Flypaper

M. René Islas and Keri Guilbault, Ed.D.

A recent report showing low levels of participation by black, Hispanic, and low-income students in the gifted and talented programs of Montgomery County underscores the significant challenges before our nation in the pursuit of equity in excellence.

Montgomery County school officials should be applauded for commissioning the study and for announcing plans to hold community meetings to discuss the findings later this spring. But ultimately, meaningful reforms will require actions, not words. This is particularly true of changes to the practices and policies serving gifted students from historically underrepresented populations.

The report highlights the need for families to be fully aware of the existence of gifted education programs and the ways their children can be identified for participation. Gifted identification would ideally begin early in a student’s career to allow for planning and early intervention. This requires a change in attitude; chiefly, it demands that we drive a stake through the dangerous fallacy that gifted students don’t exist in disadvantaged or diverse populations.

County school officials must also ensure that multiple criteria are used to identify students as gifted and that universal screening procedures are in place. These practices do not water down the talent pool. Instead, they aim to...

Ethan Gray

Schools are supposed to be the great equalizers. Yet it is far too difficult to tell which cities or states do the most to ensure that all children receive equitable access to strong public schools.

That’s why Education Cities, in partnership with GreatSchools, is proud to announce today’s launch of the first national comparative measure of the achievement gap between students from low-income families and their more advantaged peers.

The Education Equality Index is powered by what we believe is the largest collection of income-focused student proficiency data ever gathered. The data span forty-two states, fifteen thousand cities, seventy-eight thousand schools, and forty-three million children.

With these data in hand, we developed a methodology to measure and compare schools, cities, and states. At each level, we measure the gap between the proportion of students from low-income families who are proficient on a state assessment and the proportion of all students across the state who are proficient on the same assessment. 

We are not measuring within-school or within-city achievement gaps; we are comparing the performance of students from low-income families at the school level to the average performance of all students at the state level. We then assign each school a...

Can classroom observations be used as the sole measure for identifying effective teachers? In a new study, Rachel Garrett (AIR) and former Fordham Emerging Education Policy Scholar Matthew P. Steinberg (University of Pennsylvania) attempt to answer this question by investigating the relationship between observation scores and student achievement.

They rely on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study to extract data from a sample of 1,559 teachers of grades 4–8, who were randomly assigned to students in six major school districts. The sample was separated according to content area to determine teacher effectiveness in math and reading, with both sub-samples exhibiting similar student, teacher, and classroom characteristics. Analysts compared student performance (measured by test scores on state-mandated exams during the 2009–2010 and 2010–2011 school years), to teacher observation scores based on the Framework for Teaching (FFT) instrument, a widely used observation protocol. They measured both the expected and observed effects of teacher performance on student achievement. 

If students were randomly assigned to teachers in both content areas, the researchers calculated, the expected growth of a student taught by a “proficient” teacher should be between 1.2 and 1.5 months of extra learning in math per year compared to a “basic” educator....

The “college preparation gap” among students graduating from high school is real and persistent. There are some signs that it has been stabilizing in recent years, but the fact remains that too many—arguably even most—holders of high school diplomas aren’t ready for college-level work. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the realm of community college, where 68 percent of students require at least some form of remedial coursework (also known as “developmental education”) just to get to square one. Perhaps four-year colleges should face facts and refuse to admit students who aren’t ready, but we’re not there yet. For better or worse, community colleges have their doors wide open when it comes to “underprepared” students who still want to give college a go. But do they have their eyes similarly wide open? Two recent reports highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly among community colleges’ efforts to build successful students via remediation.

First up, a report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) surveying approximately seventy thousand students from more than 150 of its institutions across the country. The vast majority (86 percent) of the incoming students surveyed believed that they were academically prepared to succeed at their college; yet...

A new working paper by researchers Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour examines teacher evaluations reform by revisiting The Widget Effect. The widely read TNTP report found that less than 1 percent of teachers in most districts were rated as unsatisfactory—even though 81 percent of principals could identify an ineffective teacher in their school.

Kraft and colleagues looked at the distribution of teacher effectiveness in nineteen states, including fourteen Race To The Top winners. They also conducted a case study in a large urban district in the northeast that adopted new evaluations in 2012–13. The experiment included surveys of evaluators who are responsible for evaluating teachers and interviews of principals. Among the nineteen states, the analysts found that the median percentage of teachers rated below proficient was 2.7 percent. Yet the percentages rated below proficient varied across states, as do those rated above proficient.

They found a wide variation among states from Hawaii (where fewer than 1 percent of teachers were judged below proficient) to New Mexico (where 26 percent of teachers were considered not up to par). Meanwhile, Georgia rated 3 percent of teachers as above proficient, compared to 73 percent in Tennessee. Massachusetts, our highest-performing state, placed 8 percent...

  • Merryl Tisch, who is stepping down as chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, gave a valedictory interview to the New York Times last week. As head of one of the foremost educational authorities in the state, she will principally be remembered for championing and helping implement the Common Core State Standards and a new teacher evaluation system alongside New York State Education Commissioner John King (confirmed Monday as secretary of education). Her efforts led to some necessary improvements in curriculum and instruction across the state, but they didn’t come without a backlash: Roughly one-fifth of all eligible students were kept out of the new tests by their parents last spring, and unions revolted over the Regents’ recommendation to link teacher evaluations to student scores. Now, with Governor Andrew Cuomo backing slowly away from that notion and an opt-out favorite in line to replace Tisch as chancellor, the movement for high standards looks like it’s undergoing a reset in the Empire State. It’s up to both local leaders and national reformers to make sure that new players don’t change matters for the worse.
  • You may be wondering why, after many months and approximately eight thousand primary
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Dina Brulles, Ph.D.

The goal of gifted programs should reflect that of any other educational program: to engage students with appropriately challenging curricula and instruction on a daily basis and in all relevant content areas so that they can make continual academic growth.

Over the past several years, the Paradise Valley (AZ) Unified School District has continued to expand gifted services in response to identified need. The district provides a continuum of services designed for the specific learning needs of gifted students from preschool through high school.

With a student population that is 30 percent Hispanic and 37 percent eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, Paradise Valley uses a multifaceted identification process and embeds a gifted specialist in each of the district’s elementary schools to train teachers and staff to recognize high potential. The result: 32 percent of the district’s gifted population is non-white, a doubling of this portion since 2007.

Strong gifted programs take time to develop and will change over time. Developing sustainable services requires that we continually modify our programs to respond to many factors. Educational trends, district initiatives, state policies, shifting student demographics and staffing all can significantly influence how programs develop and evolve. Embedding gifted services into what...

Nobody knows how this year’s wild presidential campaign is going to end. But one thing’s for sure: It has exposed some fundamental rifts in American society that won’t easily be resolved.

Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ populist messages have struck a chord, particularly with working-class voters. That doesn’t surprise scholars and intellectuals on the Right and Left, who have studied these issues for years and sounded the alarm about rising inequality in wages and lifestyle.

As Charles Murray put it in the Wall Street Journal, “During the past half-century of economic growth, virtually none of the benefits have gone to the working class.” Furthermore, “for someone living in a town where the big company has shut the factory and moved the jobs to China, or for a roofer who has watched a contractor hire illegal immigrants because they are cheaper, anger and frustration are rational.”

State and national leaders have warned since at least the 1980s against leaving people behind. Southern governors particularly—think Bill Clinton and Lamar Alexander, Dick Riley and George W. Bush—understood what globalization and the changing economy meant for their citizens, and they grasped the imperative of getting many more of their workers ready...

M. René Islas

Last fall, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) published a working paper by researchers Thomas S. Dee and Hans Henrik Sieversten titled The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health. The well-developed study quantifies the effects of predicating enrollment in formal schooling on the mental health of students. However, parents, educators, and policy makers must be careful not to over-apply these findings for children with extraordinary gifts and talents.

Dee and Sieversten use robust data and a sound statistical methodology to demonstrate that delaying entry into kindergarten results in better mental health among students in later years, particularly when it comes to self-regulation. The researchers note that improved self-regulation may serve as a leading indicator for future academic success. While this is a potentially valuable finding, we must take heed of the numerous caveats and limitations of the study. It is particularly important to be cautious when making real decisions for individual children.

The intellectual foundations for the study come from Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC) data. The study is therefore more indicative of Danish social and educational environments. While the DNBC provides a robust trove of information, the special characteristics of the Danish setting may not...

Here’s the speech I wish Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser would give:

Our great city has a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We have the nation’s best urban superintendent. We have a very high-performing charter sector—just named the healthiest in the nation!—that now serves nearly half of the city’s kids. Our parents, kids, educators, and citizens should be proud.

But public education in our city is also facing a number of systemic challenges: DCPS asks why it can’t function with the same freedoms as the charter sector. Charters ask why DCPS doesn’t have to get an authorizer’s approval to start new schools—and why district schools aren’t held accountable like charters. DCPS says it’s unfair that it has to serve as the educator of last resort for all city kids, while charters can choose not to backfill or take mid-year transfers. Charters say it’s unfair that DCPS gets to control all of the school facilities and gets more per-pupil funding.

These challenges may seem too many and too daunting. But they’re all components of a single issue: We have two sectors, scores of operators, and hundreds of campuses, but we don’t have a comprehensive, coherent system of schools.

The good news is that we have the...

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