High Achievers

Last week, the Departments of Education and Justice released new guidance for school districts and institutions of higher education
on constitutionally-sound ways to encourage racial diversity and avoid
racial isolation. As I’ve written before, I’m a fan of well-conceived
efforts (like “controlled choice” a la Kahlenberg) to promote school
integration, and I think Washington, D.C. is sorely in need of such an approach. (That’s what D.C. parents should be fighting for–not an end to school choice.)

Furthermore, on “local flexibility” grounds, I’m willing to give
school districts some leeway if they want to make school integration a
high priority.

That said, the guidance
for elementary and secondary education includes some odious and
potentially damaging suggestions for America’s 150-odd
academically-selective public high schools–including powerhouses like
New York’s Stuyvesant and Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson:

Some school districts have schools or programs to which
students apply and are selected through a competitive admissions
process. School districts seeking to achieve diversity or avoid racial
isolation may develop admissions procedures for competitive schools or
programs to further those interests.

Example 1: A school district could identify
race-neutral criteria for admission to a school (e.g., minimum academic
qualifications and talent in art) and then conduct a lottery for all
qualified applicants rather than selecting only those students with the
highest scores under the admission criteria, if doing so would help to
achieve racial

...
Guest Blogger

As part of the release of our new study, Do High Flyers Maintain Their Performance: Performance Trends of Top Students, we are hosting a forum for experts to respond to its findings. Today's guest is ASCD's Jessica Hockett .

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.

Systematic reform efforts of the past two decades have fallen far short of encouraging teachers to expect the best from and provide high-end challenge for learners across the academic spectrum. Unfortunately, many children below, at, and beyond grade-level standards are settling for less than the highest quality curriculum and instruction in the name of serving struggling students well.

Our schools would surely see more growth at every performance level if educators were provided with training and support in how to teach all learners as though they were the highest of flyers. At minimum, all teachers should be equipped to plan lessons that emphasize conceptual understanding and application, leverage classroom-level formative assessment results, and use strategies that attend to individual differences. The culprit of stagnation and regression is not...

"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...

What are the implications of "tracking," or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement? Many schools have moved away from this practice and reduced the number of subject-area courses offered in a given grade. In this new Thomas B. Fordham Institute report, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless examines tracking and detracking in Massachusetts middle schools, with particular focus on changes that have occurred over time and their implications for high-achieving students. Among the report's key findings detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. The report also finds that detracking is more popular in schools serving disadvantaged populations. Read the full report to find out more.

This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.

Part 1: An Analysis of NAEP Data, authored by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, examines achievement trends for high-achieving students (defined, like low-achieving students, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) since the early 1990s and, in more detail, since 2000.

Part 2: Results from a National Teacher Survey, authored by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett of Farkas Duffett Research Group, reports on teachers' own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.

Related Resources

Slideshow presentation of the findings

Mike discusses the report on Fordham Factor

In A Nutshell brief of the report

Tom Loveless responds to this review of the study.

 Video coverage of our panel event on the report:

High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB from Education Gadfly on Vimeo.

5:30 - Tom Loveless, Brookings Institution
19:05 - Steve Farkas, Farkas Duffett Research Group
33:25 - Josh Wyner, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
41:15 - Ross Wiener, Education Trust
48:30 - Question & Answer

Download:
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Tracking and ability grouping strategies differ widely from school to school. They diverge even more widely from their portrayal in the popular criticisms of the 1980s. This report digs into the sensitive matter of whether those criticisms are valid today. The answer tells a more complicated and more honest story than we have heard before on this topic.

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