Talented and Gifted Learning: Where’s the Diversity?

The “talented and gifted” label is one bestowed upon the brightest, and most advanced, students. Beginning in early elementary grades, TAG programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives. Though the ideology is sound, the reality is often a monotone, unattractive look at contemporary American public schools.

Earlier this year the New York Times visited Public School 163 located on the Upper West Side of the city to take a look at the disparities caused by the talented and gifted program there. This is what it looked like: a bunch of white kids on the “gifted” side of the school, and mainly children of color on the general or special education side. Teachers interviewed for the story admitted that it looked bad but did not seem to have a way to solve the problem. Just under a third of the talented students at P.S. 163 are identified as black or Hispanic – combined. Only 18 percent of the students in the average-student classes are white. Though unintentional, a modern-day segregation is taking place at New York City’s P.S. 163 and in other district schools across the country that employ talented and gifted programs.

Clearly white children are not always more gifted, so the selection process and operational procedures for such programs must be flawed. Education experts have long said that white, middle-to-high class students are at an advantage when it comes to standardized testing. Is the same true for talented and gifted programs? In both cases, the actual academics are not in question, but rather the methods of delivering learning and analyzing student performance are challenged.

Many TAG programs start around second or third grade. Though these students are old enough to read and write, the intricacies of an application for a TAG program are certainly the responsibility of parents. For working class parents, time is of a premium and even a one-page talented and gifted program application may rank low on a family priority list. To other parents that lack a college education, or even a high school diploma, the application process may seem foreign, uncomfortable and even cryptic. I use this example of the application process to highlight a larger point: the lack of minority students in talented and gifted programs oftentimes reflects poor communication between the parent and the school district. Better guidance for parents regarding the application process and program expectations can lead to more diversity in student representation in TAG initiatives. Parental comprehension is not a given thing; guidance through these programs for the benefit of the students is the responsibility of program administrators.

Parents are not the source of all the blame, however, when it comes to skewed numbers in talented and gifted programs. District schools need to find ways to better recognize different types of learning talent and look beyond the typical “gifted” student model. The CEC-TAG Diversity Award is a good example of thinking outside the box on minority inclusion in gifted programming. Established in 2010, the recognition goes to schools that look for innovative ways to include under-represented groups (read: blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans) in advanced K-12 programs. In addition, winning schools must be Title I certified. This national push to make talented and gifted programs better mirror the contemporary and ever-evolving student body as a whole is a step in the right direction. Real change happens on a smaller scale though, in individual districts, schools and TAG programs. That progress must start with understanding of the makeup of a particular student body and include innovative ways to include all students in TAG learning initiatives.


0 Replies to “Talented and Gifted Learning: Where’s the Diversity?”

  1. I have a child who will never be in any TAG program. I’m hopeful he’ll stay out of any special education program too, but am doubtful given his inability to sit still and inability to do much with his small hand coordination. However, that kid is SMART!! Any problem that gets in the way of what he wants to do, he’ll figure out how to bypass that problem. We call him a “problem solver.”

    That said to say, maybe it’s time to get rid of the Talanted and Gifted programs altogether? Most children are talented and gifted in a lot of different areas. Do we segregate those that are gifted in singing and dance? Nope. Why should we separate the kids who are more academically inclined?

    1. Why drop the Talented and Gifted program? Because your “smart” child won’t get in? TAG programs can be very successful programs for the children involved and enhances their education. I’m certain that the author is right and there is a disparity among the white and black populations in the cities with this diversity, but to drop it altogether makes no sense.

      Maybe adressing the possibility that the lack of parental involvment is causing some kids to not get into the TAG program would be a better fit.

      1. I’m a bit offended by your statement about my child. . . I wasn’t advocating a change to the TAG program because my son will not get in. I was simply stating that maybe since there is a disparity that it is time to rethink programs that separate kids based on ability. That’s all. Sarcasm isn’t necessary here. . .

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  3. I am an eight grader and I got into a Talented and Gifted program when I was six. I remember walking into the classroom and being bummed out. There so many White students! I am from Thailand and have always felt left out because there were not many Thai students. I made friends with all the Asians in my grade (there were only about nine or ten) and I wanted to be in classes with them. Maybe it was the abundance of white students at school, or it was just discrimination. I’d really hate to think that it was discrimination because my neighborhood is a wonderful place to live, but it is a possibility.

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