Study: Teacher Race Influences Black Students’ Selection to Gifted Programs


An analysis of federal data compiled since 1998 reveals that only 2% of black students and 3% of Hispanic students are included in gifted and talented programs in US public school classrooms, while 4% of white students and 6% of Asian students are chosen for these special programs.

The Hechinger Report, via US News and World Report, stated that it has always been the case that more white children have tested high enough to enter these programs than black youngsters. The reasons for this might include the fact that a larger number of black students’ families have lower incomes, less-educated parents, and fewer books in their homes.

In some cases, black children may have less opportunity to access high-quality preschool programs, which often have the type of curricula that enables increased access to these select classes.

The statistics beg the question of whether academic aptitude is the only reason for racial gaps in gifted classrooms. Is there a chance that academically high-performing minority children are being overlooked as candidates for gifted and talented courses?

Two researchers at Vanderbilt University studied over 10,000 elementary-school-aged children through data from the US Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten cohort, who go to schools where gifted programs are available. The researchers looked at the standardized math and reading test results for these students and compared students who had earned the same scores.

In the cases where Hispanic students and white students had the same scores, they were equally as likely to be picked for the gifted program. This fact explains why the number of white students is larger than the number of Hispanic children in gifted classes; a higher number of white young people were able to reach the high achievement cut-offs.

But the study, published in the journal AERA Open, a peer-reviewed online journal of the American Educational Research Association, showed that between children who had the same scores on the same tests, a white student was twice as likely to be assigned to a gifted and talented class as a black student.

“This is especially troubling since previous studies have linked participation in gifted programs to improved academic performance, improvements in student motivation and engagement, less overall stress and other positive outcomes,” said Jason Grissom, one of the co-authors of the paper “Discretion and Disproportionality: Explaining the Underrepresentation of High-Achieving Students of Color in Gifted Programs.”

When the authors explored other reasons why high-achieving African-American children were being passed over for selection to gifted programs, they studied health, socioeconomic standing, and the exact age of the students.

Perhaps the current trend to delay kindergarten among white families made a difference, they surmised. But still they felt there was something they had overlooked to explain the “giftedness gap” between white and black children. Then they thought they might have come up with an explanation. The race of black students’ classroom teachers turned out to be the elusive piece of the puzzle.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) writes the study revealed that when black students are taught by black classroom teachers, the racial gap between black and white students’ assignment to gifted programs in large part vanishes.

The study’s findings are similar to recent education data from the 2012-13 school year discovered by AJC. In Georgia, white students are approximately three times more likely to be included in gifted programs than their black peers. White kids are two-and-a-half times likelier to be in gifted classrooms than minority students.

Joan Brasher reports for the Vanderbilt University Research News that all else being equal, black students are three times more likely to be chosen for gifted programs if they are being taught by a black teacher rather than a non-black instructor.

The findings point to the conclusion that a standard method for assessing gifted students is the first and most important step to be taken. According to Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean, the researchers also see the necessity of a more diverse foundation of teachers and a broader cultural knowledge for white teachers of diverse young people as a crucial factor for resolving the disparity.