To the editor:
In a Jan. 20 article, Journal-World reporter Tim Carpenter cited the small number of students in gifted programs in some east Lawrence schools as evidence of an "east-west and white-minority divide." Unfortunately the story chose to sensationalize this issue at the expense of the facts. The truth is different, though perhaps no less troubling.
There is in fact no evidence of an east-west or white-minority divide in access to the gifted program. It turns out that about four-fifths of the differences in the number of gifted students between schools in Lawrence can be explained by two variables the number of students in the school, and how well those students perform on state assessment tests. In other words there are more gifted students where there are more students and where those students perform better academically.
Taking account of one more variable the number of economically disadvantaged students in a school it is possible to explain another 10 percent of the variation in gifted enrollments. The number of economically disadvantaged students in a school is also correlated with average test scores. Presumably this variable captures additional information about academic performance due to the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of some students from low-income families.
After factoring in the effects of enrollment, test scores, and numbers of economically disadvantaged students there is no racial difference in gifted enrollments in fact the number of gifted students at a school increases with the number of minority students and there is no east-west division either. Yes, there are differences in numbers of gifted students. But, contrary to the story's suggestion, there is no evidence that they reflect a bias against minority students or against the east side of town. Rather they reflect the tragic truth that differences in the population of students at different schools has a big impact on what happens within those schools.
School administrators need to look closely at these figures, but the problem they need to address is not access to the gifted program. Instead they must address the much more intractable problem of helping economically disadvantaged students and the schools that serve them to overcome the obstacles that produce such wide disparities in academic performance.