In this article, we outline several cultural matters that can hinder teachers' judgments and decisions in recruiting and retaining students of color' in gifted programs in elementary school. As we have learned from those focusing on talent development (Ford, 1996; Ford & Harris, 1999), there is an enormous need for elementary-school teachers to identify students of color (namely African American and Hispanic students) for gifted education programs, and once identified, to retain them in those programs. To be clear, we understand that teachers are not solely responsible for the low numbers of African American and Hispanic students in gifted programs. Clearly, policy-makers, administrators, school psychologists, test developers, and families are also involved in the identification and retention of students for gifted programs. The teacher plays just one role in the grand scheme of decisionmaking. However, the teacher's role in the process is critical--even when she or he is considered just a "check off" point in the process of decision making by other powers.
Teachers can be the voice that will not go away; they can insist that these students be better represented in such programs. In fact, it is their job (to some degree) to be advocates for deserving students and to speak on their behalf when others refuse to consider students of color for gifted programs. Teachers must insist that these students have an opportunity to participate in gifted programs, because it is critical that these culturally diverse students are identified and represented in elementary school. In particular, a focus on students in the elementary years is especially important because students often miss opportunities for gifted, advanced, and accelerated classes in middle and high school if they are not identified in their early years of schooling. Participating in such classes and programs in elementary school, and subsequently in middle and high school, can prepare culturally diverse students for college admission exams and help ensure their entry into the best institutions of higher education. Clearly, the earlier students are identified for gifted programming, the better their chances to take advantage of these programs in subsequent years. However, as Ford (2006) wrote, "Sadly, I have seen little progress relative to demographic changes--Black and Hispanic students continue to be in gifted programs today as they were 20 years ago" (p. 2).
A Look at the Underrepresentation of Culturally Diverse Gifted Students
To have a discussion about students of color in gifted programs may seem inconceivable or even paradoxical at a time when the literature is inundated with accounts of school failure, particularly where African American and Hispanic American students are concerned (e.g., Irvine, 1990; Shujaa, 1994). Furthermore, a wealth of research and conceptual literature exists focusing on the underrepresentation of students of color in gifted education programs (e.g., Baldwin & Vialle, 1999; Ford, 1998; Ford & Harris, 1999; Frasier, Garcia, & Passow, 1995; Harmon, 2002; Milner, 2002). Thus, attempting to address and understand the underrepresentation of elementary students of color in gifted programs is certainly not a trivial, mundane, or straightforward endeavor. For instance, almost a decade ago, Ford (1996) wrote:
Black students, particularly males, are three times as likely as White males to be in a class for the educable mentally retarded, but only half as likely to be placed in a class for the gifted. Not only are Black students under enrolled in gifted education programs ... [but] Black students are overrepresented in special education, in the lowest ability groups and tracks, and among high school and college dropouts.... (p. 5).
More recently, Ford and Grantham (2003) explained that African American and Hispanic American students tend to be underrepresented in gifted programs by 50% each.
We propose that with expanded and more fully developed knowledge about gifted students of color, the teacher can become an advocate for these students and take a proactive role in the discourse and decision making process. Achieving an expanded and more culturally developed knowledge base is a task that teachers must pursue. In other words, teachers need to pursue cultural and multicultural competence to assist them in the recruitment and retention of students of color in gifted programs.
Cultural and Multicultural Competence
Becoming more culturally competent is a lifetime process; one never becomes fully competent where culture is concerned. Culture is not a static concept. It is not "a category for conveniently sorting people according to expected values, beliefs, and behaviors" (Dyson & Genishi, 1994, p. 3). Rather, culture is dynamic, and it encompasses various other concepts that relate to its central meaning. The supplemental categories that make up culture include, but are not limited to identity, class, economic status, and gender. Drawing on this dynamic concept and the work of a number of researchers and theorists (e.g., Ford, 1996; Hale, 2001; Irvine & York, 1995), we conceptualize culture to mean the characteristics of a person that are developed through formal and informal experiences, knowledge disposition, skills, and ways of knowing and understanding that are informed by race (the social construction of one's skin color), ethnicity (history, heritage, customs, rituals, values, and symbols), identity (how one perceives and represents himself/herself), class (economic/resource situation), sexuality, and gender.
To be clear, teachers should pursue cultural and multicultural competence (2) because researchers and theoreticians agree that cultural and multicultural education is necessary for academic and social success among students of color (J. A. Banks, 1998; Ford, 1996; Grant & Tate, 1995). Students of color need to encounter and experience curriculum and instruction that highlights, showcases, speaks from the points of view, life experiences, and contributions of people of color, women, and other marginalized groups--not just those of the White mainstream. In considering the importance of students' cultural and social experiences in the curriculum and teaching, Ladson-Billings (1994) explained that teachers can maximize student learning by "importing the culture and everyday experiences of the students" (p. 117). J. A. Banks maintained that a significant goal of multicultural education was to "increase educational equality for both gender groups, for students from diverse ethnic and cultural groups, and for exceptional students" [emphasis added] (p. 22). Jenks, Lee, and Kanpol (2001) suggested that additional goals of multicultural education involved "knowledge of cultural and racial differences and issues; the critical examination of one's own beliefs and values regarding culture, race, and social class; and an understanding of how knowledge, beliefs, and values determine one's behavior ..." (p. 88).
Ensuring that various cultural, racial, ethnic, gendered, and linguistic groups of people and their experiences are represented in the curriculum is not the only essential feature in providing access, empowerment, and awareness for students of color. The very nature of this content and how it is actually incorporated into the lessons are also critical. Gay (2000) asserted that students often felt "insulted, embarrassed, ashamed, and angered when reading and hearing negative portrayals of their ethnic groups or not hearing anything at all" (p. 116). Thus, it is not enough to incorporate the historical, political, and social experiences, events, and challenges of various ethnic groups into the curriculum and teaching. But rather, the nature of that curriculum content (what is actually included, how, and why) is very …