Gifted and Talented: Road to Segregation

By Michael Holzman, Senior Research Consultant for the Schott Foundation for Public Education

Gifted and Talented students are defined by the U. S. Department of Education as “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.” Identification of gifted and talented students is comparative within similar age groups, experience and environments, that is, every group of students—rich, poor, Black, White, those with highly educated parents, those whose parents are not highly educated—should have approximately equal proportions of gifted and talented students.

The National Society for the Gifted & Talented notes that “There are no nation-wide or even state-wide standards for identification. Each school district decides, based on its definition of gifted students . . .”

Given that definition and process, we find from data collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the Boston, Chicago, Clark County (NV), East Baton Rouge (LA), Jefferson County (KY), New Orleans and Prince George’s County school districts have decided that three times as many male White, non-Hispanic students than male Black students are gifted and talented. In New Orleans, 37% of male White and 44% of female White students are identified as gifted and talented.

There is no reliable data for New York.

However, in the Birmingham, Alabama; Broward and Dade, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; Fort Bend, Texas; Guilford County (NC); Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Virginia Beach public schools, four times as many White, non-Hispanic male students are in Gifted and Talented programs than are male Black students.

In Cincinnati; Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake, North Carolina; Cobb County, DeKalb and Fulton counties in Georgia, the ratio is five to one. A quarter of the male White students in Cobb County and a third of those in DeKalb and Fulton counties are classified by their districts as gifted and talented.

Charleston (SC) and Memphis (TN) classify six times as many White as Black male students as gifted and talented. The Atlanta school district also finds six times as many gifted and talented White male as Black male students, and that one-third of its White students are gifted and talented. Houston also has six times the percentage of White as Black male students classified as gifted and talented, with 37% of its White male and 41% of its White female students enrolled under that designation.

The ratio in Hillsborough (FL) is six to one. In Pinellas County, Florida, seven to one. In Palm Beach (FL) and Caddo Parish (LA), eight to one. In Nashville, ten to one. In Orange County (FL) and St. Louis, eleven to one. (Ratios for female students are much the same as those for males.) 

The result of these practices is the internal segregation of the schools in these communities, with extraordinary proportions of White students in gifted and talented classrooms, while Black students are kept in regular, less well-resourced, presumably less ably taught, classrooms.

After Reconstruction, many of the school districts listed here repealed equal funding laws, reducing per student expenditure for Black students to a fraction of that spent on their White peers.  Unfortunately, the data cited above shows that impulse continues today.

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