Advanced Academic Programs Are For The Rich, Not The Gifted

The devil is in the details. There is the long standing argument that enrichment programs in basic education are intended for children who show great promise in academics. A new study now shows that such programs actually favor wealth over abilities. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten cohort (ECLS-K), Jason A. Grissom and Joshua F. Bleiberg from Vanderbilt University, and Christopher Redding from the University of Florida find that socio-economic gaps in enrollment in gifted programs persist even after considering a student's achievement levels. With equivalents scores in reading and mathematics, children from wealthy families are much more likely to receive gifted services than children from poor households do.

Above copied from
Money over Merit? Socioeconomic Gaps in Receipt of Gifted Services 

What comes as a surprise in this new study is that the socioeconomic gaps are in fact bigger with White and Asian American children.

Above copied from
Money over Merit? Socioeconomic Gaps in Receipt of Gifted Services 

In the above graph, the disparity between poor and wealthy White American children is astronomical. A wealthy White child is an order of magnitude more likely to receive gifted services than a poor White child. The discrimination in schools is really not about race, but about socio-economic class, which makes the United States school system no different from the system of education in the Philippines.

These gaps can only exist if the identification and referral process for gifted and talented students is flawed. Fixing the process, however, has its own challenges as the authors point out: "enumerated criteria and greater complexity may open new avenues for well-off families to exercise advantage, meaning  that without safeguards in place, more inclusive criteria might in fact not equalize rates of gifted program participation across SES groups."

A recent study from Reardon and coworkers also finds that racial segregation in schools tracks socio-economic segregation in the United States. They write, "The association of racial segregation with achievement gaps is completely accounted for by racial differences in school poverty: racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower-poverty schools."

It is clear that the problem lies in a difference in educational opportunities. Sorting children during the early years only exacerbates the gaps that are already present before kindergarten. What we currently have is a system that labels children according to wealth. It is merely according to our own biases, we shower high expectations over rich children while saving only lower expectations for poor children. This is not equitable education and it is wrong.


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