Talented and Gifted Learning: Where’s the Diversity?

The “talented and gifted” label is one bestowed upon the brightest, and most advanced, students. Beginning in early elementary grades, TAG programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives. Though the ideology is sound, the reality is often a monotone, unattractive look at contemporary American public schools.

Earlier this year the New York Times visited Public School 163 located on the Upper West Side of the city to take a look at the disparities caused by the talented and gifted program there. This is what it looked like: a bunch of white kids on the “gifted” side of the school, and mainly children of color on the general or special education side. Teachers interviewed for the story admitted that it looked bad but did not seem to have a way to solve the problem. Just under a third of the talented students at P.S. 163 are identified as black or Hispanic – combined. Only 18 percent of the students in the average-student classes are white. Though unintentional, a modern-day segregation is taking place at New York City’s P.S. 163 and in other district schools across the country that employ talented and gifted programs.

Clearly white children are not always more gifted, so the selection process and operational procedures for such programs must be flawed. Education experts have long said that white, middle-to-high class students are at an advantage when it comes to standardized testing. Is the same true for talented and gifted programs? In both cases, the actual academics are not in question, but rather the methods of delivering learning and analyzing student performance are challenged.

Many TAG programs start around second or third grade. Though these students are old enough to read and write, the intricacies of an application for a TAG program are certainly the responsibility of parents. For working class parents, time is of a premium and even a one-page talented and gifted program application may rank low on a family priority list. To other parents that lack a college education, or even a high school diploma, the application process may seem foreign, uncomfortable and even cryptic. I use this example of the application process to highlight a larger point: the lack of minority students in talented and gifted programs oftentimes reflects poor communication between the parent and the school district. Better guidance for parents regarding the application process and program expectations can lead to more diversity in student representation in TAG initiatives. Parental comprehension is not a given thing; guidance through these programs for the benefit of the students is the responsibility of program administrators.

Parents are not the source of all the blame, however, when it comes to skewed numbers in talented and gifted programs. District schools need to find ways to better recognize different types of learning talent and look beyond the typical “gifted” student model. The CEC-TAG Diversity Award is a good example of thinking outside the box on minority inclusion in gifted programming. Established in 2010, the recognition goes to schools that look for innovative ways to include under-represented groups (read: blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans) in advanced K-12 programs. In addition, winning schools must be Title I certified. This national push to make talented and gifted programs better mirror the contemporary and ever-evolving student body as a whole is a step in the right direction. Real change happens on a smaller scale though, in individual districts, schools and TAG programs. That progress must start with understanding of the makeup of a particular student body and include innovative ways to include all students in TAG learning initiatives.


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