If you have forty seconds, please indulge me for a brief brain experiment. Watch the first half minute of the embedded video of college students playing in a circle. Your task? Count how many times the students wearing white shirts pass the basketball.

If you guessed fifteen passes, you win!

But did you see the gorilla?!?

For two decades, in multiple countries and contexts, as part of repeated research studies, thousands of audiences from diverse backgrounds have watched this video for the first time. A stunning 50 percent become so distracted trying to count the passes that they completely miss something extraordinary. As the researchers, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, note, “Halfway through the video, a female student wearing a full-body gorilla suit, walked into the scene, stopped in the middle of the players, thumped her chest, and then walked off, spending about nine seconds on-screen.”

Don’t believe me? Watch again.

In the world of neuroscience, this phenomenon of being oblivious to the obvious is called “inattentional blindness.” This occurs any time we as human beings fail to notice a fully visible but unexpected object because our attention was on another...


STEM education is, by design, integrative. It strives to emulate the real-world work of engineers within a teaching environment. Traditional science and math concepts merge with hands-on design-and-build work using technology, often through “design challenges.” Team dynamics, learning by failure and revision, and analytical thinking all factor in as well. It’s a big lift, but such efforts are vital for schools to attempt as demand for STEM—from parents, employers, the military, and colleges—increases. Traditional education models may not readily adapt to the hands-on demands of STEM, nor can many practitioners turn on a dime to accommodate a tech-heavy pedagogy. A new report from Michigan Technological University sheds light on some of these complexities that teachers face bringing STEM education into their practice.

Authors Emily Dare, Joshua Ellis, and Gillian Roehrig use observation and interview data to assess the first-time STEM integration efforts of teachers in nine physical science classrooms in different, unnamed middle schools in the United States. The researchers posit that a lack of consensus over best practices and a lack of professional development contribute to the difficulties. Both classroom observation and teacher reflection data for these nine case studies of teachers attempting STEM integration with little...


The most recent rankings from U.S. News & World Report once again have Massachusetts at the top in pre-K—12 education. For the vast majority of pundits and analysts, this should come as no surprise. Bay State students have excelled on the national and international stage for years. But what may surprise some is the state’s success with a particular type of schooling—career and technical education (CTE).

The most recent Perkins data show Massachusetts’s positive results on measures like technical-skill attainment, school completion, and graduation rates. A 2015 report from Achieve highlighted its transformation into a CTE leader, as well as some particularly successful programs. Another report showed that participating in one of the state’s high-quality CTE programs raised the probability of on-time high school graduation by 3–5 percentage points for higher-income students and 7 percentage points for their lower-income peers. And 2016 survey data showed high levels of satisfaction from both students and parents. In short, much of the data indicate that Bay State CTE programs are on par with the quality of the rest of their pre-K—12 offerings.

It could be argued that the Massachusetts’s vocational education laws and policies...


This post is the third in a series of commentaries leading up to the release of new NAEP results on April 10. The first post discussed the value of the NAEP; the second looked at recent national trends.

Since 2002, federal law has conditioned Title I funding on states’ participation in the biannual administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math and reading in grades four and eight. This is a boon to us policy wonks because we can study the progress (or lack thereof) of individual states and use sophisticated research methodologies to relate score changes to differences in education policies or practices. That’s the approach that allowed Tom Dee and Brian Jacob, for example, to inform us that NCLB-style accountability likely boosted math achievement in the 2000s.

Over the years, NAEP has also made stars out of leading states and their governors or education leaders, and has galvanized reformers to try to learn from their successes. It started with North Carolina and Texas, which saw stratospheric increases in the 1990s, especially in math, and across all racial groups. Then it was Jeb Bush’s moment in the sun, as Florida’s scores climbed...


In this study, Ian Kingsbury of the University of Arkansas uses data from 394 charter applications in seven states to argue that “stringent regulatory environments impose barriers to aspiring minority candidates and to standalone charter schools.” However, the real story seems to be the disappointing relationship between candidates of color and education and charter management organizations (EMOs and CMOs).

According to Kingsbury, barriers to entering the charter market might manifest in two ways. “First, cumbersome or daunting application processes could deter would-be applicants from applying in the first place…Second, greater regulation could induce authorizers to prefer applications from White applicants and CMO/EMO-affiliated entities.”

Because no data exist for would-be applicants who were deterred, Kingsbury uses the share of applicants affiliated with an EMO or CMO as a proxy for the first form of deterrence. But this is problematic for a number of reasons. (For example, EMOs and CMOs may avoid states that are inhospitable to charters.) Somewhat more plausibly, he uses states’ NACSA scores (which reflect that organization’s opinion of their laws on authorizing) as a proxy for their regulatory environments. But of course, this too can be questioned, as it makes “regulation” unidimensional when in reality it is far...


The underrepresentation of high-poverty and minority populations in gifted programs has troubled education analysts and reformers for decades. One finding in this winter’s Fordham report on gifted programming gaps was that although high-poverty schools are as likely as low-poverty schools to have gifted programs, students there are less than half as likely to participate in them. This is complemented by a recent University of Connecticut finding that school poverty has a negative relationship with the percentage of students identified as gifted.

Researchers used student-level data from three state departments of education, supplemented by data from NCES, for the cohort of students who entered third grade in 2011 and completed fifth grade in 2014. The data spanned pupils from 4,546 schools in 367 districts. They used free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligibility as a proxy for poverty, and compared FRL eligibility, gifted identification, and performance on reading and math tests at the student, school, and district levels.

Their results confirmed existing knowledge about low rates of identification for low-income students, even after controlling for student performance on standardized tests and school and district demographics. In one state, in an average school and district, a non-FRL student was 3.33 times more...


In Fordham’s fifth annual Wonkathon, policy experts submitted twenty-three entries—a Wonkathon record—addressing whether our high school graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere:

A recent investigation revealed that several high schools in Washington, D.C., skirted district rules to graduate large numbers of their students who didn’t meet the standards for earning diplomas. As Erica Green of the New York Times and others have argued, this type of malfeasance isn’t limited to the nation’s capital. It happened in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, and there are reasons to believe it’s happening in plenty of other places.

It’s not hard to understand why. For a decade now, federal policy has required states to measure graduation rates uniformly, to set ambitious goals for raising those rates, and to hold high schools accountable for meeting such goals. But the same local administrators who have been charged with getting more students across the graduation stage also have considerable leeway—via course grades, credit recovery programs, and shadier practices—in determining whether students have earned the privilege.

Given how many children enter American high schools far below grade level, and noting how many states...


There is a teacher under fire in California and knowing what I know of her alleged “transgression”, I wish my own kids could be in her class. Julianne Benzel of Rocklin High School did what every teacher should be doing—especially in Social Studies—during a week of nationwide student protest.

She pushed the thinking of her students and encouraged them to confront the complexities of political speech when it occurs during the school day and involves students walking out of school. And she has been placed on administrative leave because of it.

If the reports are true, Benzel in no way discouraged her students from walking out. She simply asked the same question that I and others asked in the lead up to the national walkout this past Wednesday.

Are schools prepared to allow students to walk out of school to protest another, perhaps less popular, viewpoint? In looking for a comparably emotional and divisive issue to cite as an example, she chose abortion.

If the local and national reporting is correct, the human resources department sent her a letter telling her not to come to work because of a discussion she held with students about the danger...


The 26,000+ members and supporters of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) should feel pretty good about their efforts and the fruits they have produced in education policy. Together we have successfully inspired change by helping legislators and the public understand the nature and unique needs of gifted children and the supportive environments they need for learning.

A little over two years ago, NAGC embarked on a focused plan to build awareness and increase support for the unique needs of these children. The NAGC Board of Director's bold plan of action to Change Minds, Change Policies, and Change Practices set out to achieve a vision where giftedness and high potential are universally valued, fully recognized, and actively nurtured.

I am pleased to report on two visible markers that show the movement is gaining traction and producing results that are bringing this vision to fruition.

First, the U.S. Department of Education prioritized the needs of students and children with "unique gifts and talents."  Specifically, Priority 5 of the Final Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs emphasizes the need for programs that develop “ opportunities for students who are gifted and talented (as...

David Wakelyn

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Imagine Rip Van Winkle earned a diploma from a New York high school in 1998 and worked as a printer before falling asleep. Waking up twenty years later, he wouldn’t have the skills to do his old job. In a world of rapidly advancing technologies changing most job requirements, high school is not a good end point for anyone’s learning.

Projections by Moody’s Mark Zandi confirm that more than half of all jobs by 2030 will require at least an associate degree. But supply isn’t keeping up with the demand. Only 41 percent of Americans ages twenty-five to sixty-four have at least an A.A. While some policy analysts argue that “college isn’t for everyone,” and journalists regularly write stories about the recent bachelor’s-degree-holders stuck in a low-skill job, the data shows that’s very rare. Americans are undereducated. This widens inequality and causes us to lose out on economic productivity.

The question of what standards...