The value of a teaching corps that reflects the diversity of our schools

It is disheartening that, in 2016, the recognition of gifted students of color may be more dependent on the race of their teachers than their demonstrated abilities. But for those of us in the trenches of gifted education, it is clear that students’ race or socioeconomic status far too often dictate whether they will be identified and served as gifted learners. Of students enrolled in gifted programs, only 9 percent are black, whereas more than 60 percent are white. This is unacceptable.

For decades, our nation has done a poor job of prioritizing the identification of gifted students across the board. As the 2015 State of the States in Gifted Education highlighted, too few teachers receive any substantive preparation in working with gifted students before entering the classroom, and professional development support focused on gifted education strategies is minimal. If few teachers are trained to recognize the signs of giftedness, high-ability students are at a disadvantage. This is particularly true of black and Hispanic students and those of modest means, who may lack the academic and psycho-social supports to aggressively pursue the necessary services.

This study raises some interesting findings about the value of a teaching corps that reflects the diversity of our schools. But the truly comprehensive solution to this problem needs to include a renewed commitment to identifying our academically gifted students in all ethnic groups and settings—particularly students in populations that have historically been underrepresented in gifted education.

Last year, Congress took some steps in this direction by stipulating that federal teacher training dollars can be used for this purpose. This stipulation will encourage school districts to launch programs targeting underrepresented populations for gifted identification and services. The Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act will also provide support to help teachers recognize gifted students from disadvantaged groups.

As Congress works on its budget for the coming year, we recommend an increased focus on the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in education, as well as funding for programs to ensure that all gifted students are recognized and programs are developed to nurture their gifts and talents.

Our hope is that these supports will be in place for students to be nurtured, regardless of the race of their teacher.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). Joy Lawson Davis is an NAGC board member and the chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Virginia Union University.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of blog posts that is collaboratively published every week by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and National Association for Gifted Children. Each post in the series exists both here on the NAGC Blog and on Fordham's Flypaper.