More Black Students Excel, Enter Gifted Ed, With Black Teachers

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A study released by Indiana University and Vanderbilt University finds that black teachers are more likely to refer black students to gifted services and classes that offer students intense, creative, and experiential opportunities needed for advanced coursework.

"We find that African-American students are under-represented in gifted programs," said Sean Nicholson-Crotty, an author of the study. "And we find that having a black teacher dramatically increases the likelihood that a black student will be placed in a gifted program, relative to having a white teacher."

Typically, black students are significantly underrepresented in gifted programs, which the report says is due to structural inequalities in education and the racial biases of teachers. Black students are 54% less likely than white students to be enrolled in gifted education programs.

The study identifies black educators as a means to remedy this inequity. Black teachers are three times more likely than their white colleagues to recommend a black student for a more advanced program.

"It's that teacher-student match, independent of your test score," said Jill Nicholson-Crotty, an associate professor at Indiana University and another of the study's authors. "It's the relationship between the teacher and the student." The data used to produce the study was collected from the federal Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which tracks information about students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Zoe Schlanger of Newsweek reports that the research also found that it made no difference if the teachers at the school were diverse in general. What mattered was the race of the child's classroom teacher. It was previously believed that black students were more likely to participate in more advanced programs if a school's teaching force exhibited diversity.

The study also demonstrated that black students perform better on standardized tests and other assessments if they have black teachers. Additionally, the parents of black students more likely to engage with teachers and lobby to have their children evaluated for giftedness if their teachers are black. Greg Toppo of USA Today also notes that having a black teacher provides a powerful black role model and authority figure for black students outside of the household.

Overall, the study implicitly urges the hiring of more black teachers. It offers evidence about the tangible benefits students enjoy, especially students of color, when engaging with more diverse educators. A press release from Indiana University Bloomington states that the study will allow educators, policymakers, and administrators to measure the odds that black and white students will be placed in gifted programs based on the number of teachers of color.

Aside from the racial biases, gifted programs have long invited criticism. Educators and policymakers have argued that the selection criteria, which often relies on IQ testing and other measures of cognitive ability, discriminate against students of color, low-income students, and those whose first language is not English.

The IU and Vanderbilt study arrives on the heels of another study released by American University that found teachers who were not black had significantly lower expectations for black students than black teachers did.

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