Underrepresentation of Minorities and Economically Disadvantaged Students in Gifted Education Programs

This report was written for my Educational Leadership course at the University of Richmond. The introduction and conclusion are below. For the full report, click the link at the end.


“We can not tolerate islands of excellence in a sea of inequality, intolerance, and injustice” (Ford, 2003, p. 157). Several culturally, linguistically and socio-economically diverse groups continue to be underrepresented in our gifted and talented programs across the country, despite much attention over the years to this looming problem. Critics have argued since the 1970‘s that gifted programs have been predominantly reserved for white, middle and upper class children, based on privilege instead of need. Sapon-Shevin (2003) argues that gifted programs are implemented for those privileged children “for whom educational failure will not be tolerated” (p. 129). Within some large urban districts, gifted programs are used to stem white flight and boost a deteriorating tax base. This concern is still present in 21st century schools. Despite a history of difficulty in equitably identifying gifted children from diverse groups, it continues to be a goal of those in the gifted education field. “In 20th century America, the ideals of equal educational opportunity, upward social mobility through education, and the sanction of the individual to fulfill potential became common themes in the education debate…” (Ramirez, 2003, p. 129).  These same themes must be considered as we move further into this century. Researchers, educators and policy makers must continue to identify and implement more equitable opportunities for the identification of potentially gifted children.


Underrepresented groups in gifted education present a dilemma for those in the education field. On a larger scale, “children who are conceived, born, and raised in situations of economic privation are at great risk of losing or never developing gifts and talents they and their community could enjoy or benefit from” (Ramirez, 2003, p. 131) This is also true in predominately minority communities, where a history of oppression and discrimination, along with low expectations and substandard education, has led to an achievement gap in our public school system. There must be a concerted effort by educators, leaders and policy makers to address the issues of poverty and racial oppression in order to provide equity of educational opportunity to all students. We can not afford, as a country, to continue moving backwards in the education of our most valuable resource, all of our children. Educators and policy makes must recognize the growing body of research and its consistent findings about gifted identification issues in these populations and make changes to better serve all potentially gifted children, regardless of their race, ethnicity or class. This can be done through changing pedagogical practices in schools to meet the needs of all learners, changing the way we test and identify students using more inclusive methodologies, and addressing and challenging the biased assumptions still held by many surrounding class and race.

Cole Research Paper


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