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.

One drop of Hispanic blood

One drop of Hispanic blood makes a student Hispanic, according to U.S. Education Department regulations that take effect this year. Students of non-Hispanic mixed parentage will be classified as “two or more races,” which some says lumps together those who are likely to be disadvantaged (black and American Indian) and those who are not (white and Asian).

The new standards for kindergarten through 12th grades and higher education will probably increase the nationwide student population of Hispanics, and could erase some “black” students who will now be counted as Hispanic or as multiracial (in the “two or more races category”). And reclassifying large numbers of white Hispanic students as simply Hispanic has the potential to mask the difference between minority and white students’ test scores, grades and graduation rates — the so-called achievement gap, a target of federal reform efforts that has plagued schools for decades.

The New York Times’ Room for Debate asks: How should students of mixed ancestry be classified?

Not at all, responds Shelby Steele, a Hoover Institution fellow.

Civil rights leaders don’t like this ruling because they are in the business of documenting racial disparities. In our culture mixed-race children do not carry the same level of entitlement as blacks. Giving them their own category reduces the number of blacks and, thus, the level of entitlement that civil rights groups can argue for.

Identity politics is a cynical and dehumanizing business that, in the end, helps no one. Better to eliminate all such categories and leave race and identity in the private realm.

Race still matters, writes Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale. His research shows that “being Black still has independent and powerful negative effects on educational opportunity, quite separate from language and class barriers.” That is, blacks do significantly worse on tests even when socioeconomic factors are considered.

People who look black are treated differently.  Other mixed-ethnicity people usually blend in, certainly where I live in California.

My new nephew celebrates his one-week birthday today. Like his sisters, he’s one-quarter Hispanic in ancestry, but nobody will know that by his name or appearance or Spanish fluency. His first cousins are one-quarter Hispanic, one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Italian and one-quarter German/British, to simplify.  They are middle-class Americans.

If we’re going to classify kids by race, then we should know who’s black-Hispanic and who’s Asian-Caucasian and who’s Samoan-Irish-Cherokee. Computers can do this in nanoseconds. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop.