Co-Editor of Gifted Children of Color Around the World
Educators worldwide know Dr. Joy Lawson Davis as a global expert in gifted education. With over 40 years in the field, her books include the award-winning Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners (author), Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future (co-edited with Dr. James L. Moore III), and Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field (co-edited with Deb Douglas). She has served on the board of the National Association for Gifted Children, as the founding executive director of a Governor’s School for gifted students, as the Virginia State Specialist for K-12 gifted programs, as Director of the Center for Gifted Education at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, as Associate Professor and Chair of Teacher Education at Virginia Union University, and in numerous advisory and leadership roles across the country.
During this challenging time, we are thrilled to interview Dr. Davis on her latest book and on challenges advocates must address in order to achieve equity and excellence in gifted education. Read below to learn what parents should know about challenges facing gifted children of color, steps that can improve equity and access, and the importance of strengthening gifted programs for all students who need these services.
What should GT advocates know about the impact of poverty on gifted students of color, and how can they support these students in their districts?
Gifted students of color and those who live in poverty are underserved in school programs for high ability/gifted students nationwide. According to research, there are countless numbers of students from culturally diverse backgrounds who are missing out on services because of biased identification practices, teachers who don’t recognize and believe in the high intelligence creativity of these students, and lack of funding to fully support comprehensive program changes needed to ensure equity and access for all students with high potential. Schools can do more to support these students by changing their identification practices, providing cultural competency training for teachers, and ensuring that school leaders are culturally competent, as well. All school districts that have equity, diversity and inclusion as part of their strategic plans should also be sure that gifted programs are examined and redesigned to ensure equity.
When you talk about equity, diversity, and inclusion, there has to be policy that includes gifted plans, plans for high ability students, [or] advanced learner plans. I have seen many school districts’ strategic plans that don’t mention anything about high ability and gifted students. If there is nothing written into policy about equity in gifted programs at the district level, leaders are really not compelled or inclined to do anything. They will overlook these kids continuously and they will move on to other priorities, other needs that the district may have.
The information on twice-exceptional African-American students in your book Gifted Children of Color Around the World and in your chapter in Scott Barry Kaufmann’s book is incredibly important. How can GT advocates support improved awareness of twice- and thrice-exceptional students, and specifically, implementation of recommendations in your book?
First and most important is educator training on the traits of gifted learners who may also have other exceptionalities, and integration of this training with cultural competency training. Generally, 2E programs address the needs of students in the majority population. Black students with the same traits (gifted and having learning disabilities or other exceptionalities) are served based on the areas needing support, and their gifts are totally dismissed. Look among your exceptional populations students who receive SPED services to determine if there are students who may also qualify for gifted services. Teachers must be re-trained to see students of color [as] capable of high intelligence, not always [to view them] as deficient in skills, troublemakers, loud, too busy… twice exceptional services must expand to locate and serve Black students as well as White students.
What policy changes should GT advocates ask states and districts to make to better support students of color?
[Ask for] policy changes in identification protocols, ensuring that all services are demographically representative… Black students, Latino students, Native American students are underrepresented in gifted programs. Policy changes in teacher preparation should also be considered. Mak[e] sure that all preservice programs include coursework in Special Populations of Gifted students and Culturally Responsive pedagogies. Additionally, policy changes to increase parent/family engagement are also recommended. In teacher prep programs, all states have mandatory courses, and that’s how they determine whether the teacher prep programs are certified… If we look at those mandatory courses and include pedagogies, that would be something that all state programs can do. If that doesn’t happen and we know it’s not happening, then we can be sure local training covers these types of courses. There are grad programs, masters programs that don’t have any idea how to address the needs of gifted students in general, but certainly not how to deal with the needs of special populations, those understandings are critical.
An additional change I would recommend is that all school districts increase their parent and family engagement response. How are we engaging parents? How are we working collaboratively with parents? Do parents in these special populations groups feel like gifted programs belong to them? These are some of the kinds of things I teach about when I conduct full workshops. We talk about the sense that some populations do not feel gifted education belongs to them, and that’s simply because of the way we’ve operated… There will be parents even after their children have been identified who will say, “I didn’t know much about this before.” …There’s a sense that gifted programs are owned by other populations, and the populations that are underserved don’t feel that same sense of ownership. But we can change that. We can correct that. Locally, we can change that with policy, but we can also change that with action, with practice.
How can advocates help educators learn to work more effectively with students of color?
Advocates are parents, community members, other stakeholders – these groups should create forums, councils, and be demographically representative and invite school personnel to THEIR table to discuss and plan for change in gifted programs to make them more accessible.
Advocates are groups like your own… these groups, your groups, can create forums. You can ensure that they are demographically representative, and then you can invite school personnel to your table. It’s always about being invited to the table, being part of the table. If you don’t have a seat, you are on the table… as advocate groups, you can actually have your own table and then invite school personnel to the table. Their response to your invitation will say a lot about what their interest is, how willing they are to collaborate, to be partners, and to change conditions in gifted programs to make them more accessible. We just simply have to decide that we are going to be able to do this. It may happen differently district to district, but one of the things we can do is to have forums and councils and bring other people in from the school… you invite people to your table, and have these deep and difficult conversations about changing policy.
In addition to learning from your books, do you have recommendations for ways that GT parent groups can become more inclusive of families of color?
Invit[e] faith based leadership, community organizations, Fraternities/Sororities, [and] other existing community support groups to join them at regularly scheduled meetings held throughout the community. Increasing the sense of belonging is very important.
These other community groups have conversations on their own about these gifted programs that schools have that don’t have anything to do with their kids. Their kids aren’t being served, and many times they set up their own enrichment programs, Saturday morning programs… I have been engaged over the last few years with a number of these groups who are doing excellent work that looks just like gifted programs but they are not being held in the school district… you won’t get their constituency voice at the table unless you reach out to them. Reach out to community organizations, existing organizations. Find parents in the community, in your schools, who are part of these organizations.
Advocates for GT have seen a concerning trend of attempts to eliminate funding for gifted programs. What advice do you have for parents working to protect and improve funding and requirements for gifted programs across the country, both at the local and state level?
This trend across the country is really dangerous, I think –– very alarming, very concerning. When these things happen, and when we eliminate funding for gifted programs, those who suffer the most are the most vulnerable.
Your arguments to maintain funding MUST include a position of equity and access that will ensure that all populations, all communities, all families’ needs are met or will be met by gifted/advanced learner programs. You must be more invitational in your own behavior. Voices must be those of a wider variety of community members: Black, Hispanic, Low income, Immigrant, any other populations that have been left out of the discussions in the past MUST BE HEARD. Our goal for gifted/advanced learner programs is total inclusion and access for all. Giftedness has no boundaries. It is not synonymous with affluence. Gifted children originate from all communities. Everything that you do should demonstrate your belief in these core principles.
Most of their arguments have to do with the fact that gifted programs… are not meeting the needs of a wide population. You have got to be smart enough, and genuine enough… to [say]: all communities have gifted students, and we want to meet the needs of those students. You must be more invitational in your own behavior, and not promote exclusion, elitism, and segregationist behaviors. I’ve seen too much of that already… given the fact that we’re already suffering under this pandemic, the most vulnerable populations are suffering more under this pandemic, community groups like your own must be more invitational, you must be more inclusive. Voices must be those from a wider community of community members… You have to reach out, and you have to reach deep sometimes. You have to discard, and recognize first of all, your own biases, your own microaggressions that have kept people from being a part of this conversation.
Not to suggest that all children are gifted – I’m not saying that. I never will say that. What I’m saying is that in all communities there are gifted children. Giftedness has no boundaries. It is not synonymous with affluence. Just because parents and their children have means does not mean that all of their kids are gifted. Gifted children originate from all communities. I have been around the world with this message. There are other communities from different countries around the world who are having the same issues that we are having, and their message is that gifted children originate from all communities. Our responsibility is to go to all communities and find these gifted minds, bring them in for enrichment, for acceleration, bring them in and train and provide the challenge they need so they can help move our societies forward… we have a responsibility for them if we want them to help society. We are missing out on a lot of intelligence, a lot of creativity… so many of these kids have the answers [to] the problems that plague us as a society everywhere.
[If] the school districts who say they want to remove funding and programs win, [then] the children who are gifted and high ability and who have less means…will suffer the most. We can’t allow that to happen. Publicly funded programs should be available to the public[, and] students from all demographics should benefit. We have an obligation to ensure that gifted programs are inclusive and designed to equitably be available to students from all racial and income groups. Our children are counting on us!
The Gifted Education Family Network wishes to thank Dr. Davis immensely for her time and for her lifetime of incredible work in the field of gifted education.
We are excited to recommend Dr. Davis for onsite and virtual parent workshops, private consultation, professional learning workshops, keynote presentations, and evaluation of programs, including consultation services to address equity in gifted education. Please visit drjoylawsondavis.com to learn about her services.
The Gifted Education Family Network also recommends these books by Dr. Davis for both parents and educators, available for purchase:
Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field, co-edited by Dr. Joy Lawson Davis and Deb Douglas
Photo credit and all rights to content in Gifted Children of Color Around the World and Bright, Talented & Black: a Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners reserved by Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.
Emily Villamar-Robbins, J.D. holds a Graduate Academic Certificate in Gifted and Talented Education and has served in multiple volunteer roles for gifted education at the local and state level. She serves as a member of the Texas Education Commissioner’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted Students.
Post updated 10/17/21 to include book link.