Schools have long failed to cultivate the innate talents of many of their young people, particularly high-ability girls and boys from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. This failure harms the economy, widens income gaps, arrests upward mobility, and exacerbates civic decay and political division.

To address these issues, researchers Christopher Yaluma and Adam Tyner examined the extent to which access to and participation in gifted programs vary for different groups of students nationally and in each state, particularly in high-poverty schools. Here’s what they found:

  • More than two-thirds of elementary and middle schools have gifted programs.
  • Overall, high-poverty schools are just as likely as low-poverty schools to have them.

  • Yet students in low-poverty schools are more than twice as likely to participate in such programs.

  • Even when black and Hispanic students have gifted programs in their elementary and middle schools, they participate at much lower rates than their peers. 

  • In schools with gifted programs, only Maryland, Kentucky, and New Hampshire enroll more than 10 percent of the state’s black and Hispanic students in those programs; in twenty-two states it’s less than 5 percent.

Increasing the participation of qualified yet underrepresented students in gifted programming in elementary and middle schools would change the trajectories of these children and gradually lessen social and economic inequality. We offer three recommendations to help on this front:

  1. Consider universal screening and other ways to streamline identification processes and make them more equitable.

  2. Identify students for gifted programs using local norms.

  3. Counter bias in identifying and serving minority gifted students.

For tomorrow’s leaders to reflect America’s diversity, today’s schools must cultivate able kids from every kind of background. Toward that end, first-rate gifted programming in high-poverty schools can contribute a great deal.

Chris Yaluma is a research intern at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in education policy at Ohio State University. He has a Masters’ degree in transformative education with a concentration in leadership, policy, and research from Miami University, OH. Chris graduated with a physics degree from Berea College and spent two years teaching and tutoring high school math and physics in Boston…
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Adam Tyner is associate director of research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where he helps develop and manage Fordham’s research projects. Prior to joining Fordham, he served as senior education analyst at Hanover Research, where he executed data analysis projects and worked with school districts and other education stakeholders to design custom studies. Adam has also spent several years leading classrooms, teaching…

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