The Causes of Underrepresentation of African American Children in Gifted Programs and the Need to Address This Problem through More Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices in Teacher Education Programs

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"Of all the civil rights for which the world has struggled and fought for 5,000 years, the right to learn is undoubtedly the most fundamental ... The freedom to learn ... has been bought by bitter sacrifice. And whatever we may think of the curtailment of other civil rights, we should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn, the right to have examined in our schools not only what we believe, but what we do not believe; not only what our leaders say, but what the leaders of other groups and nations, and the leaders of other centuries have said. We must insist upon this to give our children the fairness of a start which will equip them with such an array of facts and such an attitude toward truth that they can have a real chance to judge what the world is and what its greater minds have thought it might be."--W.E.B. DuBois

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The research clearly indicates that, despite well documented facts about inequities in the education of African American students over the past several decades coupled with pleas for educational reform, African Americans continue to have disproportionately high rates of dropout, high representation in special education, low representation in gifted programs, and high rates of poor academic performance. (1) How can these conditions continue when we know that we are not meeting the needs of so many students? Unfortunately, there is not just one simple answer to this question, or to the question of why African American students are so underrepresented in advanced or gifted programs. As a teacher educator and the director of a teacher preparation program, it is my responsibility to explore this issue in order to adjust teacher preparation, not only to ensure that our pre-service teachers understand the disparities that exist in the education of African Americans and other disenfranchised groups, but also to arm them with the necessary skills and strategies to meet the needs of all children. This paper will focus on the underrepresentation of African American children in gifted and advanced programs, the probable reasons for this inequity, and possible solutions through teacher preparation in culturally responsive pedagogy.

Currently, although African American children make up approximately 16% of the students in U.S. public schools, they only make up 8.4% of students in gifted programs, a statistic that has not improved in the last decade. (2) In some areas, the gifted enrollment for African American students has actually declined. In New York City, for example, there was a 6% drop in the number of African American students identified for gifted programs from 2007 to 2008. (3) This may be in part because, in an effort to close the achievement gap between European American and African American students, most of the resources and energy have been dedicated to addressing the needs of African American children who are not meeting specific academic requirements. African American children who excel in school have been underserved and neglected due to this focus on closing the achievement gap, in combination with "probable systemic and cultural biases due to negative stereotypes about African American children's academic and intellectual functioning." (4) In addition to negative stereotypes, teacher attitudes, lack of referrals of African American students to gifted education programs, and culturally biased tests are also reasons for this terrible inequity. Furthermore, African American students are hall as likely as white students to be placed in Honors or Advanced Placement (AP) English or math classes, and 2.4 times more likely than white students to be placed in remedial classes. (5) This puts African American students at a disadvantage in terms of college preparedness.

Another issue that cannot be ignored is the difficulty of sustaining African American children in gifted or higher-level programs. In many instances, when African American children enter a gifted program, they do not see anyone who looks like them or to whom they can relate. …