High Achievers

Throughout much of 2013, a colleague and I worked on a project related to America’s highest-potential boys and girls, students colloquially known as “gifted.” Though I learned a great deal, it was mostly a discouraging enterprise.

In short, this country gives the impression that it doesn’t much care about such kids. We have an astonishingly under-resourced, deprioritized, and inchoate system of school supports for kids on the right side of the academic distribution.

Though the project was designed to identify what’s happening in this field, I spent much of my time studying the dog that seldom barks—trying to figure out why there is so little activity in this field. I’m now of the mind that American-ness might be at the heart of the problem.

There is something quintessentially American about beating the odds, bootstrapping your way to success. Think of the waves of penniless immigrants who came to our shores and made their marks, the hardy souls who crossed the plains and mountains to realize their destinies. This is the stuff of The American Dream.

But something important seems to go hand-in-hand with our rooting for the underdog—what might be described as the chip on our collective shoulder, a bit of disdain for those seen as undeservingly advantaged. Our Founders cast off the crown, the nobility, and the haughty pretentions that go along with class privilege. We rebel against not only...

Lottery systems are too common in education. And while it’s the fairest way to allocate a limited number of seats at, say, an oversubscribed, high-performing charter school, it’s not the way forward when it comes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Unfortunately, that’s the direction some California school districts may be heading.

Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times reported last week that as some schools move to open access for AP courses, it allows students unprepared for the college-level rigor to sign up. And by enrolling students via lottery—because there aren’t enough AP seats to go around—schools may be shutting out high-achieving students entirely.

"While expanding access is generally a good thing, we need to make sure we're not watering down the experience for the high achievers," said Michael Petrilli in the story.

Mike reiterated that sentiment yesterday when he spoke to Larry Mantle of KPCC’s AirTalk, noting the unintended consequences of expanding AP courses.

Everyone agrees that more access to advanced-level work is a good thing for our students, but the evidence is mixed on whether students who don’t (or can’t) pass the AP exam actually benefit from taking these courses.

There’s also a question of peers. Will teachers spend too much class time working with students who are struggling? It seems likely. AP courses should have standards of entry so that our...

Today’s whiz kids are those most apt to become tomorrow’s leaders. Our ablest students will hatch ideas for products that satisfy the needs and wants of future generations. They’ll be the engineers, investors, teachers, lawyers, and civic leaders that form the backbone of a strong 21st century economy.

Columbus’ public school system, however, by and large neglects its gifted students. This jeopardizes the city and region’s future prosperity and the diversity of its workforce.

First, the neglect of gifted youngsters isn’t such a problem in suburban communities. In fact, parents there are more likely to be accused of “pushing” their kids too hard not too little. Many upper-middle-class parents make sure their children play, for example, violin (for Pete’s sake, first chair), star in a sport (if not three), join the Key Club (why not become president), and of course do well in school (straight A’s in at least three AP courses).

It is not the well-heeled students who win spelling bees and ace their standardized exams with which I’m concerned. On the whole, suburban parents—and schools when coaxed by parents—give their girls and boys ample opportunity to excel academically.

But what happens to talented youngsters who don’t have a pushy parent around, or when their parents don’t have the wherewithal to push very hard? Indeed, what about high-potential students who are born and raised in Columbus’ poorer urban communities? Communities where a child is more likely to grow up in a single-parent home and where household incomes are low?...

Big Ideas Edition

With Mike beaching it in an undisclosed location, Dara and Daniela take on some big topics: If affirmative action were to end, how could colleges maintain diversity? Do teachers need convincing to use technology? All things considered, is college worth it? Amber charts a course to charter quality.

Amber's Research Minute

National Charter School Study 2013,” by Center for Research on Education Outcomes (Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Outcomes, June 2013).

The missed opportunity in the education of gifted students runs up and down the system, including into and beyond the college gate. Last December, Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery showed that there are far more high-achieving, low-income students than previously thought—but that these young people, unaware of their options, often do not even apply to selective colleges. Now, Hoxby and Sarah Turner report on a well-crafted intervention aimed at closing the information gap. It’s called the Expanding College Opportunities (ECO) Project. After sending and emailing customized informational packets (which consisted of college-specific information and application fee waivers, alongside guidance on how to apply to selective colleges, on the net cost of college, and on colleges’ varying graduation rates—all at $6 a pop) to high-achieving seniors (10,000 of them in 2010–11, with a control group of 2,500, and 15,000 in 2011–12, with a control group of 3,000), the authors saw positive results: Compared to the control group, recipient students were 20 percent more likely to apply to public and private schools with similarly high-achieving students. And in this Hamilton Project paper, the authors outline ways to bring this initiative to scale: First, in order to scale up the number of students reached, the ECO project will need to team up with credible, established institutions, such as the College Board and ACT. Second, because the Census recently stopped gathering data on incomes, housing values, occupations, and adults’ education, the authors propose that the federal government allow them access to other sources...

In which Terry celebrates cheating (sort of)

Terry livens up the airwaves, bantering with Mike about NCTQ’s blockbuster report, the Blaine Amendment, and Philly’s budget woes. Amber waltzes through the dance of the lemons.

Amber's Research Minute

Strategic Involuntary Teacher Transfers and Teacher Performance: Examining Equity and Efficiency,” by Jason A. Grissom, Susanna Loeb, and Nathaniel Nakashima, NBER Working Paper No. 19108 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, June 2013).

Leaking all of our education-reform secrets

Mike and Kathleen catch the whistleblower spirit, giving the goods on NGSS, sparring over ability grouping, and decrying the latest Common Core distraction. Amber goes easy on Ed Sector.

Amber's Research Minute

The New State Achievement Gap: How Federal Waivers Could Make It Worse—Or Better by John Chubb and Constance Clark (Washington, D.C.: Education Sector, June 2013).

In the midst of a blooming field of research on how to serve high-achieving minority and lower-income youngsters, this report from Education Trust plants a welcome bud. Noting that the sturdiest predictor of college success is the richness of a student’s course of study in high school, and concerned about how few minority and low-income students opt to take challenging Advanced Placement (AP) courses, the authors set out to understand the extent of these inequities—and what can be done to reverse the trend. After determining that 71 percent of all U.S. high schools in 2009–10 had at least one student take an AP examination, providing 91 percent of all students with some AP access, they outlined the extent of the gap: 6 percent of African American students take AP courses, compared with 11.9 percent of white students and 25.1 percent of Asians; similarly, 5.5 percent of low-income students take AP courses, versus 15.6 percent of all other students. The authors go on to recommend a number of actions that district and high school educators can take, from simply expanding awareness among underrepresented student groups to creating a network of supports for students taking advanced courses. But while most of these proposals seem reasonable, the recommendation that schools ensure that their barriers to AP enrollment are not too “rigid” stuck out like a sore green thumb. While there are plenty of qualified and underrepresented students who never enroll and ought to be encouraged to do...

You call that "flexibility"?

Mike and Dara discuss NCLB reauthorization, NYC’s teacher evaluations, and the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes. Amber revels in the glory of having finally gotten Fordham’s epic pensions report out the door.

Amber's Research Minute

The Academic and the Wonk

Can wonky Mike and data-loving Dara come to an agreement on Texas’s education reforms, Illinois’s rebuff of online learning, and a moratorium on Common Core–related stakes? Amber joins the number-cruncher brigade with a study on the effect of career and technical education on math achievement.

Amber's Research Minute

Balancing Career and Technicial Education with Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School,” by Robert Bozick and Benjamin Dalton, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

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