How Segregated Gifted And Talented Programs Are Hurting America’s Poorest Students

Our guest blogger is Kaitlin Pennington, an education policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

This week, Catalyst Chicago, a publication focused on urban education, reported that smart students from poor neighborhoods in that city are less likely to test into gifted elementary schools. This follows on the heels of a New York Times article highlighting a similar trend in the Big Apple.

These stories cast a spotlight on a sad, but not new truth about gifted and talented programs across the nation: they’re segregated. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, White and Asian students make up nearly three-fourths of students enrolled in gifted and talented programs, while Hispanic and African-American students are disproportionately under-represented.

These segregated gifted and talented programs represent the glaringly unjust educational opportunities afforded to students across our nation, and they lead to wasted talent. As the National Society for the Gifted & Talented notes, the identification of gifted students is often arbitrary. In some places, these decisions are made before children enter elementary school, and what often gets a child into a program is not an objective measure, but the ability of parents to advocate for their childrens’ admission.

In these instances, gifted and talented programs could be considered a promoter of segregation; if a child’s parents do not define her as intellectually advanced, she may never be identified as such. In fact, the Gifted and Talented Center found that when parents fail to recognize a child’s gifts, teachers may overlook them as well.

Gifted education should be integrated into our whole education system. This is a theme I’ve written about before in a column about a book dedicated to gifted and talented high schools. Excellence and equity can, and must, be achieved simultaneously.

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