Talented Tenth

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. First stop? Take down the juggernaut teacher union—led by Elba Esther Gordillo, referred to as La Maestra for her political prowess and shady dealings. We’ll be watching.

The Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K–12 Education has identified the five education issues that were most covered...

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 Education Week)...

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. Students compete for admission by demonstrating they are qualified (and eager) to do the work.

Sometimes called "exam schools," because test scores are typically part of their selection process and a handful of them rely solely on such scores, they tailor their curricula and teaching to high-performing, high-potential kids who...

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

We all love teachers but do we all love ed reformers?

Mike and Kathleen wonder why education can’t stay out of the debates and pick the top edu-initiatives on the ballot. Amber describes the spectacular growth in non-teaching staff.

Amber's Research Minute

The School Staffing Surge: Decades of Employment Growth in America’s Public Schools by Benjamin Scafidi (Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, October 2012). - Download PDF

It’s all French to me

Rick and Mike pick apart an egregious example of Continental Achievement-Gap mania and take on differing proficiency goals based on student race and ethnicity. Amber asks if we’d be better off spending our edu-dollars in very different ways.

Amber's Research Minute

How Do Public Investments in Children Vary with Age? A Kids' Share Analysis of Expenditures in 2008 and 2011 by Age Group by The Urban Institute - Download PDF

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both attended elite private high schools. Both are undeniably smart and well educated and owe much of their success to the strong foundation laid by excellent schools.

Every motivated, high-potential young American deserves a similar opportunity. But the majority of very smart kids lack the wherewithal to enroll in rigorous private schools. They depend on public education to prepare them for life. Yet that system is failing to create enough opportunities for hundreds of thousands of these high-potential girls and boys.

Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor.

Public education’s neglect of high-ability students doesn’t just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country’s future supply of scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs.

Today’s systemic failure takes three forms.

First, we’re weak at identifying “gifted and talented” children early, particularly if they’re poor or members of minority groups or don’t have savvy, pushy parents.

Second, at the primary and middle-school levels, we don’t have enough gifted-education classrooms (with suitable teachers and curriculums) to serve even the existing demand. Congress has “zero-funded” the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, Washington’s sole effort to encourage such education. Faced with budget crunches and federal pressure to turn around awful schools, many districts are cutting their advanced classes as well as art...

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a federal civil-rights complaint against the New York City Department of Education last week on grounds that the special test used for admission to eight of the city's selective public high schools is discriminatory—because it results in too few African American and Hispanic youngsters gaining entry into those schools.

The Specialized High Schools Admission Test (SHSAT) is a two-hour multiple-choice exam. Under a forty-year-old state law, the scores that students earn on it—and only those scores—determine who gets into, and rejected by, these eight schools, including the three old and famous ones: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech.

The SHSAT is also a very big deal in New York City, as some 28,000 (mostly) eighth and ninth graders take it every year, competing for about 6,000 spaces in the schools themselves. Because attending any of these schools is a pretty certain path to graduation and admission into a decent (or even stellar) university, all at public expense, the competition is fierce. There are cram schools and tutors. And one's test score determines everything.

That's rare in the world of selective-admission public high schools, as Jessica Hockett and I learned in our recent examination of some 165 such schools around the country. Nearly all the others consider multiple elements of their applicants' readiness to do well in the generally high-powered academic environments that such schools offer. Along with test results, they weigh middle school grades, teacher recommendations, essays, even interviews,...

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