I don't think it is just socio-economic status. As the mother of a gifted, quirky, brown four year old, we have already seen first hand the ways that race play into how his behavior is interpreted and how teachers and other adults respond to him.
My partner and I are both college-educated professionals (both of us are ABD) who have both spent significant amounts of time in classrooms as teachers, administrators, graduate students and advocates. My partner is a Cultural Competency consultant who works with schools and teachers to make sure they adequately meet the needs of minorities. I am white, my partner is black, our son is mixed black and white. Our son's verbal IQ came back at the 99.9th percentile recently, and his full scale IQ came back at 99th percentile.
He had significant problems in his previous pre-school and when I was speaking to the director of another school, I tried to explain to her that the previous school did not have an adequate discipline policy and that the teachers were never clear about expectations with the students. The director looked at me and said, "Oh, so maybe the issue is like in Delpit's Other People's Children?"--which, if you haven't read it is about the difference in communication styles between dominant middle-class culture and underrepresented minorities.
Except for the fact that my son is half-black, he is firmly a part of the dominant middle class culture--after all, he is being raised by a white mother who communicates in the same style as the white women who were teaching him and a black mother who was a highly successful teacher of white college students at one point in her career, and I was rendered absolutely speechless by this director's lack of understanding of this.
Racism. Pure and simple. And, he wasn't offered a spot in her program because "we don't think we can handle his needs" (which, incidentally, were never identified by any of the specialists we dragged him to at the insistence of the first school).
The teachers did acknowledge that he was "bright" but never saw him as more than a trouble-maker. So, yeah, we anticipate needing to fight next year to get him identified for the gifted program, and then needing to fight when he hits middle school to keep him enrolled in the program.
I was actually going to come and say that you should all read Delpit's book--which doesn't just address race. It addresses culture differences, too. But yes, spedteacher30's case is definitely racism. We've had the EXACT same experience but it was "classism" I guess. We lived in a town that was beneath our means and our son attended a more "affluent" private preschool and was misinterpreted based on their idea of the demographic of my former town vs. reality. I was stunned with the whole experience.
Delpit goes into misinterpreting countless aspects of a child's being on behalf of a teacher or administrator. It helped me as a teacher and a foster parent. But it also cemented my desire to homeschool. And it doesn't address people who are just outright racist and making assumptions about what a child's trajectory or actions are based on what they expect them to be because of their class/race. In other words: there are the things that are truly misinterpreted by a teacher, and then there are the things that a teacher "creates" into reality based on what they believe that child is "about" because of the perceived background. A teacher can truly misinterpret a child's manner of speaking as rude when it isn't intended to be simply because that teacher is unfamiliar with the manner of speaking--even if that teacher would never have expected that from the child. But then there are the teachers that will assume that a child WOULD speak rude because of what they believe the child's background is (or what they expect based on the child's race/ethnicity) and spin that child's actual words into a negative construct.
None of it's good. And all of it plays into identifying giftedness, special needs, math aptitude--you name it.
Minorities ARE underrepresented in gifted programs. They are, however, overrepresented in special ed programs. And the majority of teachers are not minorities. Coincidence? Not really: they are able to appropriately interpret the actions and behaviors of children more similar to themselves; and have higher expectations of children like themselves (consciously or subconsciously). There are plenty of studies showing that teacher expectations (regardless of where they come from, good or bad) play into student performance and trajectory. Sad, but true.