When the ‘Gates’ are Literally and Figuratively Closed to Gifted and Talented Education for Black Students

Since its inception, the field of gifted and talented education (GATE) has been steeped in controversy and inequities due to the initial and ongoing underrepresentation of Black students, followed by Hispanic students. Nationwide, underrepresentation is almost 50% and 40%, respectively. Each year, thousands upon thousands of Black students face closed and locked gates to GATE.​ The exclusionary barriers are in the form of under-referrals, biased tests, and inequitable policies and procedures, such as reliance on national and state norms, excessive reliance on referrals by educators and families, arbitrary and indefensible cutoff scores, a disregard for standard error of measurement, and assessment overall that is not culturally responsive.Dr. James L. Moore IIIDr. James L. Moore III

After decades of segregated, exclusionary, and elitist GATE classes, programs and services, decision makers have ended GATE where admission - the proverbial key to opening gates to GATE - was based on one test and test score. This practice and policy of ordaining students as ‘gifted and talented’ is indefensible; no test should be given such power. Identification rather than assessment has been the norm, despite evidence of its limitations and biases against Black and unwealthy students. Wealthy white families have held the golden keys to doors unlocked and opened to them by the predominantly white education force.

Study after study, including our own work that spans two and three decades, demonstrate that New York’s and the nation’s GATE programs and services are racially and economically segregated. GATE training and preparation (e.g., degrees, licensure, endorsement, and professional development) have not helped decision makers to desegregate and integrate GATE. Perhaps having no other options, as a last resort, decision makers have ended GATE in New York. However, this proposed alternative begs the question: will rigor replace what we call “academic rigor mortis” and “educational malpractice” so that Black students who need more challenges finally have access and opportunities than what is offered in general education?

As two well-established and vocal Black scholars in this extremely white and privileged field, we are not convinced that ending GATE will result in equitable demographic changes, and in equity and more rigor in curriculum and instruction for marginalized students. Mindsets, namely deficit thinking, and discriminatory behaviors must change, undergirded by anti-racist beliefs and attitudes and behaviors (i.e., cultural competence.)  Structural barriers and systemic racism do not change and end when individuals with power and privilege remain the same. We must closely monitor the progress and impact of this bold New York decision in order to keep supporting and advocating for educationally vulnerable students. This decision should come as no surprise; it has been discussed and debated for a few years, to no avail. Dr. Donna Y. FordDr. Donna Y. Ford

With the above in mind, serving as context, we do not endorse ending gifted and talented education. Instead, we want GATE keys to be equitably provided to Black and other underrepresented students; acquiescing to the status quo must stop. To do otherwise remains racist, classist, and unjust. 

Dr. Donna Y. Ford is a Distinguished Professor of Education Human Ecology at The Ohio State University. Dr. James L. Moore III, is a Distinguished Professor of Education and Human Ecology and Vice Provost of Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at The Ohio State University.