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 …