What would playwright Lorraine Hansberry and singer Nina Simone say about this? An essay posted on NPR Ed entitled “To Be Young, Gifted And Black it helps to have a black teacher,” looks at a recent study on the low numbers of students of color in gifted programs. The study notes that the students are “high-achieving,” yet under-represented.
“Discretion and Disproportionality” published in the journal of the American Education Research Association says that “Black students indeed are referred to gifted programs … at significantly lower rates when taught by non-Black teachers.”
From the NPR Ed article:
Nonblack teachers identify black students as gifted in reading 2.1 percent of the time. Black teachers are three times more likely to identify black students as gifted in reading: 6.2 percent of the time. That's the same rate as for white students, no matter the race of their teacher.
[Study go-author Jason] Grissom, a political economist by trade, tells NPR Ed that this disparity in the identification of gifted students may be an unintended consequence of efforts to overhaul gifted programs. Because of racial gaps in standardized test scores, many districts have moved away from using tests alone to identify gifted students. Instead they rely more on the opinions of teachers.
“That opens a big potential door as a driver for disparity,” Grissom says. “We moved to a system of a more holistic review, but the consequence of that has created more opportunities for discretion.”
Jose Luis Vilson, a middle school math teacher and author, is also quoted in the article. According to Vilson, he has referred numerous black students to gifted programs—but always seems to have to justify those referrals to other teachers. Yet Vilson says it’s not just the teachers that are part of the equation: Sometimes, it’s the self-esteem of the students themselves.
“The bias is often there “on the part of the student,” too, Vilson says. “They don't believe in themselves. They don't see themselves as capable because they have a set of behaviors that don't align with the gifted norm.”
Knee-jerk responses, such as those in the comments section of the NPR Ed article, ask if a return to segregation is what is being called for. That’s doubtful. It’s probably akin to a call to usher more teachers into the education field who are able to relate to black students.
The study was published on January 19.