Promoting Privilege

Selecting Students for a Public Gifted School

  • Douglas G Wren Old Dominion University



Point of view:  I am a cisgender, White male in my sixties.  I retired recently after working with children in a professional capacity since the mid-1970s.  My first career involved organizing and managing youth sports programs for public recreation departments.  I began my second career as an elementary school teacher in the privileged white neighborhood where I grew up near Atlanta, Georgia.  There were no African American students at any of the public schools I attended.  By the time I took a position in the central office after teaching for 14 years, Black students comprised 77% of the county’s 98,000 students (Anderson & Smith-Hunt, 2005).  I spent my last six years in the classroom teaching fifth graders and serving as the school’s gifted liaison teacher.  In the latter role, I administered tests to students to determine if they were eligible for the “gifted” label.  At that time, I also taught an assessment course to teachers who were seeking a gifted add-on endorsement to their teaching certificates.  I recently retired from a large school district in a different state after working as an educational measurement and assessment specialist for 12 years.  
Value:  Numerous educational policies and procedures in the United States benefit children from privileged families over their traditionally underserved counterparts, which include students of color and low-income students.  This piece describes a public school district’s inequitable practices related to its program for gifted students, practices that are not uncommon in many American school districts.  “Education is one of the best ways to address systemic inequities, but education systems in the US seem to be increasingly subject to criticism that they are unable to change and promote equity” (Cheville, 2018, p. 1).  Despite their inherent resistance to change, educational agencies must be made aware of discriminatory policies and procedures.  Stakeholders must then hold policy makers and educational leaders to account.  As James hanged until it is faced” (1962, p. 38).
Summary:  Gifted education programs in public schools comprise mainly middle-class and upper-middle-class students of European and Asian descent.  Students from low socioeconomic groups, African American students, Latinx students, and Indigenous American students continue to be underrepresented in gifted programs, despite the fact that this inequity was brought to light many years ago (Ford, 1998).  Given our nation’s long history of overt and covert racism, it is not surprising that the manner by which students are identified for gifted services is systemically entrenched and at the heart of the problem.  Most states have mandates or provide guidance to local school districts regarding identification criteria; however, very few of the measurement instruments and methods used to evaluate of children for gifted services are effective at facilitating equal representation of all groups in gifted education programs.  This piece examines one school district’s guidelines used to identify students for gifted services, including admittance to its prestigious school for gifted children.  Because the guidelines are typical of practices employed by many other school districts, the information contained herein is generalizable to a larger audience.