How To Solve The Segregation That Plagues Gifted-and-Talented Programs

The sad truth about the majority of gifted-and-talented programs throughout the United States is that there are thousands upon thousands of high-ability students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds are excluded from these programs due to a multitude of factors. This fact was highlighted with disappointing clarity in a recent study by Raj Chetty, Alex Bell and others at the Equality of Opportunity Project. The study laments the “lost Einsteins” from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds who are left out of gifted-and-talented programs due to such factors as residential segregation and exposure to these programs via family and neighborhood.

By taking a look at the quality of the schools where those with disadvantaged and minority backgrounds study, along with the education opportunities available at these schools, we can see a clear gap which has left many low-income children out in the cold. Gifted-and-talented programs tend to thrive in middle- to high-income educational environments, and there needs to be a concerted shift in approach and available opportunities to bring low-income “Einsteins” to the table.

The illusion of equal opportunity 

The structure of our current education system either cannot or won’t put in the resources necessary to develop and nurture the potential of thousands of students from modest backgrounds. The degree of this structural rift was detailed in a recent Fordham study, highlighted by the sheer dearth of disadvantaged students (especially from African-American or Latino households) who make it into gifted-and-talented programs.

This lack of representation happens in all gifted-and-talented programs regardless of the financial health of the school. Schools in lower-income neighborhoods still show a wide proliferation of gifted-and-talented programs, but enrollments are typically low at these programs and still tend to lack representation when it comes to talented students from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. 

What can we do to narrow the gaps?

To avoid “excellence gaps” between the top achievers at educational institutions separated by financial circumstance and overall availability of opportunities, there must be a paradigm shift in how we approach schooling across the board and give everyone a fighting chance at being included in the top gifted-and-talented programs there are to offer. Universal-screening practices which screen all students across the board for the potential to benefit from gifted services is one recommendation which has been made by researchers who have studied these excellence gaps.

Using such a screening process will help identify students from all backgrounds who can maximize the societal and true return from the best gifted-and-talented programs out there. With that in place, school systems could help bridge the diversity gap by identifying high achievers on a school-by-school basis, rather than by district. This would be a fantastic systemic shift which will operate under the assumption that all schools, regardless of socioeconomic status, have potential top achievers in their ranks. Working under this assumption, we can give students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds a fair shake and eliminated the structural segregation which does a disservice to our nation’s schools and gifted-and-talented programs.

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