High Achievers

Education Next

This week, Ed Next’s Mike Petrilli was a guest on "What’s the Big Idea?," a podcast hosted by Josh Starr, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Starr has been in the limelight because he has criticized the amount of standardized testing taking place in schools, arguing that there should be a three-year moratorium on testing while we put the new Common Core standards in place. Montgomery County is currently rolling out a new curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core standards.

Some parents in Montgomery County are unhappy that the county is hoping to limit tracking under the new curriculum. In the past, many students in the wealthy county were offered accelerated instruction in math, but Starr believes that because the new curriculum is more challenging, it should not be necessary to accelerate so many students. He also suggested (in the podcast) that some parents push for their children to receive accelerated math instruction for the wrong reasons.

In the podcast, Petrilli challenged Starr’s claim that students with a wide range of abilities (in math in particular) will be able to be taught effectively in the same classroom using the new curriculum. (The issue...


Mike and emerging scholar Morgan Polikoff discuss accusations of discrimination in gifted-and-talented programs, Quality Counts, and lightning rod/tiger mom Michelle Rhee. Amber contemplates whether multiple-choice tests lead students to learn or forget.

Amber's Research Minute

Genna Angello, Elizabeth Bjork, Robert Bjork, and Jeri Little, “Multiple-Choice Tests Exonerated, At Least Some of the Charges: Forgetting Test-Induced Learning and Avoiding Test-Induced Forgetting,”

Oh, how I would welcome and laud a nationwide education regime in which every high-ability student has access—beginning in Kindergarten—to teachers and classrooms ready and able to expedite and accelerate that youngster’s learning; in which every child moves at her own best pace through an individualized education plan and readily gets whatever help she needs to wind up truly college- and career-ready, whether that happens at age fifteen, eighteen, or twenty-one; and in which every teacher possesses the full range of skills and tools necessary to do right by every single pupil for whom he is responsible, regardless of their current level of achievement.

Math in the classroom
Millions of high-ability, academically promising youngsters are not receiving the challenging education they need to reach their maximum potential.
Photo by mrcharly

That’s what we should aspire to—and work to make happen. Alas, that’s not how many places currently function. Among the victims of our present dysfunction are millions of high-ability, academically promising youngsters who are not getting the kinds of “gifted-and-talented” education that...

Are our national education-reform priorities cheating America's intellectually ablest girls and boys? Yes—and the consequence is a human-capital catastrophe for the United States. It's not as dramatic or abrupt as the fiscal cliff. But if we fail to pay attention, one day we'll be very sorry.

Gifted education
You don't have to search hard for evidence that teachers and school systems are neglecting gifted students.
Photo by Krissy.Venosdale

In a recent New York Times column, I explained how America could benefit from more schools and classes geared toward motivated, high-potential students. Here, I want to look more deeply at why such initiatives are unfashionable, even taboo, among today's education reformers.

We'd like to believe that every teacher can do right by every child in each classroom. But let's be serious: How many of our three million–plus teachers are up to this challenge? The typical class is profoundly diverse in ability, motivation, and prior attainment. In most cases, instructors—under added pressure from state and federal accountability regimes—end up focusing on pupils below...

Responsible adults

Mike and Dara discuss bringing MOOCs to K–12 education, tiptoeing up to the fiscal cliff, and angry unions in Michigan. Amber considers all the angles of the newly released international achievement scores.

Amber's Research Minute

International Achievement Test Results (TIMSS & PIRLS)

Everyone and their mothers are talking about the so-called “fiscal cliff”—the automatic budget cuts and tax increases that will affect all federal discretionary spending programs, cut you off in traffic, steal an old lady’s handbag, and wreak general havoc if lawmakers don’t come to a deal on the national debt soon. Will it destroy Head Start and special education? Will it disproportionately harm poor schools? But as Dara Zeehandelaar reminds us, federal contributions to education are peanuts compared to the amount the feds contribute to Medicare, Medicaid, transportation, and the like—cuts to which will leave big holes for states to patch, perhaps by raiding K–12 funding. And it’s these possible indirect cuts to education that will hurt on the way down.

After channeling Jeb Bush during his job interview, Ed Reform Idol Tony Bennett was chosen to be Florida’s new state superintendent. We extend hearty congratulations. Florida’s teacher unions are none too happy with his appointment; but they’re not exactly winning the war in Florida, so Bennett may not need to sweat it.

Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, says he intends to overhaul that country’s flagging school system....

Bayou blues

Checker and Education Sector’s John Chubb discuss expanding the school day, dismal graduation rates, and Louisiana confusion. Amber depresses us with a report on record-high unemployment among young people.

Amber's Research Minute

Youth and Work: Restoring Teen and Young Adult Connections to Opportunity by The Annie E. Casey Foundation - Download PDF

Congratulations to Checker, who received the 2012 National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) President’s award for outstanding contributions to the field of gifted education. He accepted the award yesterday at the National Gifted Education Convention in Denver, Colorado, where he spoke about the importance of meeting the needs of our nation’s high-fliers:

"Why keep the supply of these schools limited given the high demand?" "How much human potential is our society failing to realize?" "How much are we squandering?"

For more on gifted education, try one of the following titles:

Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools, by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett

Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students, by Robert Theaker, Yun Xiang, Michael Dahlin, John Cronin, and Sarah Durant

Young, gifted, and neglected,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. (in the New York Times)

The best bargain in American education,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett (in Education Week)

Raising the floor, but neglecting the ceiling,” by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Jessica Hockett (in the Washington Examiner)

Q&A: Chester Finn Talks About Exam Schools,” by Catherine A. Cardno (in...

Imagine a high school where every course is challenging, all students choose (and are academically strong enough) to be there, discipline problems are few, teachers are knowledgeable and attentive, pretty much everyone earns a diploma, and virtually all graduates go on to good colleges.

Pricing the Common Core
For more on this issue, purchase Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools.

How much would you pay to send your son or daughter to such a school? If it's an elite private institution, you might easily fork over the price of an Ivy League degree before your child even sets foot on a university campus.

But this vision isn't a snapshot of a $40,000-a-year prep school. It's the profile of 165 free public secondary schools in the United States, many of them in big cities known for sky-high dropout rates, low test scores, metal detectors at the schoolhouse door, and rapid turnover among teachers.

What distinguishes this small subset of America's 20,000 public high schools is that they are academically selective....

Exam Schools: The Ups and Downs of Selective Public High Schools

Exam Schools: The Ups and Downs of Selective Public High Schools

The plight of low-performing students dominates our education news and policies. Yet America's high flyers demand innovative, rigorous schooling as well, particularly if the country is to sharpen its economic and scientific edge. Motivated, high-ability youngsters can be served in myriad ways by public education, including schools that specialize in them. In a new book from Princeton University Press, Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools, co-authors Chester Finn and Jessica Hockett identify 165 such high schools across America.

In this Fordham LIVE! conversation, they and others will examine some of the issues that selective-admission public high schools pose. Who attends them? How are their students selected? Are such schools the future of gifted education or do they unfairly advantage a select few at the expense of most students? Just how different are they, anyway?

Authors Finn and Hockett will be joined by a pair of educators instrumental in the creation of two of the "exam schools" profiled in the book: Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University and a key player in the establishment of D.C.'s selective School Without Walls, and Geoffrey Jones, founding principal of Alexandria's Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology