Equity in Education: Children Who Are Overlooked for Gifted & Talented Education

As part of our ongoing exploration of equity in education, we are joined by M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Gifted and talented children are found in all demographic groups. However, many qualified children—those who live in poverty, have some disabilities, are from racial and ethnic minority groups, or are learning English—are overlooked for gifted programming.

Fortunately, our nation's educators—teachers and principals—recognize that we must fight for equity in education. The Scholastic Teacher & Principal School Report: Equity in Education shows that 97 percent of teachers and principals agree that equity in education should be a national priority.

A summary report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) published in 2016 shows that there is unequal access to gifted programming for Black and Latino students. The report shows that “Black and Latino students represent 42 percent of student enrollment in schools offering gifted and talented education (GATE) programs, yet only 28 percent of the students enrolled in GATE programs.”

Further, the report offers the following findings:

  • While 11 percent of students are English learners in schools offering GATE programs, fewer than 3 percent of GATE students nationwide are English learners.

  • Similarly, students with disabilities served by IDEA are 12 percent of all students in schools offering GATE programs but represent fewer than 3 percent of GATE students nationwide.

What is challenging for our nation is that many are misinformed about the reasons for this disproportionality. Some may think that the reason children living in poverty, from racial and ethnic minority groups, or English learners are absent from gifted programming is that they are not qualified. This is absolutely not the case.

According to federally-funded research from the National Center for Research on Gifted Education, children who are living in poverty, are from racial and ethnic minority groups, and are English learners are 2.5 times less likely to be identified for gifted programs, despite achieving at the same exact levels as their peers in gifted programs. This statistic is unacceptable, and we must all work together to eliminate this barrier to access to services needed by these children. Our nation can and must do better!

It is clear that educators are staunch supporters of equity and advocates for children from diverse backgrounds. They are committed to finding ways to remove barriers that exist outside of school and work for solutions within the school's walls. Like great leaders, they start by calling for support to improve their practice. The Teacher & Principal School Report shows that teachers (97%) and principals (100%) agree that they want ‘effective, ongoing, relevant professional development’ to help them improve their ability to address the needs of diverse learners. 

All of us should rally around teachers’ call for support as they work to improve equity in excellence for our nation’s diverse students with gifts and talents. Let’s respond with effective professional development that addresses gifted identification and learning needs.

Without adequate professional development, too many children with amazing potential are being left behind. The Gifted Knows No Boundaries campaign shines a light on the unique needs of gifted and talented children, and highlights the importance of investing in training for our nation’s teachers so that these children have access to the services and support they deserve and need to thrive.