Key Theories and Frameworks for Improving the Recruitment and Retention of African American Students in Gifted Education

By Ford, Donna Y.; Moore, James L. et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Key Theories and Frameworks for Improving the Recruitment and Retention of African American Students in Gifted Education


Ford, Donna Y., Moore, James L., Scott, Michelle Trotman, The Journal of Negro Education


An issue of much concern, and under much scrutiny and debate, is the persistent and extensive under-representation of African American students in gifted education. A number of efforts have been proposed and implemented to improve their recruitment and retention, but to little or no avail. Progress has been slow or non-existent in many cases. In this article, we propose that several theories and conceptual frameworks can guide educators and decision makers in gaining a better understanding of under-representation. In understanding the barriers to recruitment and retention through the lens of theories and frameworks, we can develop solutions that work. Nine theories and frameworks are presented.

Keywords: underrepresentation, underachievement, African American students, gifted African American students, recruitment and retention

When one reaches a certain age or level of maturity and professional accomplishment, it seems timely and instructive to reflect on his or her life and the impact it has (if any) on the profession and the lives of children. The first author has spent almost two decades bewailing professionally (and longer personally) the poor representation of African American students in gifted education. The second and third authors have also devoted a great deal of her time grappling with this very issue. Individually and together, we have devoted scholarship, teaching and advising, and services to finding equitable and defensible ways to increase the representation of African American students in gifted education. This focus has been on the two-sided issue of recruitment and retention. Therefore, the focus of this article is on how to screen, identify, and place more African American students in gifted education programs and how to keep these students in these programs once placed.

Although much time has passed, we remain as passionate and committed as when we wrote our first article, made our first presentation, conducted our first study, and taught our first class on the topic. Nonetheless, the authors are disheartened, perplexed, and, yes, angry that too little progress is evident nationally in approximately 16,000 school districts and 88,000 or so public schools. Black students represented 17.13% of the public school population, but only 9.15% of those in gifted education - an almost 50% discrepancy in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available from the Office for Civil Rights (Ford, Grantham, &Whiting, 2008a). This percent is clearly significant, but takes on new meaning when translated into actual numbers or students. Specifically, these percentages equate to more than 250,000 African American students who are neither identified nor participating in gifted education. This is by no means a trivial number of African American students. Many find it difficult to become an achiever and have their dreams fulfilled, because they were identified neither challenged nor placed in classes designed to meet their needs.

Clearly, several other scholars have developed theories and conceptual paradigms or frameworks that inform one or more vital aspects of African American under-representation. These authors (e.g., Alexinia Baldwin, Mary Frasier, Margie Kitano, and Ernesto Bernal) should be applauded for their decades of scholarship in gifted education and for laying the groundwork. Collectively, their works, as weU as the efforts of others who focus on gifted education underrepresentation, (e.g., Tarek Grantham, Deborah Harmon, and MaUk S. Henfield) have much to offer educators who endeavor to decrease or eUminate gifted education under-representation. Nevertheless, looking at gifted education trends for four decades, progress is not evident (Ford, 1996; Ford, Grantham, &Whiting 2008a). Based on past data, African American students are not proportionately represented in gifted education programs. Just as noteworthy, tins is the only group for whom progress is not evident.

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