Curriculum & Instruction

"Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students," is the first study to examine the performance of America’s highest-achieving children over time at the individual-student level. Produced in partnership with the Northwest Evaluation Association, it finds that many high-achieving students struggle to maintain their elite performance over the years and often fail to improve their reading ability at the same rate as their average and below-average classmates. The study raises troubling questions: Is our obsession with closing achievement gaps and “leaving no child behind” coming at the expense of our “talented tenth”—and America’s future international competitiveness? Read on to learn more.

What people are saying

"This study is important, very important!" - Jim Bohannon The Jim Bohannon Show

"This report attempts to answer the critical and largely-neglected question of how high-performing students are faring in the NCLB-era classroom. The findings speak to the messy and inconvenient reality that individual students’ abilities are not fixed, nor their development predictable. For better and worse, changes in a learner’s academic achievement occur both because and in spite of what and how he or she is taught." - Jessica Hockett is an education consultant and Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) faculty member specializing in differentiated instruction, curriculum design for academically diverse classrooms, and education for...

Guest Blogger

We asked a few experts to weigh in on our new study, "Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students," as part of an online forum we'll be hosting on Flypaper over the next couple days. Here is a guest post by Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

These results are distressing, but not surprising. As I note in my forthcoming essay "Our Achievement Gap Mania" (appearing Wednesday in National Affairs), the past decade's relentless focus on "gap-closing" has pushed all other considerations to the periphery. We have to make choices, but self-interest and a proper respect for all children demands that we wrestle at length with how we prioritize the needs of some kids over those of others. Yet "gap-closing" has become a reflexive, bipartisan project. Would-be reformers talk of little else and to even question the priorities of gap-closing is to be, at best, deemed ill-informed and, at worst, branded a racist.

Gap-closing has become the lexicon of federal officials and funders, of advocates and analysts. It has fueled funding priorities, shaped federal programs, driven policies, and informed practice. It has had real consequences and now we see, thanks to the careful efforts of Xiang et al., that some of these are problematic. (I'm curious what the results would have been if Xiang et al. had been able to examine the growth of high-flyers in subjects like science or foreign...

If America is to remain internationally competitive, we need to maximize the potential of our top students. Over the last decade, however, federal and state education-accountability systems?particularly in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001?have placed primary emphasis on moving low-performing students toward proficiency. The sanctions stemming from these systems have cast greater attention on schools that fail to attain proficiency for most students?a necessary and noble endeavor. But they have also fueled concerns that the academic needs of high-performing learners, who in many states are largely unaffected by accountability systems, have been neglected.

In order to maximize the potential of our above-average and top students, we first need to know who those students are, and where and when they're most likely to falter. But to date, few research studies have examined the progress of individual high achievers over time.

Today, Fordham took a leap in that direction with the release of a groundbreaking study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, the first ever to examine the achievement of high-performing students over time at the individual level. It poses?and seeks to answer?this straightforward question: Do students who outscore their peers on standardized achievement tests remain at the top of the pack year after year? Put differently, how many ?high flyers? maintain their ?altitude? over time? How many fall back toward Earth as they...

I gave up bashing teachers years ago, when I realized that, as with soldiers in the trenches, they had their hands full just staying alive. What I never understood, however, since this wasn't really a war, was why teachers seemed to hide behind their unions on so many school management questions, seemed to be as meek as mice on policy and pedagogy and curriculum issues, and were downright defensive about any criticism of them or their profession. And this was going to be my post, a few weeks ago, responding to Walt Gardner's letter to the editor in the New York Times, in which he opined that teachers ?deserve more than the unrelenting criticism they've endured since the accountability movement began.?

It's a worthy subject,? but I was turned from the ?unrelenting criticism? hokum by an email from New York City teacher Mark Anderson, with his announcement that ?A new school year begins! Here is the third post in my series on curriculum, in which I advocate for a unified core curriculum.?? His post is here and I read it with great joy, but I will get to that in a moment.

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In times of great uncertainty for U.S. teachers, who speaks for them?

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First, I must make mention of another welcome event; a trend, really, one reported on by Stephen Sawchuk in the current Education Week: ?New Groups Giving Teachers Alternative Voice.? Sawchuk leads with the obvious question,...

This week, teachers across the land are greeting students, assigning seats, issuing textbooks, struggling to remember everyone's name?and doing their best to teach one of the most challenging lessons of the year: the events of September 11, 2001, why they happened, why they matter, and why we are commemorating them.

[pullquote]The United States didn't come with a warranty. It has always had to be defended against real threats and bona fide enemies.[/pullquote]

All sorts of organizations (including ours) are jockeying to ease teachers' burden?and influence their instruction?by offering texts, activities, guidance, even entire curricula. Some of these are fine: accurate, thorough, balanced yet patriotic. (See, for example, lessons prepared for high school students by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.) Others, alas, are wimpy, biased, or apologetic and may well do teachers and pupils more harm than good.

The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its own dismaying contribution last week. Its ?9/11 Materials for Teachers? exemplifies the creeping tendency in educator-land?especially in the woeful field known as ?social studies??to obscure the true history of September 11 and focus instead on a slanted, garbled evaluation of what followed.

Teaching about 9/11 in 2011 click to readNo doubt Secretary Duncan's team wanted to be helpful to classroom instructors. Surely they felt an obligation to say something about 9/11. But what they ended up with illustrates both the...

Any number of organizations are offering advice about what to teach schoolchildren about the events of September 11, 2001, yet most sorely miss the mark. Fordham's publication, "Teaching about 9/11 in 2011: What Our Children Need to Know," highlights the danger of slighting history and patriotism in the rush to teach children about tolerance and multiculturalism. It combines ten short essays by distinguished educators, scholars, and public officials from our 2003 report, "Terrorists, Despots, and Democracy: What Our Children Need to Know," essays that feel more timely than ever, and includes a new introduction by Chester E. Finn, Jr. reflecting on how the lessons of these essays apply today.

Yes, believe it or not, the ideological wars can be brought to the teaching of mathematics.? So argues a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, Tonya Bartell, in an article she's written for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:? Learning to Teach Mathematics for Social Justice: Negotiating Social Justice and Mathematical Goals.? According to the abstract,

This article describes teachers' collective work aimed at learning to teach mathematics for social justice. A situated, sociocultural perspective of learning guides this examination of teachers' negotiation of mathematical goals and social justice goals as they developed, implemented, and revised lessons for social justice.

Sol Stern, where are you? (See here and here and here.)

In fact, as Stern has written, teaching social justice through math is a well-practiced craft among certain mathematics teachers.?? Eric Gutstein, a Marxist education professor at the University of Illinois and also a full-time Chicago public-school math teacher, wrote Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice a while ago (Routledge, 2006)? The work combines, says Stern, "critical pedagogy theory (which depicts the United States as an evil nation rife with injustice) and real-life math lessons that Gutstein piloted with his predominantly minority seventh-grade students."

The question is, do kids learn any math?? Here's what Ms. Bartell writes,

Education is intricately linked to economic, political, and social power structures in society that serve to perpetuate inequity in both schools and society

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Ohio committed itself to embracing higher standards that cross state lines when it joined 45 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the Common Core standards in math and English language arts (ELA) in June 2010.

But, adopting rigorous academic standards is just the first step in a long journey. High academic standards do not automatically translate into stronger student performance. These higher standards must be accompanied by adequate, on-going training for current and future teachers, principals, and district leaders to understand the new standards; new, aligned curriculum at the local level; and aligned and well-designed assessments.

Ohio could ultimately develop its own assessments, though that is costly, challenging, and time consuming. And even if Ohio were able to muster the money and capacity to develop its own rigorous, content-aligned assessments, it would not be able to compare Ohio students and schools with those in other states and the nation as a whole. Further, Ohio would have to go it alone in terms of developing curricula, professional development tools, and computer systems.  

Alternately, Ohio can move forward with one of two voluntary consortia of states working, with nearly $200 million of Race to the Top funding apiece, to develop Common Core assessments: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). (Ohio is presently a member of both but a decision-maker in neither.) This primer outlines the characteristics of SBAC and PARCC and raises implementation concerns for Ohio...

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