The first large scale study of giftedness was conducted by Lewis Terman, the creator of the Stanford-Binet Test. As weighty an accomplishment as this was, Terman was better known for his deep belief in eugenics and support of the restrictive breeding of humans to create an ‘ideal race,’ as reported by The Stanford Daily. Giftedness, as Terman defined it, excluded everyone beyond cis-gendered, straight, white men. The history of ‘giftedness’ is consequentially riddled with bias, most distinctly in the form of racism, the repercussions of which still reverberate today.
While the first gifted education program in the United States was formed in the early 20th century, the concept of ‘giftedness’ did not gain traction until the 1950s, first officially addressed under law in 1975, according to the National Association for Gifted Children. With the passing of Brown v. The Board of Education in 1954, schools were forced to integrate, but gifted programs within schools became a way to segregate Black and white students within the same school, as detailed in the New York Times’ podcast “Nice White Parents.”
This strategy for perpetuating segregation was present on a national scale, but what about locally?
According to Newtown Alive, it was 1961, seven years after Brown v. The Board of Education was passed, when a federal lawsuit was filed against Sarasota County concerning their refusal to desegregate schools. Booker schools began to close in 1962 to encourage integration, but it was not until 1967 that Sarasota County forced all schools to integrate on a court order.
Pine View was founded in 1968, though it didn’t open until Jan. 1969, almost directly after the court-mandated integration in the county’s schools. While all other public schools were being forced to integrate, Pine View’s admission requirements — including a parent or teacher recommendation, a gifted screening test, and an IQ test — were easily manipulated so that the school could keep Black students out, in turn making Pine View more attractive to white families. And with little knowledge of the school’s purpose, admission process, and even existence, Black families were successfully kept away.
Principal of McIntosh Middle School Dr. Harriet Moore became the first African American female to graduate Pine View in 1979. Being one of the very few Black students in the school, Moore faced several racial discrimination accounts trying to receive the gifted education she needed.
“My test administrator said she was ill. She told my parents that she would still like to test me, but that she would test me at her home,” Moore said. Moore’s parents agreed and brought her to the administrator’s house, where she was tested in front of a glass door leading out to the administrator’s backyard.
“I could see outside, and, as she was testing me, her children were playing in the pool right outside the window,” Moore said. I still ended up [at Pine View], but that was something done to try to keep me from going there.”
According to US News and World Report, 52 years after its founding, Pine View’s student population is just one percent Black, this statistic being the same as it was back during Moore’s school career. Pine View’s current lack of diversity spurs from the same qualification-based issues that have been prevalent since 1968.
Vinay Konuru of the class of 2020 founded the club DiGS (Diversity in Gifted Schools) to combat this issue. To try to expand diversity in gifted education, the club first had to grasp an understanding of what hindered it.
“The main driver of the lack of diversity in gifted programs is not the IQ tests themselves,” Konuru said, maintaining that there is proven bias in these tests as they are based on written and verbal components that are not representative of all cultures and races. “The bigger factor, at least right now, is the teacher recommendation process. Wealthier families who know about the process will be able to just hire a private psychologist, and they don’t even need teacher recommendation letters. But, lower-income students and African American students are recommended to take this test at a significantly lower rate than white and Asian American students.”
These racial biases of teachers go further than just keeping kids from gifted education, though. Moore described how what may be seen as gifted in a white or Asian child is categorized as a learning disability in a Black or brown child.
“Looking at academic achievement, it’s not about what kids can or cannot do. It’s a racial disparity because the only people who are trailing behind are the Black and brown children. That’s a systemic problem,” Moore said.
The bias against Black and brown students in gifted education has been present since the concept materialized. On a smaller scale, the same biases have had a ripple effect through the Pine View community.
“Because schools were desegregating when Pine View was made, it introduced this bias that caused a disparity — the issue is that we’ve let the problem snowball over the last fifty years,” Konuru said, explaining that small efforts have been made to integrate Pine View fully, but to no avail. Some recent efforts include principal Dr. Stephen Covert’s expansion of universal screening tests to Title I schools, and several seminars advocating for change. Still, Pine View demographics remain unchanged.
Konuru noticed one major flaw in the action being taken this summer in a petition started by several alumni.
“It was mainly alumni who were pushing to solve this problem… The voices that mean the most are the students’ because those are the ones who are affected the most. It’s bad for everyone — we’re not exposed to different groups of people, and so many other students aren’t getting the education they need to thrive. It’s our development that’s at stake. We’re the ones who are affected, so we’re the ones who need to be speaking.”
Konuru said that maintaining the momentum of this past summer is a step toward such progress.
A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 18, 2020, pages 1-2 of the Torch with the headline: The influence of segregation on gifted education.