Report: ‘Racial Bias’ Operating In Houston’s Gifted And Talented Enrollment

A Vanderbilt professor gave a highly critical report to the Houston ISD school board.


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In schools, gifted and talented programs are meant for students with high potential.

That could be in an artistic area, leadership or an academic field.

But students of color in Houston schools aren’t being recognized as gifted and talented at alarmingly low rates, according to a new report.

“The data are very telling, from what I’ve looked, that under-representation in this district in Houston is pervasive, is significant, is beyond statistical chance for African American students, especially for our black males,” said Donna Ford, an education professor at Vanderbilt University, at a recent board workshop.

“Racial bias has to be operating, inequities are rampant. Discrimination does exist whether intentional or unintentional,” she said.

In the Houston Independent School District, black students make up a quarter of the entire enrollment.

But they count for only 12 percent of students in gifted and talented programs.

That’s according to 2011 data from the federal Office for Civil Rights.

“This is stunning in a negative way,” Ford said.

Ford urged the HISD school board to do something before it draws the attention of federal civil rights authorities.

She gave them several recommendations, such as not retesting students already identified as gifted and talented in the sixth grade.

Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said that the problem goes back to magnet schools.

She said that they helped desegregate schools but the district still isn’t fully integrated.

“And we as a system have compounded that over the years by continuing to compile that same system,” Skillern-Jones said.

It’s not clear yet what changes the district will consider.

The report by Ford was initiated by HISD’s equity council, which Superintendent Terry Grier formed earlier this year to examine issues of fairness and access in the state’s largest school district.

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