Gifted and racially balanced education

School districts are looking for ways to end racial inequality in gifted education, writes Sarah Garland on the Hechinger Report.

As a second grader in 1975, she was bused from her middle-class neighborhood to inner-city Louisville, Kentucky. Her school was integrated. Her accelerated “Advance” class was mostly white and suburban; 11 percent of Advance students were black. “From second grade until my senior year in high school, my classes never had more than two black students at a time,” Garland writes.

More than two-thirds of black middle and high school students who did well on the Advance exam were denied admission by teachers and counselors who made the final determination, a 1990s lawsuit brought by black families showed. Only a third of whites were rejected.

Can gifted education be racially balanced?

Washington, D.C. public schools have reintroduced gifted education — in part to entice more middle-class whites into public schools, Garland writes. One gifted program is an affluent neighborhood. But another is at Kelly Miller, a middle school in a low-income black  neighborhood with a growing number of Hispanic immigrants.

Unlike traditional gifted programs, which usually require a test to get in, the D.C. programs are open to any student who wants to enroll. D.C. is aiming the program both at students who are book smart and those who may struggle on traditional measures of achievement but have other extraordinary talents that are harder to measure with a test.

The principal at Kelly Miller, Abdullah Zaki, explains that the idea is to expand the concept of giftedness. “If there’s a kid who is not reading at grade level but has the gift of gab and can argue you down in a heartbeat, they’re obviously interested in debate,” he says. “We can take their natural gift and talent and hone and polish it.”

Black parents haven’t rushed to enroll. Zaki now calls it an “honors” program, because parents don’t get “gifted and talented.”  Teachers are struggling to reach high achievers and low achievers in the same classroom.

Kelly Miller is also offering a more traditional version of gifted education, with a track of accelerated math and literacy courses for students who score well in those subjects.

D.C. officials will evaluate the ”schoolwide enrichment model” at the end of the year, Garland writes.

She’s the author of Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation

Here are the demographics of the class of ’17 at New York City’s super-elite Stuyvesant High, which uses an admissions test only:

—Stuyvesant offered admission to 9 black students; 24 Latino students; 177 white students; and 620 students who identify as Asian.

The other elite academic high schools also are majority Asian. Asian-American students make up 14 percent of the city’s public school enrollment.

About Joanne


  1. Mark Roulo says:

    From the article:

    In the course of a lawsuit brought by black families against the school district in the 1990s, the school district was required to produce data from the program. The numbers showed that black students in Louisville who took the Advance Program admission test were much less likely to be recommended to join the program than white children, even if they scored in the top percentile. In fact, more than two-thirds of black middle and high school students who did well on the tests were denied entrance to the program by the teachers and counselors who made the final determinations, while only a third of white kids were rejected.

    and …

    “One thing we have learned,” said Reif, is that relying exclusively on tests to identify gifted students “often disproportionately identifies white and Asian students, and that leads to equity issues.”

    So … teacher recommendations don’t work because we don’t get the desired number of non-Asian minorities. And testing doesn’t work for the same reason. And it sound like open enrollment isn’t working well either because not enough black parents are enrolling their kids.


    Maybe we could enroll the desired ethnic mix by fiat?

    • Actually, the way they try to even out the demographics in my experience is to recognize “other forms of being gifted”, label a bunch of jocks as “kinestitically gifted” and enroll a bunch of jocks in the gifted classes where they are disruptive and unsuccessful. (Which is of course the teacher’s fault)

  2. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Let’s assume that Murray’s wrong, and that this isn’t a genetics issue.

    Just force everyone to give up their children at birth, and then redistribute the little buggers at random.

    Problem solved.

  3. Differences in average cognitive ability among the world’s many different ethnic groups are enormous ranging from Congo pygmies who score about 50-60 on IQ tests to Ashkenazi Jews who average about 110-115 and produce
    an utterly astonishing proportion of the world’s Nobel Prize winners, Field’s medalists, Chess grandmasters etc. not to mention billionaires.
    Any purely meritocratic approach to gifted education will produce results far from “racially balanced”. Political reality in the US will require an extensive and permanent system of racial quotas in this regard as well as others.
    The one sure prediction about quota systems is that everybody will reagard them as unfair.

    • Political reality in the US will require an extensive and permanent system of racial quotas in this regard as well as others.

      Hope does spring eternal but special rules for special people are generating their own backlash and, as several states have already demonstrated, enough of a backlash to make “permanent” a rather short time span then the dictionary definition would suggest.

  4. I think its important to be clear about the goal. Is the goal “Ensure all eligible children get placed in gifted programs” or is the goal “Ensure that gifted programs’ racial mix mirrors the student population as a whole”.

    Those are different goals.The second is a simple quota problem. The first is more complex, with multiple tasks: how can we ensure that admission is based on achievement/skill/potential only? How can we prep more kids to excel? How can we encourage more kids to apply for admission? How can we communicate the value to parents? How can we make the application, selection and admission process transparent? How do we police the system so that selection is fair?

    Quotas are easy. Defining and achieving excellence is hard.

  5. A multicultural society is doomed to endless conflict and resentment. It doesn’t matter how objectively excellent any system of selection is. It will always be regarded as unfair.
    If we have quotas those ethnic groups discriminated against (for example Asians under the current system) will regard them as unfair. If we give up quotas the proportion of East Asians in prestige universities will sky rocket and blacks and Hispanics will then regard the lack of quotas as unfair.
    Probably the best that we can achieve is a system that everybody thinks is unfair. We are pretty close to that now.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      “It will always be regarded as unfair.”

      Only if we begin with the premise that equal outcome rather than equal opportunity is our goal.

      An amazing number of African Americans disapprove of affirmative action.

      Provide everyone with equal access – meaning high quality public education regardless of socio-economic status – and feelings of resentment will diminish. We still won’t have equal outcome, but perceptions of how fair the system is will improve.

  6. “Her accelerated “Advance” class…”

    Acceleration is not a “gifted” idea. All kids can benefit from acceleration. Why would anyone limit this option to one group of kids somehow labeled as “gifted”. Even in the gifted bucket, there are different acceleration needs.

    “D.C. is aiming the program both at students who are book smart and those who may struggle on traditional measures of achievement but have other extraordinary talents that are harder to measure with a test.”

    Then this would not be acceleration.

    “…the idea is to expand the concept of giftedness.”

    This would would have little to do with acceleration.

    ““If there’s a kid who is not reading at grade level but has the gift of gab and can argue you down in a heartbeat, they’re obviously interested in debate,” he says. “We can take their natural gift and talent and hone and polish it.””

    Start a debate club. Don’t mix up acceleration and enrichment.

    Most high schools have different academic levels and acceleration based on individual needs. They also have sports, music, math leagues, physics teams, Academic Decathlon teams, debate teams – you name it – for enrichment.

    Why is K-8 education so difficult? Our schools increase the range of abilities in a classroom and call it full inclusion. They hope that they can get it to work with differentiated instruction. They increase the range of abilities, but somehow think they can get it to work better than the poor results they were getting before. To have some belief that it can work, they end up changing their view of what education is all about. It’s designed to reduce the importance of skills, content, and acceleration, but to increase the value of enrichment and vague ideas of understanding and critical thinking. They mix up acceleration and enrichment. Then, all of that goes away by high school. They want to pump kids along, but the kids end up getting filtered in high school when it’s too late to do anything about it.

    “D.C. officials will evaluate the ”schoolwide enrichment model” at the end of the year, ”

    They really can’t tell the difference between acceleration and enrichment.

    Let’s say that instead of having three different middle schools feed into one high school, they put all of those kids into one middle school. They could more easily divide kids by subject into different level or accelerated classes. This could be open to all students. They would also have the resourses (and interested students) to offer more after-school enrichment clubs and activities. However, they would have to change their views of what education is all about. That is the real problem.

    K-8 educators know that some kids are smarter than others. This isn’t an IQ issue. They just want to keep all kids together as much as possible. They value the social benefits over academic ones. They don’t like tracking, but full inclusion is a form of tracking all kids into a lower expectation bucket. They don’t want to know about all of the help affluent parents are giving their kids at home. They don’t want to confront the possibility that many other individuals could be helped by higher expectations. It’s education based on average statistics; based on just getting a higher percentage of kids over a stinking low cut-off proficiency level. They ignore individuals, but affluent parents are not ignoring their individual kids.

    The solution is not to find some good way to implement a TAG program.

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    Joanne, Any data for a gender gap at the elite schools? I’m sure it’s as significant as the racial gap.

    I’m proud but not surprised that New York has been so resistant to affirmative action proponents (in this regard). New Yorkers are hard-eye realists. These schools have an incredible legacy of excellence and remain an outpost of entirely merit based admissions. And, they’re not changing anytime soon.

  8. Crimson Wife says:

    What was the rationale given for denying GATE placement for the minority students who did well on the entrance exam? That seems odd to deny such a high percentage of children who show the aptitude for the classes.

  9. BadaBing says:

    How did they solve this problem in the old Yugoslavia? Maybe they didn’t, but Tito was a Marxist, was he not? Therefore, by definition he would have antipathy toward intellectuals and only a bleeding heart for the disenfranchised. So how did they make everyone happy all day long, all week long and all year long? Maybe we should look into it and hold them up as a model. Multiculturalism really does work. You just have to know how to do it.

  10. Tito ruled Yugoslavia with an iron fist. During both his lifetime and for a while thereafter the principal source of stability was the fear of Soviet intervention. The CIA back in those times carried out numerous studies of the internal situation in Yugoslavia. Each scenario they wargamed ended with Soviet intervention. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and it became apparent that there would be no Soviet intervention then the gates of hell opened.
    A multicutural empire can be held together for a while by a sufficent level of brutality as the Turks held the Ottoman Empire together. But in the end this becomes extremally expensive. In the 1980’s the cost to the Soviets of trying to preserve their empire in Eastern Europe greatly exceeded any economic benefit they derived from it. in general imperialism is most profitable in the early stages when there is plenty of loot available. Mature empires are very costly affairs to maintain which is why they tend to disintegrate. Both the Roman and Ottoman Empires ceased to make any economic sense long before their final dissolutions.
    The Habsburgs were relatively good at profitably running a multicutural empire but even in their case the costs eventually exceeded any benefits. Austria today needs the Habsburg Empire back like it needs a hole in the head.
    Yugoslavia was a very weird and totally artificial political experiment. They had tons of different ethnic groups – Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Albanians, Turks, Gypsies, Jew, Hungarians, Roumanians, Macedonians and on and on. The one ethnic group which was completely absent were Yugoslavs.

  11. I must add that I am totally flabbergasted that somebody would hold up Yugoslavia as an example of the success of multicuturalism. If the charnel house that much of Yugoslavia became is your idea of success what in the name of God is your idea of failure?

  12. BadaBing says:

    Yes, it was sarcasm. I don’t believe multicultural societies are the wonderland that diversity mongers posit. Like Jim astutely pointed out, only the armed fist can keep them together. Our insane immigration policy is an invitation to disaster.