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Inequality in Gifted and Talented Programming and the Meaning of Parenthood

Sun, April 19, 8:15 to 9:45am, Swissotel, Lucerne Level, Alpine I


Patterns of race and class school segregation have been widely documented across neighborhoods, school districts, schools and tracked classrooms, particularly in secondary schools (Clotfelter, 2006; Orfield et al., 1996; Wells & Crain, 1997; Oakes, 1985/2005). Yet, there have been few studies that explicitly focus on the ways parents make sense of the boundaries between gifted and general education programs in a diverse elementary school.

Drawing on the theories on boundaries and boundary work in education (Lamont & Molnar, 2002), this study examines “second-generation segregation” within a New York City elementary school site that is starting to enroll White, advantaged families into two separate and hierarchical academic programs—a majority white Gifted and Talented (G&T) program and a majority Black and Latino General Education (Gen Ed) program. In recent years, the Gen Ed program has been changing demographically as more White parents living in the neighborhood enrolled their children there. I conducted in-depth interviews with 41 advantaged parents who have their children enrolled in the G&T program, Gen Ed program, or both to understand how they perceive the families who enroll their children in the different programs, and construct their own children’s intelligence and ability when distinguishing where their children belong.

I found that their beliefs about where their children belong in school are tied to their beliefs about children, child rearing, where they live, and normative expectations of parent involvement in the school. I take a closer look at how parents’ explain and justify their reasons for prepping and testing their children for G&T even when they say it is not who they are, they do not believe their child is truly “gifted” and “talented,” and/or they admit that tutoring for the G&T test is cheating. I explore how the “G&T” and “Gen Ed” parent labels and categories are being re-conceptualized now that advantaged families are enrolling their children in the Gen Ed program. I also provide examples of the ways parents’ engage and interact with each other to improve their children’s school. Advantaged parents’ mobilized to fire the former principal in their school, and put pressure on the new principal to switch the “good” G&T and Gen Ed teachers around since there were more “advantaged” families choosing the Gen Ed program. This parent mobilization ties into normative expectations of parent involvement in schools in terms of what is expected of parents to make schools better---from other parents, teachers and school administrators, and what it means to be a “good parent.”

This research is particularly timely and important, as "second generation segregation" has long been identified as a barrier to equal educational opportunity. Additionally, prominent New York City officials have started to question the value of self-contained G&T programs and the use of a single standardized test score for specialized high school admissions.


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