Last week, as educators and civil-rights activists lauded the 62nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case, we felt both relief and sadness. We were relieved because our intelligent 8-year-old twin daughters were found eligible for Gifted Education services by the Miami-Dade school district.
Our sadness was because black and Native American/Indigenous children around the United States — and in multicultural Miami — continue to be segregated into special-education programs for children with behavior or learning disabilities. At the same time, black and brown children are underrepresented in gifted-education programs. Nationally, black children are 66 times less likely than their white counterparts — and Hispanic students 47 times less likely — to be placed in gifted programs.
Our journey took almost an entire school year, and numerous cumbersome meetings with district officials, to correct school site lapses and insensitivities, which we recounted in November on this page.
Gifted, advanced academic and enrichment services are more typically provided across the nation for white and Asian students, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. Miami-Dade’ demographics make us a bit different: About two-thirds of our school system’s gifted students are Hispanic.
It is a fallacy that black children aren’t smart enough to make it into gifted programs. The fact is that white (non-Hispanic) children are twice as likely to be tracked into gifted programs as black children with the same standardized test scores in math and reading, according to a recent study by Jason Grissom and Christopher Redding of Vanderbilt University. We contend that this is a factor of both teacher bias and parental socioeconomic status. Well-educated, middle class and wealthy white and Hispanic parents are better able to hire private psychologists to qualify their children for gifted programs. Despite two public-records requests to confirm our theory, Miami-Dade school district officials have not released data on the number of students who qualified for gifted via testing by private psychologists. Instead, the district provided us with an estimate of more than $800 to research and provide much of the data requested for this article.
A U.S. Government Accounting Office congressional report released last week concluded what we have observed in Miami: “More than 60 years after the Brown decision, our work shows that disparities in education persist.”
Apparently, we are not alone in our fight for educational equity. A recent U.S. Department of Education report revealed that in fiscal year 2015, the agency processed a record 10,392 student complaints, opened 3,000 investigations and reached more than 1,000 resolutions nationally.
As members of Parents of Gifted Children and Advocates for Equity, we have a few recommendations to offer Miami-Dade public schools that would move us forward in this fight for equity:
▪ Implement a screening process to consider more talented children for gifted.
▪ Establish ongoing cultural sensitivity training for School Board members and a broad range of school system educators, including the superintendent, district administrators, school site administrators, Exceptional Student Education administrators, school psychologists, staffing specialists, school-based program specialists and, of course, classroom teachers.
▪ On a related note, school psychologists, staffing specialists, teachers and school site administrators need to receive ongoing professional development training to help them more effectively identify gifted students of diverse cultural backgrounds.
▪ Refer students for more comprehensive visual and hearing evaluations to rule out visual or hearing problems that might prevent otherwise talented students from performing at their peak.
▪ Establish more district oversight and transparency in the gifted application process.
▪ Likewise, the Florida Department of Education should provide more intensive oversight of districts’ screening processes.
▪ Finally, establish firm criteria for determining the IQ instruments that are most appropriate for screening and providing access to gifted programs for children of color.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools actually does a better job than most school districts in the state and around the country. Nonetheless, we urge all fair-minded residents to join us in tearing down all walls keeping black children from getting a fair chance at gifted programs in Miami.
Bradley Bennett is a former editor for the Miami Herald. Adeyela Bennett is a former civil-rights compliance officer with Miami-Dade Public Schools.