted, Talented, and Separated” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/education/in-one-school-students-are-divided-by-gifted-label-and-race.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), highlighted a New York City elementary school in which 47% of the school’s White students were placed in gifted classes, while only a combined 32% of the students in the gifted program were labeled as Black or Hispanic—figures made even more disparate when one considers that White students make up only 27% of the total students in the school (63% of the total population is Black or Hispanic).

Additionally, Illinois’s U-46 School District recently came under fire in a court case that found that the district both intentionally and unintentionally discriminated against Hispanic students in its gifted program by setting up a separate gifted-ELL (English language learners) program in which even non-English language learning, American-born Hispanic students were placed. Ford was called as an expert witness in this case, arguing that “the District’s method of identifying gifted Minority Students was flawed and resulted in an obvious disparate impact on those students by separating them from their gifted white peers” (see http://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/U-46_Trial_Decision.pdf for a full report of the case).

Ford later noted that the Illinois case served as a prime example of the “waste” of potential in gifted students of minority status: “In U-46 and many other school districts, the gifts, talents, and potential of Hispanic and Black students have been compromised and denied, representing a great waste of human capacity. Not only do these non-White students suffer—our nation suffers.”

But how can districts ensure they too are not discriminating against culturally different students in their gifted programs?

Ford offers up multiple solutions to adjusting the way all gifted students are recruited for, identified for, and retained in gifted programming in her new book, Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education, which presents a unique equity formula that districts can adopt to make sure their students are equitably represented in gifted services.

As Ford noted in her U-46 case testimony, “Ideally, participation in gifted programs by minorities would roughly equal their proportion of the student population.” However, her equity formula provides a slight allowance for cultural differences and voluntary exclusion from gifted programs by minorities.

Ford also highly advises districts to use multiple measures of identification, including nonverbal intelligence tests like the Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test (NNAT), which lessens the cultural bias of other verbal and language-based gifted identification tests. Her book also suggests ways to talk to parents about gifted education programs and how schools can infuse multicultural content into their curriculum.

For more information about Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students, please visit http://www.prufrock.com/Recruiting-and-Retaining-Culturally-Different-Students-in-Gifted-Education-P1773.aspx.

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Lacy Compton
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