Students of color lack access to advanced coursework, but there are solutions

Brandon Wright

Gifted education in the U.S. is too scarce and lacks substance, and that’s especially true for high achieving black and Latino children. A new report by the Education Trust concludes that this gap has, “everything to do with policies, adult decisions, and practices and little to do with students’ academic abilities.”

Authors Kayla Patrick, Allison Socol, and Ivy Morgan use national participation data for gifted and talented programs, eighth grade Algebra I, and Advanced Placement. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015–16 Civil Rights Data Collection and Common Core of Data, these data exist for all schools in the U.S.

They begin by examining algebra achievement to “debunk the myth that students of color do not excel in advanced courses.” Their analysis is based on course passage, and they find that, where data exist, almost all such students who enroll in eighth grade algebra end up passing: black children represent 20 percent of enrollees and 19 percent of passers, while those figures for their Latino peers are 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively. The authors conclude that “It is clear that Black and Latino students can be—and very often are—successful in advanced coursework.”

Nevertheless, Patrick, Socol, and Morgan find that too many of these children never get the chance to participate in advanced coursework. If they can succeed when given these opportunities, the authors reason, then participation should be more “fair,” by which they mean the share of black and Latino students’ overall enrollment in a school system should be closer to their share of enrollment in advanced courses. Yet across the board, that’s pretty far from the case. Black students’ overall enrollment hovers around 15 percent in elementary, middle, and high school, for example, yet their shares of students in gifted programs, eighth grade algebra, and Advanced Placement classes don’t exceed 10 percent. The gaps for Latino students are similar. Worse, they find, “the most racially diverse schools…are more likely to have disparities in access.” And although less diverse schools are more likely to have fairer representation, these schools tend to have lower overall enrollment in advanced coursework.

To narrow these gaps, the authors offer a plethora of state-level policy solution, some of which are more compelling, convincing, and realistic than others. The strongest include requiring and funding universal screening for gifted and talented programs that uses multiple measures of ability and potential, instituting automatic enrollment of children who qualify, and using tools like tech-based blended learning to expand the number of students with access to strong, fully-certified teachers. These are each sensible and relatively low cost, so most schools and districts could institute some or all of them.

For readers who follow these issues, the report doesn’t offer a whole lot that’s new or surprising, but that’s OK. It’s a worthwhile reminder that our schools are failing to provide disadvantaged gifted children with the education they deserve—one that that meets their needs and enhances their futures, just like peers with other distinctions and problems. And that doing this better means providing all students from all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds with the opportunity to enroll and excel in challenging, rigorous coursework.

Brandon L. Wright is the editorial director of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The views expressed in The High Flyer are not necessarily those of NAGC

SOURCE: Kayla Patrick, Allison Rose Socol, and Ivy Morgan, Inequities in Advanced Coursework, Education Trust (January 9, 2020).