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Speaker Series Addresses Inequality Across Talent Programs

Photograph by Roan Linville

Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Superintendent Donald Evans hosted the first event in a speaker series in partnership with UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education on equity and excellence in education on November 1.

His speaker series, titled “Onward and Upward,” was a chance for the Berkeley community to learn more about educational equity in policy and practice, as well as what BUSD and its community can do to support and uplift every student in the district. The speaker who was invited on November 1 was Dr. Frank Worrell, a professor of school psychology at UC Berkeley.

At the speaker series, Worrell discussed the underrepresentation of low-income and ethnic minority background students in Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs, as well as what he thinks schools and school districts can do to diversify these programs by promoting equitable talent opportunities for all students.

According to Dr. Worrell, there are a number of things that promote talent development, including having potential in a domain, working hard, and getting appropriate instruction and opportunities. “The trick is for all those things to come together at the right time, so chance plays a role as well,” Worrell said.

Worrell thought that this underrepresentation of low-income ethnic minority students in special programs is not simply an issue for BUSD, but an issue for the whole country, as equity and excellence in education is something the country is working towards but has not yet fully achieved. He added that this issue is a large factor that put him into education, and is a source of much of his educational research.

Worrell acknowledged that there is an underrepresentation of minority students in special programs all over the country, including the ones found in California. From his perspective, this underrepresentation is not just seen in GATE programs, but is demonstrated in AP classes, IB programs, and selective colleges and universities such as the UCs, Stanford, Yale, and many other elite universities. From this, one can see that this pattern of underrepresentation is prevalent in more than one environment.

BUSD School Board Director Judy Appel noted that BUSD does not have any GATE programs. However, according to her, addressing any inequity in BUSD has to be multifaceted. “We [need to] pause and take some time to really understand what the latest research is, hear from the leaders in the field, and collaborate with others such as UC Berkeley’s education department.” She additionally stated that the school district needs to keep thinking about what the best practices are and enter into conversations with experts in the field who can contribute their ideas to the board, as all of these factors are helpful on many levels.  

Worrell said that it’s important for schools to do a number of things to promote equitable development for students. One thing that should be done, in his opinion, is to make sure that teachers know where their students are, and meet students where they are. “For example, it’s really important for teachers who have new students to do an initial assessment of who has a good grasp of the fundamentals and who does not. This allows them to target instruction appropriately, and make accommodations for students with weaker skills,” said Worrell.

He went on to say that schools need to become rich in terms of support systems for students. For example, doing things such as creating time after school to provide extra support for students who need it so they have support to move forward.

Worrell also believes that individuals from underrepresented groups   need to be taught to have hope. “[Underrepresented individuals] have to believe that if they work hard, they can achieve things,” Worrell stated. “If they don’t believe that their work is going to pay off, it’s harder for them to get motivated. So, I think that we need to teach about hope.”

Appel said that the BUSD School Board has a lot of plans for the future, as the members are always evaluating and building on their knowledge by looking at what research is out there and what opportunities are available.

She believes that every BUSD board member has been very involved in equity and inclusion work, and trying to make effective changes in the district. “I think our entire board is committed, and that’s why were really able to be really thoughtful in using our resources to try to address problems concerned with equity in the district,” she said.

She added that Evans has shown a strong commitment to making and maintaining positive changes in the district. “I think that [the speaker series] is one additional way that he’s showing his commitment for equity and excellence in Berkeley Unified. I really like the collaboration with UC Berkeley,” said Appel.