Carol Ann Tomlinson
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Virginia conducted a 4-year qualitative case study in three very different school sites to explore how teachers contribute to the academic success of high potential, low economic students of color. Typically, the ethnicity, race, and/or economic status of these students would predict that they would not be high achievers in school. Yet in some classrooms, the pattern of underachievement is reversed and the students do succeed.
The three study sites were (a) a high school in a university town where the majority of students were Caucasian and affluent and a relative small minority of the students were African American and low economic, (b) a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in which virtually all of the students were African American and of low economic status and located in a urban neighborhood of a heavily populated metropolitan area, and (c) a pre-kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school in which about half of the students were Hispanic, about a third African American, and the remaining were Caucasian students and second language learners of Asian or African descent. In all of the settings, researchers worked for approximately 2 years, using observation, interview, and document analysis to answer the research question.
Among factors influencing student success in the three schools were: (a) the nature of the school setting and its vision for low economic students of color, (b) the degree to which educators understood the academic and affective needs of low economic students of color, (c) the nature of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the classrooms, and (d) attitudes about the role of the teacher in supporting the success of low economic students of color.
Data suggest that to support the academic success high potential students of color (a) teachers and schools do not have to be excellent in all factors to make a very positive difference in the achievement, (b) the definition of success established by a school or teacher will shape student opportunity for long-term academic success, (c) to be more effective in developing the capacity of high potential low economic students of color, schools will have to be more effective in developing the capacity of virtually all students of color, (d) educators who are most effective in supporting the academic success of students of color support the students in learning to live comfortably in two worlds.
Multiple Case Studies of Teachers and Classrooms Successful in Supporting Academic Success of High Potential Low Economic Students of Color
Carol Ann Tomlinson
- Factors that contribute to academic achievement in low-economic students of color include (a) a school-wide commitment to reversing underachievement in this group, (b) teachers who demonstrate a deep understanding of the lives and needs of low-economic students of color, and who take responsibility for increasing achievement in these students, (c) appropriate curriculum and instruction, and (d) assessment-driven instruction.
- Teachers and schools do not have to excel in all areas referenced above to have a positive impact on the academic achievement and lives of low-economic students of color.
- While individual teachers can foster increased academic achievement in individual students, increasing achievement in large groups of low-economic students of color requires a school-wide, emphatically enacted mission to do so.
- Educators’ definitions of success have long-term consequences for low-economic students of color, and should include mastery of skills required by academic tests, as well as those needed for powerful problem solving and life-long learning.
- Because identifying high-potential, low-economic students of color is not always easy, schools and teachers must offer quality curriculum and instruction to all low-economic students of color—not as a reward for performance, but as a necessary precursor to achievement.
- Successful instruction for low-economic students of color is that which allows students to advance in their development of skills and concepts while simultaneously addressing deficiencies in prior learning.
- Teachers who are most successful in promoting achievement in low-economic students of color are those who teach their students how to succeed in the “mainstream” while continuing to value and identify with their own cultures. This means not only giving students skills and opportunities to enter into a new world, but also being willing to enter their worlds with them.