One of the challenges I endured as a young mother of three children was that I didn’t understand the education system. I certainly did not understand the system enough to navigate it and advocate for my children effectively. Some questions I had included: What is the responsibility of the school board? What is the relationship between the school board and the educators? What powers do the PTA/PTO have? What services are my children legally eligible to receive?
In the late 90s, I quickly discovered how important it was to understand these systems and services. My son was struggling academically. He was not struggling because of diminished intellect but because of boredom and being under-challenged. “Students who are under-challenged are not always gifted, but they are typically competent and very smart and do not always present that way” (Morin, 2020). My response was to give him more challenging work at home and involve him in after-school programming where his intellect would be stretched. I even challenged him to practice responding to some of the questions on my Law School Admissions Practice test, to which he always seemed to get the answers much quicker than I could. As a parent, I was becoming frustrated with the notes I was receiving from his teachers despite the additional support I was providing him at home. He continued to struggle at school, and his teacher was prepared to label him learning disabled.
In his 7th grade year, he met a new teacher who looked like him, understood his cultural background and community, and most definitely understood how to navigate the education system. She took the initiative to engage me, as his parent and first educator, in a more in-depth dialogue about how we could better support my son’s k-12 academic journey. She told me about services that the school had available to support my son, which would test him so that we were sure that he was assigned to the correct level courses, and offered services that would support me. My son was eventually tested, removed from most of his major classes and into advanced placement courses, and, through the efforts of his teacher, was enrolled in Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. He was able to take his SATs in the 7th grade (scoring higher than his 11th-grade brother), scores that he was eligible to use to enroll in college, and thrived in a way that I could not have imagined if it had not been for his African American 7th grade teacher.
Black students are more than 15% of the total student population, represent nearly 10% of the students in gifted programs, and are three times as likely to be identified as gifted if their teacher is black (Mullaguru, 2016). According to a study conducted in 2016, millions of students should be designated as gifted, and the reason that they are missing from the data is typically due to schools not identifying students as gifted and talented due to funding; additionally, they may attend a school identified as ‘high poverty, or be overlooked because they are Latino, black (like my son), or another underidentified group (Gentry, 2020).
Under-motivated children rarely see an incentive to do the work and often complain about the classroom experience. They will often express that they already know what is being taught and, like my son, may even declare, “I am more intelligent than my teacher.” Children who experience this may be labeled as lazy or learning disabled, especially those who are a part of an underidentified group, and consequently are seen as “problem children”. “Due to systemic exclusion of minority students, gifted programs may exacerbate the racial achievement gap by further boosting outcomes for more privileged students…” (Cohen, 2022).
Unfortunately for my son, it took seven years before he was provided the support he needed to thrive academically, and we are grateful for that gift from his educator. If you are/were lucky enough to figure out the system early, share the knowledge with other parents. If you are still struggling to try to find ways to challenge your young scholar, here are some things that you can do:
Today my son is a father, husband, and child advocate, and he still believes he is more intelligent than his teachers :)
Danielle Y. Hairston Green
WIsconsin Association for Talented and Gifted Board Member