The Emergence of Disability and Giftedness: Race, School Context, and the Perception of Student Needs
Rachel Fish

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



New York University

Primary Discipline

Researchers have noted racial disparities in special and gifted education programs for decades, yet a polarized debate focuses on whether schools are inappropriately identifying disabilities and giftedness at differential rates, or whether the disparities reflect broader racial inequalities. A growing body of research examines the role of school context, and calls for examination of the construction of disability and giftedness in schools. In this project, I examine how students� strengths and challenges become identified as disabilities/giftedness, and how student race, gender, linguistic status, socioeconomic status, and school context shape this process. My multi-methods project synthesizes my quantitative research on racial disparities in special and gifted education in Wisconsin, and brings it together with a deep exploration of processes and meaning-making through interviews with over 100 Wisconsin teachers and parents about children suspected of having (or not having) disabilities or giftedness.
About Rachel Fish
Rachel Fish is an assistant professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning at NYU, with affiliations in the Sociology of Education program and the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. She studies the social construction of disability and giftedness, as well as how these relate to inequality. In particular, her research examines the role of special and gifted education in stratification by race, gender, socioeconomic status, and linguistic background. Dr. Fish uses multiple methods, including experimental and quasi-experimental methods, observational data analyses, and interviews, to understand how students are sorted into special and gifted education programs, and how these services ameliorate and exacerbate inequalities. In another line of research, she focuses on how school-based social ties relate to inequality, examining parent-teacher relationships, teacher social networks, parent involvement, and social capital in schools. Dr. Fish received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her M.A.T. in Special Education from Western New Mexico University, and her A.B. in Sociology from Bryn Mawr College. Prior to joining NYU, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Notre Dame?s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity. She also taught students with disabilities and giftedness in northwestern New Mexico for five years.

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