Sunday, November 17, 2013

Facing Race in Gifted Education

”Adding the element of race to a discussion makes people uncomfortable.  It is as if some illusive, powerful force has entered and takes up all the air. For all the hope we hold as our national image, we can be a hard place” Berkowicz & Myers, Education Week, Nov 2013 

I returned exhausted and exhilarated last Sunday afternoon from the 60th Anniversary Convention of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). My sole purpose in continuing my involvement with organizational politics is to ensure that I do my part to help ‘disenfranchised groups’ get the attention they so justly deserve in Gifted Education programming, research, policy development, and educational practice.

Just before I left for the convention, I read a post in Education Week entitled ‘Facing Racism’. It was right on time!! It reassured me that working so hard to ‘face race in gifted education’ with the goal of eventually combating racism in this field is the right thing to do and that do any less is immoral and unethical.

Fighting this ‘race’ battle can sometimes be draining! My energies are always restored, however, when I come into direct contact with other scholars and advocates whose passions are as intense as my own. It is exciting for me to sit with them, have lively and intense conversations about their experiences, successes/victories, and the continuing barriers we all face in this race towards equity. (Upcoming blogs will feature a few stories from professionals in the field of gifted education..if you have one to share, please contact me).

The NAGC convention provided many avenues to discuss race and its impact on culturally and linguistically diverse students and their families and the educators who advocate for them! For me, it was probably the most exciting convention that I have ever attended! I presented at my first NAGC Convention over twenty years ago. But, twenty years ago, among the participants there were only a few educators of color. Going to the NAGC convention back then was a very lonesome experience. It was quite disheartening at times.

Twenty years later, the group of scholars of color in our field has grown. The number of sessions reflecting scholarship and practice related to Culturally Diverse learners has also increased. It was very affirming to walk among the group in Indianapolis. BUT, even with the increase in participants, we are still a long way from fairly and equitably addressing the needs of racially diverse gifted students in schools across the nation.

At the convention,  we had several opportunities to engage in dialogue to move forward with ‘Facing Race in Gifted Education’. A new initiative of the Diversity & Equity committee holds great promise for getting materials out to local leaders to address these issues. Dr. Tracy Cross, our new president is a strong advocate for equity. His leadership will be important as the organization moves forward.

Most impressive, however, was a panel discussion hosted by the Special Populations Network.  The session was ‘standing room only’ as Dr. Tarek Grantham of the University of Georgia, masterfully moderated a panel of five leaders as we responded to implications of a recent court case in Elgin, Illinois. In this case, it was determined that the district discriminated against Hispanic gifted students by sponsoring separate gifted programs. Other implications from the case included the use of culturally biased testing materials and unequal access to information about gifted programs.  The questions below were posed to the panelists and may be helpful in your school districts to help close ‘race gaps’ in gifted programs:

  • What do successful approaches/models for addressing racial disparities in gifted program student enrollment look like?
  • How do you address biased attitudes and behaviors of people to improve the climate and culture for Black and Brown students in gifted and advanced programs?
  • In what ways can you collaborate with students, families, community members, school personnel, organizational leaders, and policy makers to confront racial disparities in gifted and advanced programs?
  • How can policies and procedures be changed to improve screening, referral, identification, assessment, eligibility determination, placement, and retention of under-represented groups in gifted education?

Another historic presentation was a session on Black Geniuses, co-presented by Dr. Donna Y. Ford of Vanderbilt University and myself. To my knowledge, this was the very first session on record to focus on the legacy of one of the early pioneers in our field, Dr. Martin D. Jenkins, Father of the Study of Black Giftedness. This session shared Dr. Jenkins' legacy and featured profiles of black prodigies from across the nation. Our plan is to continue honoring Dr. Jenkins annually at NAGC and honoring contemporary Black Geniuses at future Conventions.

While these sessions and others were well received, there is still so much work yet to be done!!

I continue to appeal to parents, community leaders, educators and other advocates of ALL students to do your part to ensure that we ERADICATE UNDER-REPRESENTATION of racially diverse students in gifted programs. To advocate, we must do more to pull the ‘cover off’ of discriminatory policies, and stand united until all high ability and gifted students have equitable access to challenging and nurturing educational environments, elementary through secondary school and beyond.

In a nation which is without a doubt the most racially diverse of any developed nation in the world, it is a travesty that we continue to waste the intelligence, creativity, psychosocial gifts of so many children and youth and judging them more on the color of their skin, the neighborhood they originate from THAN the power of their intellectual capabilities.



NAGC Position Paper on Identifying and Serving Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Gifted Learners: 


  1. Thank you for this post Joy! It seems to me that the very powers (in NYC anyway) who fight against gifted programming do so to curb inequities in education- that all kids should have these resources. And those of us entrenched would likely agree that G&T best practices- including true differentiation and challenge- should indeed be available in every classroom. So locally speaking, HOW do we simultaneously encourage our leaders to support the few gifted programs that exist WHILE ALSO helping them to see that we do so to support ALL high ability learners- not just 'gifted' white kids. Until the programs have better diversity representation (via better admissions processes and testing) it will be a hard sell to continue supporting 'separate and often unequal' classrooms...It's a cart before the horse conundrum.

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