Monday, January 23, 2006

Gifted Immigrant Kids

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has a fascinating story about the representation of minority kids in gifted programs, though it's not fascinating for the reasons spelled out in the article (read it here).

The Birdville School District in Texas, the article notes, worries that minority students may not be represented at the right proportions in school gifted programs. Notes the article, "Birdville has identified about 8.3 percent of its students as gifted. But the district’s Hispanic students represent about 6.9 percent of gifted students while making up about 22.3 percent of the district’s 22,000 enrollment. Officials said they believe that Hispanics are underrepresented."

But then the article goes on to illustrate this point, not by profiling a gifted young Hispanic student who was passed over for the program, but by profiling a gifted young kid who immigrated with his family from Saudi Arabia -- and had no problem making the cut.

Young Khalid is in 6th grade. His father drives a taxi. His mother works at a department store. Both parents are trying to climb back up the economic ladder to the levels they occupied before immigrating (the father was a professor, the mother a tutor). But, tough circumstances or no, the family values education and has nurtured their son's gifts. The school noticed how well Khalid did in math and science. The article notes that he'd been an academic stand-out since first grade, despite his originally limited English. So he was invited to participate in the gifted program.

End of story. The article says kids like Khalid might fall through the cracks if Birdville wasn't looking, but it's not clear how. Which brings me to a different point than the one the article was making.

Those of us who've done a lot of research and interviewing in the field of gifted education soon notice that the families we're working with are as likely -- and sometimes more likely -- to be named Chang or Wzlovsky or Hussein as Smith. The biographies of Davidson Fellows show that children of immigrants, or immigrant children themselves, are far over-represented compared to their proportion of the population. Certainly, the group photos are more "diverse" than your average high school class! Immigrant families often come to America to prove themselves. They value education, nurture their children's gifts, and preach the gospel of hard work. That's a combo that's tough to beat.

Which is why I'm less worried about the proportion of minority gifted students than some educators seem to be. Sure, nets should be cast wide. Selection should be made on more than one test score. And schools shouldn't make their gifted programs so big that they become an excuse to segregate all white students from their peers. But if you look at the true top 1% of students, you'll see as diverse a group of faces as anyone could want.


jason smith said...

Dear Laura

I agree with you that gifted kids are as diverse in abilities andinterests as any group you can find. However the under representation of black and hispanic children in gifted programs is a MAJOR problem in our country.

If we ignore for now the field of racial (racist?) genetics and assume that the chances of a hispanic child having the potential to be gifted is the same as any other then this article implies that children from the hispanic community in that area are not receiving from their families and the school system the environmnet needed for them to develop their abilities. That by itself is not a problem except for the fact that high educational achievement is the best correlation with career and financial success,as well as fulfillment in life. The importance of education in reaching these goals in our society only continues to increase.

Forcing quotas in gifted classes is clearly not a solution. However if the underlying problem that leads to so few hispanic and black children reaching gifted levels of educational performance continues it will lead to a permanent underclass in this country with these groups disproportionately overrepresented

Jason Smith

Janice G. said...

Education begins at home and so much of a child’s success in school is influenced by the home. I want to share the experience of a very successful charter school in south central Los Angeles, The Accelerated School, that serves inner-city Hispanics and African Americans. There is a huge waiting list to attend the school and those who do not obey the rules are expelled on the third violation. (There are very few expulsions). One of the conditions for enrollment is that the students’ parents have to spend a fixed number of hours at the school a month AND they have to sign off every evening that their child did his/her homework. It works well! The students are achieving and the parents are seeing first hand the value of supporting their learning. This is an example of how schools can help instill the value of learning and discipline in the home.